Some 60% of people are not aware that displaying hygiene ratings in England and Scotland is voluntary – and only 20% admit to checking ratings before deciding where to eat out – according to a new study.
Research carried out by Navitas Group into 2,000 diners’ understanding of the food hygiene ratings system has led to the food safety specialist calling for the display of the ratings to become mandatory.
Bob Mackay, technical director at Navitas, says the move would help create consistency, transparency and greater accountability for food outlets and delivery companies.
“There are thousands of restaurants and takeaways with ratings of two stars or lower in England and or where improvement is required in Scotland. Part of the solution is surely to make display of food hygiene ratings mandatory as it already is in Northern Ireland and Wales,” he said.
Only last week an investigation by the BBC found food delivery platforms selling food from restaurants with one star food hygiene ratings while a reporter was able to set up a makeshift ‘takeaway’ and start delivering food without having undergone a food hygiene inspection.
Across the UK and Northern Ireland, 75% are aware of food hygiene ratings schemes. However, while a similar (75%) number of people in England are aware of the Food Hygiene Ratings Scheme, only 42% of the respondents in Navitas’ poll knew that displaying ratings is voluntary.
In Scotland only 53% of people are aware of the Food Hygiene Information Scheme and only 38% are aware that the display of ratings is voluntary.
In general, awareness levels are highest where display is mandatory: Northern Ireland (98%) and Wales (92%).
The research revealed that finding out a restaurant or takeaway had a lower than anticipated food hygiene rating would put people off eating there almost as much as actually experiencing poor food or service – again highlighting that ratings are an important factor in determining people’s eating out choices, according to Navitas.
83% say they would either probably not / or definitely not go back to a restaurant or takeaway they discovered had a low rating even if they had enjoyed eating there before and 37% said they would definitely not go back.
By comparison, 94% say a poor service or food experience would either definitely stop them or make them consider not going back to a food outlet. Some 42% of respondents said they definitely wouldn’t go back.
Mr Mackay added: “Eating out has never been so popular and the choices so varied, and this research shows that people do want to be confident that the food they’re eating away from home has been stored, prepped and cooked safely and correctly and to good hygiene standards. On the other hand, the lack of consistency in the display of food hygiene ratings and low awareness is not helping people make informed choices.”