Trading a restaurant with zero hygiene rating perfectly legal

A restaurant or takeaway that receives a zero hygiene rating is not automatically shut down even though many consumers think it should and such an action would appear to be “common sense”, a leading food safety expert has said.

The current food hygiene grading system operated by the Food Standard Agency runs from 0-5. However, the ratings are composed of cleanliness levels, documentation and the layout of an establishment. It is therefore not as clear cut as to whether the cutlery is clean or whether there’s a dead rat in the jam.

According to Fiona Sinclair, director of food safety at STS, it’s something that may seem like common sense to consumers, but the reality of the situation may be a little less widely understood.

She says that certain events need to happen for an establishment to close down, and that it’s not unusual for some establishments to stay open with a ‘0’.

“To close a premises an emergency prohibition notice (EPN) needs to be served by the Environment Health Organisation. Service of EPNs is governed by legislation and codes of practice, and closure is only permitted where there is an ‘imminent risk’ to public health.

“Examples include uncontrolled pest infestation, an outbreak arising from premises or even flooding with sewage. So, a food business can be poor, but if there is no ‘imminent risk’ they cannot be closed. Instead, other enforcement powers can be exercised, such as prosecution, service of improvement notices, but they won’t be shut down. A ‘0’ grading will also be subject to routine inspections at the maximum frequency of six months, potentially with revisits in between.”

Another common misconception is whether establishments get prior warning of when an EHO is visiting the premises to conduct checks.

Mrs Sinclair says that EHOs have a ‘power of entry’ and must be permitted entry at any reasonable time.

“Generally this means when anyone is present on the premises. To not allow an EHO in is an offence called obstruction, for which the business can be prosecuted. Most EHO inspections are unannounced, although some local authorities do announce their inspections to make sure the manager or owner is available to speak with.”

Currently, the law states that businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are legally required to show their FSA rating, however firms in England do not have to display the rating they have been awarded.

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