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Food hygiene ratings: your lean (and squeaky clean) guide to what they actually mean

09 August 2020

FEW things get people talking more than photographs of stomach-churning conditions in dirty takeaways and restaurants.

Image of Food hygiene rating

But in reality (and thankfully!) the discovery of such conditions is a very rare occurrence when it comes to Stockton-on-Tees' 1,296 food businesses.

And it's the job of the Council's Environmental Health officers to inspect each and every one of them, with every inspection resulting in a rating of 0 to 5.

But what do those ratings actually mean? And how do food businesses in Stockton-on-Tees fare when it comes to them?

Find out the answers to these questions and more in this guide to food hygiene ratings.

What is the Food Hygiene Ratings Scheme (aka FHRS)?

The scheme is overseen by the Food Standards Agency and gives food businesses such as restaurants and takeaways a rating so you can make more informed choices about where to eat out or buy food.

How is a food hygiene rating worked out?

An Environmental Health officer from the Council inspects a business to check it meets the requirements of food hygiene law.

They check things like:

  • How hygienically the food is handled - how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored
  • The condition of the structure of the buildings - the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities
  • How the business manages what it does to make sure food is safe, which gives the officer an idea of whether standards will be maintained in the future

Each of these three elements is essential for making sure that food hygiene standards meet requirements and the food served or sold to you is safe to eat.

The hygiene standards found at the time of inspection are then reflected in a rating of 0 to 5.

What do the ratings actually mean?

The ratings translate as follows:

  • 5 - hygiene standards are very good
  • 4 - hygiene standards are good
  • 3 - hygiene standards are generally satisfactory
  • 2 - some improvement is necessary
  • 1 - major improvement is necessary
  • 0 - urgent improvement is required

If the top rating is not given, the officer will explain to the person who owns or manages the business what improvements need to be made and what action they can take to improve their hygiene rating.

The food hygiene rating reflects the hygiene standards found at the time the business is inspected.

What ratings do food businesses in Stockton-on-Tees have?

The FHRS scores for Stockton-on-Tees are as follows:

  • 5 - 1,065
  • 4 - 141
  • 3 - 62
  • 2 - 14
  • 1 - 13 (one currently closed)
  • 0 - 1 (this premises is closed and currently no longer trading)

This means that the 98 out of every 100 food premises in the Borough are compliant.

What do councillors think?

Councillor Steve Nelson, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council's Cabinet Member for Access, Communities and Community Safety, said: "Our Environmental Health officers are among the most committed people you will ever come across.

"Not only are they highly-trained, they work all hours to protect the public and if they find operators breaking food hygiene regulations they will not hesitate to take firm action.

"But it's also important to remember that we have many good food establishments in the Borough, and that a large part of the role of our Environmental Health officers is helping them achieve the highest standards of food safety too."

Why are businesses with a rating of 0 or 1 not closed immediately?

Businesses given a rating of 0 or 1 must make urgent or major improvements to hygiene standards. The Environmental Health officer will use a number of enforcement tools alongside advice and guidance to make sure these improvements are made.

They will also tell the business how quickly these improvements must be made and this will depend on the type of issues that need to be addressed.

If the officer finds that a business's hygiene standards are very poor and there is an imminent risk to health - this means food is not safe to eat - the officer must take action to make sure that consumers are protected.

This could mean closing the business down and in the worst cases, prosecution.

Is a rating given a long time ago still valid?

Yes. The rating is based on the most recent inspection.

How do businesses get a higher rating?

Good question! An Environmental Health officer's job is not just about being tough on those businesses in need of urgent improvement; it's also about helping businesses achieve the very highest food safety standards.

And they provide all kinds of practical advice and guidance to help businesses on their way to a top rating.

Are businesses legally required to display their rating?

No. In England, the display of the rating sticker is voluntary.

Then how do I find out the rating if it's not on display?

If you don't see the rating displayed at a takeaway or other food business, you can ask a member of staff what rating was given at the last inspection.

You can also search for a rating online at and there are a number of apps that provide the information too.

Why is the rating on the website sometimes different from the rating displayed at the premises?

There are a number of reasons why this might be the case.

For example, if a business does not achieve the top rating of 5, there is a delay before the rating is published to allow the business owner to make an appeal.

Even if the business is given the top rating and puts up the sticker in the window, there can be a short delay as the Council might not yet have updated the website - they generally do this once every month.

If you are concerned that the business is deliberately displaying a different rating to that on the website in order to give customers the impression it has higher hygiene standards than it actually does, you should contact the Council.

Can the owner of a business ask the local authority to re-visit?

Yes, but only if the improvements to hygiene raised at the last inspection have been made.

What should I do if I'm worried about hygiene standards at a food business?

If you have any concerns about hygiene standards in any food outlet you have visited, you should contact the Council's Environmental Health service on 01642 526575.