Last year, I ate at a very famous and popular curry house in the North somewhere and was entertained by the sight of rats running across the alleyway over the road, like some sort of Biblical plague. I survived that time.
Scores on the Doors is really just a repackaging of the type of food hygiene inspections that have been carried out for decades, but with a greater emphasis on making the results easily available to the public.
An inspection is distilled down into a zero to five-star rating, with a ‘very poor’ to excellent assessment made on each of the central requirements.
There is sharp practice in this area. I know of one butcher who scored an appalling zero stars, with significant issues that I suspect were around the way he sold cooked food (hams, pork pies, etc) alongside raw meat. There was little hand washing going on, just a quick rinse under a cold tap rather than a proper surgeon-style scrubbing. His star notice is taped to the inside of the door, which is always, always kept open, so that the notice faces a wall. Very crafty, but not really in the spirit of the scheme.
Research has been undertaken by the Food Standards Agency into public and business views of Scores on the Doors, which supports my initial feeling about not really looking out for food safety issues when choosing where to eat or buy food. Most people questioned chose an establishment on the type of food, the price and the location before hygiene issues, only becoming really interested in hygiene when planning a large event such as a family party. In the most part, people trusted their own judgment, which is often wrong, supporting the need for a simple and highly visible rating scheme (1).
This is a common theme – a bad rating is often followed by a very good one a few months later. Proprietors seem to take a bad score personally and seriously, see the effect on their business and get the problems sorted out. The transparency of the scheme is entirely to thank for this. The consequences of ignoring a bad score are obvious – either your customers will run for the hills, or Environmental Health will close you down, which for a consumer, is a result either way.
I think this is an important and worthwhile scheme. I know that it makes businesses uncomfortable because it puts them under pressure, but that’s pressure they should feel because it has an impact on our health.
Every restaurateur’s worst nightmare.