I never check restaurant hygiene ratings, and I haven’t died yet

With takeaways, in my experience, the lower the rating, the better the food.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young
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My local Chinese is the best takeaway business in the UK. It has it all: free prawn crackers with every order, those crispy bits at the bottom of the chip box, and an owner who is indifferent to my existence. It also, as I found out last week, has a one-star hygiene rating.

Yes, reader. Every chicken chow mein that I have eaten in the last year has been a dice with death. But – and perhaps this is a controversial opinion – I really don’t care. To me, a good hygiene rating is like quilted toilet paper: preferable, not compulsory.

This admission will shock some. Make no mistake; I am not rubbishing sanitisation in general. When that KFC branch in east London made headlines last month, I was as repulsed as the last person by the mug shots of rat droppings and fat drippings.

Kitchen cleanliness is not only good practice, it can be life-saving, particularly for those with allergies. If you are one of those who expects a michelin-star level of management from your chosen eatery, though, I suspect you don’t understand how a modern restaurant is run.

I blame Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Something about watching a Scotsman rant at a terrified restaurant owner about the miserable contents of their fridge has become stained in our collective memory – alongside the image of moulding gravy tubs.

In truth, the majority of commercial kitchens with no- or low-star hygiene ratings do not look like that. They fall afoul not of best-by dates or fatbergs, but of paperwork and red tape.

I have worked in pubs before, so I understand how the ratings work, and how easy it is to get a low score on a bad day. In short, there are three areas of appraisal set by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), just one of which refers to food safety and hygiene procedures.

Instead, two thirds of a hygiene ranking comes from structural requirements and confidence in management procedures. Both of these can be traced back to administrative issues, such as not updating folders, or even mislabelling the day that a sauce pot was opened.

Achievable? Most likely. Inexcusable? Hardly. After all, with the current troubles that are plaguing the hospitality sector, are we surprised if these boxes are not being ticked? 

It’s by now common knowledge that labour shortages, caused by a sector-wide pay crisis, have created cracks in the workforce through which standards are now slipping through. 

Time was, sticky tablecloths at the nearby greasy spoon were a British institution. Now, many of them have closed down due to crippling costs and increasing regulations.

FSA pressures are adding to this challenging operating environment. In 2023, over 14,000 ‘dirty diners’ were recorded as having failed health and safety inspections, out of 300,000 in total. Even Gino D’Campo is in trouble, as an out of date packet of ham saw the celebrity Chef’s Liverpool restaurant slapped with a poor hygiene rating for the second time last week.

I can’t judge if these food shops should have closed. However, let’s not strike them from the list of Friday-night favourites. 70% of one-star cafes and restaurants in Sheffield improved their ranking six months later, and one even jumped up to full marks in that time.

Local haunts need loyal customers to get through this tricky trading period. We must all dig in, do our bit (and have our bite) to support the hospitality industry. 

That’s why, purists be damned; I will continue to frequent the Chinese takeaway at the end of my road. Because it might get one star from the FSA, but it certainly gets five stars from me. 

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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