Howell Davies voices concern over food hygiene ratings for Southampton’s restaurants.

It was the photos from a “QFC” chicken restaurant in London which surfaced last week which made me really think about food hygiene. An official from Waltham Forest Council described the takeaway restaurant as “the filthiest premises I have seen in a long time” with photos of the horrendous conditions making my stomach turn. The cookers and floors were caked in calcified grease, while mice droppings and food smatterings were cemented across the surfaces. How can we possibly trust such food outlets to not poison us?

Thankfully, the takeaway in question has now been shut down, but the thought that such food retailers harbouring similar conditions may still be trading is an unsettling thought. Debates have raged in recent years about horse meat and what is in our food, but fewer questions seem to be posed over the conditions in which our food is being prepared.

Data available from the Food Standards Agency suggests that a number of Southampton food vendors are operating under unhygienic and unsuitable conditions, and that improvements must be made to ensure that food is safe for consumption. The rating system which was implemented across the majority of the UK three years ago ascribes ratings of 0 to 5 to food outlets, using a three-element criteria to create the score.

While Southampton only had two outlets with a rating of 0 indicating “urgent improvement necessary” – Bombay Lounge and The Avenue Chinese Takeaway – a total of 32 scored 1, meaning “major improvement necessary”. The ratings are decided by how hygienically food is handled, the condition of the premises, and what strategies the vendor has in place to ensure food remains safe for consumption.

Food Hygiene Ratings for Southampton - 58% were awarded a "very good" rating of 5.

Food Hygiene Ratings for Southampton – 58% of food outlets were awarded a “very good” rating of 5

Highfield’s The Crown Inn scored a disappointing 2, while Portswood’s late night eateries Chick-o-land and Charcoal Grill were rated a “good” 4. Among the outlets rated a “very good” 5 were La Baronia, Mango, The Bridge, and surprisingly, Clowns & Jesters.

Last week, it became compulsory for Welsh food outlets to display food hygiene ratings; the first part of the UK to enforce such a law. But should such a law exist in England too?

If I went into a restaurant and noticed it had a hygiene rating of less than the “satisfactory” 3, I would almost certainly leave and go elsewhere, but perhaps that’s just me. If a food outlet is permitted to stay open despite receiving a rating of 0, then such a rating surely can’t be that bad. But then again… if Jesters has “very good” food hygiene, I dread to think what “urgent improvement necessary” looks like.

Would you eat food from an establishment which had a low hygiene rating? Let us know in the comment section below.

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  • David
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    The problem with these ratings is that (like OfSTED inspections) they aren’t always representative. They provide a snapshot based on, at most, a few hours observation and often far less. They’re also, in spite of the FSA’s criteria, quite subjective.

    I know a lot of people who work in food both in Southampton and in other parts of England. There are restaurants that get a 5 who on another day might only have scraped a 3. Likewise, there are some who get a 3 that probably actually deserve a 4 or 5.

    Although the lower scores should probably ring alarm bells, sometimes it’s a lot more complicated than a number stuck in a window might suggest.

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  • Alan
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    Loved the article, made me check up on local restaurants to make sure I wasn’t visiting anywhere with ‘immediate action required’. They have an app out that you can just point at a restaurant to check the rating.

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