FSA publishes FHRS research

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published research on attitudes to mandatory display of the voluntary food hygiene ratings system (FHRS), ahead of its open board meeting on 22 May.

The research forms part of the FSA’s ongoing review of the voluntary system, which was introduced in 2008. Although food businesses including butchers’ shops, restaurants and supermarkets are expected to display the stickers that show a rating from zero to five, on their window or inside wall, the scheme is not compulsory. But the FSA has not ruled out introducing a mandatory approach although, as it would require new legislation, it says that it is not currently ready to do so. However, the board will discuss the research and determine whether to proceed towards mandatory displays at its board meeting.

The research forms part of an ongoing project to evaluate the implementation and delivery of the FHRS scheme in England Wales and Northern Ireland and the Scottish food hygiene information scheme (FHIS), as well as attitudes to the voluntary approach. It found that there was support for mandatory labelling among consumers and local authority participants, as it would give consumers direct access to information and motivate food businesses to improve standards, as well as raising awareness of the scheme.

However, concerns were also raised about the reliability of ratings and inspections over time, with fears that a mandatory scheme may have a detrimental impact on trade, as well as the costs, time and responsibility of enforcing the scheme.   

The FSA also commissioned independent research to look into the level of voluntary display of the food hygiene schemes across Scotland, England and Northern Ireland and the reasons why food businesses are, or are not, displaying them. Polling a sample of 500 businesses in each country, the research found that 43% of businesses in England and 50% in Northern Ireland that had been given an FHRS rating were displaying it while 47% of businesses in Scotland were displaying their FHIS ‘Pass’ result. Businesses were more likely to display it, the higher the rating was.

Around 56% of businesses in England and 57% in Northern Ireland rated ‘4’ or ‘5’ displayed, compared with 12% and 22% respectively of those rated ‘0’ to ‘2’. It also found that while consumers and local authorities in FHRS/FHIS areas were generally supportive of mandatory display, businesses were more divided, with support highest amongst higher-rated businesses.

Following similar independent research undertaken in Wales for the FSA in 2011, the Welsh Assembly announced draft legislation to require food businesses such as butchers’ shops, restaurants, takeaways and supermarkets to display their score in a prominent position, such as at the entrance to their premises, or face a fine.

The FSA’s open board meeting will take place at 1pm on Tuesday 22 May 2012. Other topics to be discussed include the FSA as a UK Department working in an area of devolved competence and the results of the 2011 FSA Animal Welfare Survey.

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