The display of hygiene ratings in restaurant windows should be mandatory, according to a report by the Government’s chief auditor. The report on the effectiveness of our food regulation found that almost half (48%) of all businesses withhold their ratings from customers, compared with 87% and 84% in Wales and Northern Ireland respectively, where display is mandatory.

The report, Ensuring food safety and standards by the National Audit Office (NAO) found:

  • Local authority spending on food hygiene control fell by an estimated 19% between 2012-13 and 2017‑18, from £125 million to £101 million.
  • The number of food hygiene staff employed by local authorities declined by 13% between 2012‑13 and 2017-18, and the number of food standards staff has almost halved (45%).
  • Just over a third (37%) of necessary food standards interventions were carried out by local authorities in 2017-18.
  • Food-borne illness costs the economy and individuals an estimated £1 billion each year.

The report highlights the concerns of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and local authorities who feel they lack the enforcement powers necessary to achieve high food and hygiene standards for businesses. The NAO advises legislators to press ahead and grant local authorities the power to issue fixed penalty notices for breaches of food hygiene standards. According to the report, councils should have the authority to enforce a licensing system that would require certain food hygiene standards to be met before a food business could start trading.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health said: “This report from the National Audit Office validates the concerns already highlighted by the Food Standards Agency. For the public’s safety, the display of hygiene ratings must be made mandatory for all businesses across the UK, to ensure customers across the nation uphold their right to make informed decisions about where they eat, avoiding risks to their health. It is right that councils can penalise businesses who put their customers at risk.

But this isn’t just a story about legal powers. These dramatic falls in staffing highlight the damage caused by years of underfunding for local authorities, who play a vital role in ensuring food safety and hygiene is at the highest standard. If we don’t act to reverse cuts, we may see more food safety incidents such as the tragedy caused by the outbreak of listeria in Kent last week.”