With a quarter of people planning to book their Christmas meals with friends and family this week and next, the Agency has launched a public campaign encouraging people to ‘look before you book’.
It said that a recent poll showed that 41 per cent of people never check food hygiene ratings before they eat out, despite 39 per cent of diners suspecting that they have contracted food poisoning from a restaurant or takeaway.
Once food hygiene ratings were explained, 83 per cent of those polled said they would not consider eating at a restaurant that scored below 3, and only 3 per cent said they would take their chances anywhere if they were hungry.
Catriona Stewart, head of the Food Hygiene Ratings Scheme, said: “We are urging everybody to look before they book if planning that special Christmas meal.
“We want to tell people that it’s quick and easy to check a restaurant’s food hygiene rating. They can look on the FSA website or, if they are out and about, check for the green and black ratings sticker on display or ask restaurant staff.”
Currently, 91 per cent of restaurants in the UK are rated three and above, and the FSA hopes that raising public awareness of the scheme will encourage restaurants with low ratings to improve their food hygiene practices.
“Most restaurants have a rating of three or above, however, as an inspector, I often think consumers would be surprised at which restaurants fall short of good practice,” said Environmental Health Officer Emma Richbell.
“I’d urge everybody to look at the official food hygiene rating, rather than chance it by choosing a place they think will be okay.”
Responding to the FSA campaign, consumer group Which? said it should be a legal requirement for restaurants in England and Northern Ireland to display their ratings on a window sticker.
“We’d like the display of food hygiene ratings made compulsory as soon as possible to provide greater transparency of standards across all food businesses and to give consumers confidence about where they choose to eat,” said Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd.
Wales introduced the mandatory display of hygiene ratings last year and claims the scheme has been ‘a remarkable success’, with more than 50 per cent of food businesses in Wales achieving a rating of five.
The Welsh government has since proposed new rules requiring takeaways to list information about the scheme on their menus.