No stars

Swindon Borough Council’s latest ‘scores on the doorsnews release has received plenty of publicity. But whilst the complacency of some of those in receipt of a zero star rating is to be deplored, the criticisms of the scoring by some more highly rated* cannot be ignored. The criticism is that the inspection regime is too paper based: an establishment can fail for not filling in the right paperwork, but can pass with poor hygiene if the paperwork is fine.

The information about what contributes to a restaurant’s star rating is rather well buried on Swindon Borough Council’s website. The criteria set-out by the government’s Food Standards Agency for assessing a ‘food business’ are:

  • type of food and method of handling;
  • method of processing;
  • consumers at risk;
  • level of current compliance with food hygiene and safety procedures;
  • level of current compliance with structure of premises;
  • confidence in management and control systems;
  • risk of contamination of food.

But of those, the only three that contribute to the ‘score on the door’ are:

  • level of current compliance with food hygiene and safety procedures;
  • level of current compliance with structure of premises;
  • confidence in management and control systems.

Oddly, ‘risk of contamination of food’ — logically the most important to the consumer — does not contribute to the score. Which might explain why the official definition for a zero-star rating is

Serious non-compliances found but no imminent risk to public health.

Until there’s an inspection regime that’s concerned more about food hygiene than it is about correct paperwork, my choice of restaurants will remain undisturbed.

* At which point I would have liked to have linked to their five star rating, but the council’s search result was broken.