Do ‘5*’ hygiene reviews matter?

We take a look at the 'scores on the doors' for catering businesses, and how to achieve the highest possible seal of approval

A 5 hygiene rating sticker on a door

Hygiene is important, particularly for businesses selling food – either over the counter or in a sit-down café.

And it’s never been as vital as it is right now, given the additional public health threat posed by the COVID-19 coronavirus.

We sometimes get asked if it’s worth outlets going for a top hygiene rating, denoted by five green circles, given the hoops they have to jump through to get one. Some businesses are also daunted by the prospect of trying and potentially failing to get a good rating, which could be perceived as even more damaging. Our answer is always that, if they care about their business and its customers, it’s not just desirable but essential.

Businesses are awarded between one and five green circles (often referred to as a star rating) depending on how good their hygiene practices are, with one being the lowest and five the highest, and they are not just there for decoration. If you seek help from an experienced hygiene company like Elliott’s, and follow our advice, there is no reason why you should fall short on inspection day. However, if something isn’t quite as it should be when it counts, it still won’t be a wasted exercise because you’ll learn where your gaps are, and what you need to do about them, so that you can take the necessary action.

And if the doubters out there needed any further persuasion, they now have it, in the form of COVID-19 which has made sound hygiene not just important, but a matter of life and death. Consumers have long been guided, when it comes to their decisions on where to eat out, by the official cleanliness of a venue, but now they’re likely to judge whether they eat out at all – and where they choose to do so – by how safe a place is deemed to be.

If that sounds like stating the obvious, we apologise, but sadly businesses don’t always keep hygiene front of mind when planning a new outlet – to their cost.

The absolute best way of securing yourself top scores on the doors, is to start with the end in mind.

When you’re busy trawling through furniture and decoration swatches, and creating your snazzy marketing materials, give some thought to those little green circles too.

Because, nondescript though they may be, they have the power to make or break your business.

Increasingly savvy customers make buying choices based on how much they trust brands. Whether you’re in financial services or food, the small print matters.

The acid test – a customer’s eye view

One great way to give yourself the best chance of making the grade, is to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Walk around your premises with a critical eye, look in those nooks and crannies, and do your best to find fault. Ask yourself ‘is there anything, at all, that a customer could find fault with in here?’

Take in everything from your skirting boards and underneath your cupboards, to your crockery, your blinds or curtains, your loos, the state of your cleaning equipment, the joins in your flooring and walkways and even the inside of your dishwasher. Honestly, would you be happy being served food or a meal knowing it had come from this environment? If you’re not absolutely sure, CHANGE IT.

Points mean…some of the things your business is judged on

Food hygiene ratings are allocated by local authority environmental health officers and based on factors like the below. Of course, the ante has been upped on all of these things recently, with the need to be COVID-secure on top of the basic hygiene requirements which are already in place. You can read more about additional things HORECA (hotel, restaurant and catering) businesses can do to ensure they safeguard their customers and employees from infection in our other recent blog. Meanwhile, below are the standard requirements for a top hygiene rating:

  • Food storage: are the places where you keep your food clean, free from cross-contamination and at the right temperature?
  • Food handling and preparation: do your employees wear protective gloves, are your handwashing facilities appropriate and do you make sure that the right crockery, cutlery and containers are used to ensure freshness and avoid cross-contamination? Does the way you handle food reflect best practice – ie. keeping raw and cooked meats, and dairy items, separate?
  • Stock rotation: Do you have a proper system in place to ensure out of date goods don’t make it into the hands or mouths of customers? ‘Day dot’ labels are the way to go for this
  • Processes: do you have a proper, documented cleaning schedule? Are your different zones and tools clearly colour-coded, to make sure that, for example, you don’t use the same cloths or mops to clean the toilet and the kitchen?
  • Condition: Is your kitchen, food preparation or retail space in a good state of repair? Are there any areas that are worn or damaged, which have the potential to harbour bacteria?

The most common reasons businesses miss out on five stars

 We’ve been in this business for quite a while, and have seen a few things in that time. Sometimes it can be the smallest of things that make a difference between passing or failing a hygiene inspection – and between gaining five stars or less. Often, it’s about more than ‘just’ hygiene, and this means sometimes business owners are so focused on getting that right, they don’t see the bigger picture. Here are some examples:

  • Perished fridge seals
  • Incomplete temperature log books
  • Cross-contamination from inappropriate use or re-use of equipment
  • Rotation of food and ingredients
  • And, the big one, ineffective sanitiser for cleaning. We’ll be covering more on this in a future article, but many businesses don’t realise they need an industrial grade sanitiser. The EN 1276 standard dictates that the chemicals used must be able to kill 99.999 per cent of germs within five minutes of use, although some of our recommended chemicals can achieve this in as little as 30 seconds. The power of advertising means many businesses aren’t aware that popular brands of household cleaner you buy in the supermarket just can’t cut that. Of course, in the new world dictated by COVID-19, you need to take this up one more notch, and choose cleaners that are bactericidal AND virucidal, or capable of killing the coronavirus specifically (our recent general guide to getting COVID-secure covers the key things all businesses need to know about this).

We’ve concentrated on the things that can go right or wrong at the inspection stage, but the best way of all to ensure compliance, is to build good practice in right from the beginning, making this a main driver behind your kitchen and counter design. I’ve seen many beautiful kitchens, in which businesses have invested tens of thousands of pounds, which are woefully inadequate from a practical point of view. The converse of this is that, if you build the right work flow into your design, achieving good hygiene and customer care will happen naturally.

If you are opening a new business or have an existing one which is about to undergo an inspection, or even if you’ve had an inspection that hasn’t gone how you hoped it would, and you could do with some experienced, friendly advice, email us or call 01482 327580 for a no obligation chat.





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