None of us are perfect when we cook in our kitchens at home. We all lick a spoonful of some concoction and then dip it straight back in. Sometimes you use the meat chopping board to butter a quick slice of bread. Having pets in the kitchen, we’ve seen your Instagram pics of kitty on the draining board! Or picking up a piece of dropped food and putting it back (ten second rule!) but restaurants and their staff aren’t supposed to do any of that. They’re supposed to be hygienic and sterile and totally cross contamination free so that we, the paying customers, know we can eat safely and without risk of dodgy tums. That is where food hygiene scores come in…
The Food Standards Agency has a rating system which grades all establishments that serve food on their ability to meet certain conditions. An inspector visits and checks the food hygiene – how food is handled, prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored. The building itself is inspected, it’s no good having a perfect Caesar salad if that Parmesan shaving is actually ceiling plaster. Knowledge is tested to ensure staff know of correct operating procedures and basic food hygiene. Then, after all that, a grade of between 0 and 5 is issued. 0 is the scary one and means urgent improvement is needed. Being graded a 0 or 1 doesn’t necessarily mean a business will be closed down though, just that urgent improvements need to be made. Unless of course there’s something really nasty going on, I recently reported a now closed cafe which had a rat infestation and that got shut down pretty damn quickly! 5 shows an excellent standard of food hygiene. Businesses aren’t regularly inspected though, so somewhere awarded a two three years ago, may now be a four which makes the whole thing that little bit more complicated.
But how important is it really? If the food is good then do you really mind if the rating is a little on the low side? Would you stop going to your favourite restaurant if you checked them on the handy little Food Standards app and discovered they only scored a 2? To be honest, after a random selection of queries on the website, I haven’t found anything particularly shocking and I would suspect that if somewhere local did have dubious habits, then social media would have already flagged that up!
According to the website, there is currently 1,218 businesses handling food in Oxford at the moment. This includes supermarkets, farmers, caterers, hospitals and schools etc so if we take those out, we’re then left with 348 restaurants and cafes plus an additional 100 takeaways and sandwich shops. Out of those, 198 restaurants scored a five on their last inspection which is pretty damn good and means our tummies can breathe a sigh of relief. However, SIXTEEN currently have a one rating which means major improvements must be made. I won’t name names and indeed, most of these aren’t really surprising but two of our current favourites are on there, both inspected within the last seven months….
So, I guess for us unless the food actually makes you heave then we’re happy to eat wherever! It helps build your immune system, right? If you do want to check on what your favourites score, visit the website at www.ratings.food.gov.uk.
Personally, the state of restaurant toilets is a major deal breaker for me, but that’s a whole other article!