HALF of all Larne food outlets tested as part of a new food hygiene initiative have scored top marks, new figures have revealed.
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS), which was officially launched in the borough this week, aims to keep local consumers better informed when eating out by telling them the hygiene standards of food outlets.
This national programme, developed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in partnership with local authorities, provides information on outlets such as restaurants, takeaways and pubs, which are inspected by council officers to check that they meet legal requirements.
All businesses that fall within the scope of the scheme have now been provided with a rating, ranging from zero at the bottom (which means “urgent improvement necessary”) to a top score of five (“very good”).
Out of 277 businesses, 138 received a rating of very good, while 71 were rated good. Twenty-six operators were scored generally satisfactory (a rating of three) and 10 were told that improvement was necessary (a rating of one). The remaining businesses are still awaiting inspection.
These ratings are now available for anyone to view on the FSA web site at food.gov.uk/ratings or via a link from Larne Borough Council’s web site.
Each business will be given a sticker and certificate and encouraged to display these at the entrance to the premises, although it is not compulsory to do so.
A total of 24 local councils across Northern Ireland are now taking part in the scheme, with the remaining two set to join later in the year.
Julie Parkinson, senior environmental health officer at Larne Council said: “It is great to see that all councils in Northern Ireland have agreed to come on board with this scheme, which will allow consumers to make more informed choices.”
She added: “Back in January, we held a seminar at Willowbank to inform local food outlets about the FHRS scheme, and each of them was given an initial rating. About 30 of these businesses requested a revisit from the council in a bid to improve their initial ratings, and I am delighted to say that they have all managed to increase their scores.
“We are very pleased with the results so far, which clearly demonstrate that the vast majority of businesses in the Larne area have strived to ensure excellent hygiene levels. Those outlets which need improvement are also working very hard to bring themselves up to the same high standards. It is our hope that in time, all outlets will have achieved a score of at least three.”
Geraldine McGahey, chief executive of Larne Council said: “The interest from food businesses in Larne has been exceptional with many recognising that a good food hygiene rating is good for business. The benefits of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme means that local businesses now recognise that they all operate on a level playing field when it comes to environmental health – whilst consumers can now rely on a consistent and transparent approach to food hygiene right across Northern Ireland. We would urge consumers to check the ratings regularly as they may change after a business has had a food safety inspection.”
Helen Porter of local business Ann’s Pantry added: “The scheme is a real opportunity for food businesses like ours to showcase how seriously we take food hygiene. It’s easy for consumers to use and hopefully will bring more business to food outlets like ours who take pride in our rating.”
The inspections are carried out by a council officer, who checks how hygienically the food is handled, how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored. They also inspect the condition of the buildings, the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities. Businesses are also tested on how they record what they do to make sure food is safe.
Those businesses given the lowest ratings must make urgent or major improvements to hygiene standards, and the local authority’s food safety officer will use a number of enforcement tools as well as giving advice and guidance to make sure these improvements are made. If the officer finds that a business’s hygiene standards are very poor and there is an imminent risk to health, they must take action to make sure that consumers are protected. This could mean prohibiting part of an operation or closing the business down.
Anyone who would like more detailed information about a particular business can make a Freedom of Information request to the local authority, asking to see the food safety officer’s inspection report.