The Welsh Government will publish proposals in a draft Bill for consultation, designed to provide consumers with more information about where they eat or buy food, raise food hygiene practices among businesses and improve public health by reducing the incidence of food-borne illness.
The Minister for Health and Social Services, Lesley Griffiths visited the Habit Tea Room in Llandudno to launch the consultation.
Introduction of a mandatory food hygiene rating scheme is a commitment in the Welsh Government’s Programme for Government and would be the UKs first compulsory scheme.
Under the scheme, businesses will be rated with a score between 0 and 5 – with 0 meaning urgent improvement is necessary and a 5 rating meaning hygiene standards are very good.
The rating will be based on criteria including food handling standards – such as how the food is prepared, cooked, cooled and stored – and the condition of the premises.
Businesses will be required to display their score in a prominent position such as at the entrance to their premises – for example, their ‘score on the door’ – or face a fine. Food hygiene ratings will also be available online.
A Consumer Focus Wales survey in October 2011 showed that 94 per cent of people in Wales thought it should be compulsory for food businesses to display their food hygiene rating score.
A mandatory scheme is also supported by Professor Hugh Pennington who chaired the public inquiry into the 2005 E.coli outbreak in Wales – the second biggest ever in the UK – which resulted in one death, 150 other cases including 31 hospital admissions and long-term health consequences for several children.
Around 30,000 businesses in Wales would be covered by the scheme. Currently more than 13,500 have been rated under a voluntary scheme operated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) – although only one in three are displaying their rating.
Health Minister Lesley Griffiths said:
“I believe food hygiene is vital for the protection of public health, and this scheme will help drive up standards and benefit consumers and businesses alike.
"The scheme will enable consumers to make a more informed choice about where they choose to eat or shop for food.
“Mandatory display of hygiene scores will also benefit food businesses. Good food hygiene means a good rating which is good for business.
“Compulsory display of hygiene ratings will encourage all businesses to improve their procedures and drive up standards. Professor Hugh Pennington, who chaired the public inquiry into the 2005 E.coli outbreak supports such a scheme as an inexpensive way of driving significant improvements in food safety.
“It is already a legal requirement for food businesses to meet hygiene regulations set out in food law, but businesses are not currently required to display their ratings and those with low scores generally do not display them.
“However, many businesses are already part of the voluntary scheme which is in operation. We therefore want to work closely with business to introduce a mandatory scheme as smoothly as possible.”
It is expected that the earliest a mandatory scheme will come into operation will be 2014, with a lead-in time from when the legislation is passed to allow businesses time to prepare.
As in the current voluntary scheme, the frequency of inspections will be based on an assessment of risk to the consumer, such as the type of food business, the nature of the food and the size of the business.
Businesses will be able to request a re-rating inspection and they will also be able to appeal against their score if they consider it unjust or unfair.
The legislation proposes the introduction of fixed penalty notices of £200 for offences such as non-display of a rating with discounts for early payment. There are also powers to prosecute with a proposed maximum fine of £1000.
Food businesses will also be offered assistance to improve their scores. The Food Standards Agency will continue to make funding available to Welsh local authorities so that they can carry out advisory visits to businesses to help them improve their food hygiene ratings.