Compliance is the key factor for independent convenience stores to achieve a passing food hygiene rating, according to experts.

The food hygiene rating is used to help customers determine how trustworthy a business who sells food is. Retailers who receive a score of zero to two are a fail, while marks of three to five are a pass.

stat1.jpgEnvironmental health officers determine the score across three areas; overall food hygiene, structure of the business and how compliant the management is in following hygiene standards. The categories are given marks from zero to 25, with zero representing a perfect score.

RN’s investigation found management compliance was the area where most stores struggled, with 5% of all failing independent stores given a 20 or more in management compliance.

Environmental health officer Jonathan France, who is also an advisor for industry body The Society of Food Hygiene and Technology, told RN achieving a passing grade is simple for stores who are more stringent with their own hygiene inspections. “I visit a lot of convenience stores, and many of them are really good when it comes to staying on top of their food hygiene standards and showing they can maintain these requirements to an environmental safety officer,” he said.

“However, just like bars and restaurants, there are some who get a failing grade by missing out on simple things. It’s really not that hard to get a passing grade and retailers can take simple steps to achieve this.

“It’s all about compliance; retailers can ensure this by planning more effectively. Their hygiene inspector is more likely to give them a passing grade if they can provide this in the form of suitable documentation.”

Actions retailers can take include keeping a weekly rota for cleaning schedules and ensuring the chillers are up to standard, according to France. “For example, an independent convenience store owner can get staff to sweep up the store on a Monday and write this down,” he said.

“They can check the dates on food on a Wednesday and keep a form near the chiller to write down that it’s being kept at the correct temperature.”

Businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are required by law to make their food hygiene rating visible to customers, while the Local Government Association is pushing to make this mandatory across England.

According to councils in England, nearly half of all businesses that have been assessed do not make their food hygiene rating visible.

In RN’s research, multiples were found to have a higher proportion of stores scoring five out of five – 91% of supermarkets compared with just 56% of independent retailers.

Seventy-three per cent of bars, restaurants and fast food chains scored five. Twenty one symbol groups achieved a pass rate of higher than 90%. Aldi, Lidl, Iceland, Waitrose and Tesco were among the multiples to achieve a 100% pass rate.

When asked why the symbol group had one of the best pass rates, Nisa communications manager Gemma Bell told RN: “Our fresh food development managers provide a training workshop on fresh foods, teaching retailers and their staff how to trade legally and how to improve food hygiene rating scores.”

Similarly, Bestway has launched dedicated programmes to help Best-one and Bargain Booze retailers improve their hygiene ratings. A spokeswoman told RN: “Last year, we launched new refit standards that have since been installed in 108 Best-one stores.

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 15.09.31.png“In the case of Bargain Booze, we are focused on rebuilding Bestway Retail business, and are constantly driving improvements to store standards through offering training, support and practical advice to franchisees.

“Those stores with a less-than-satisfactory rating have an action plan in place to drive improvements where necessary.”

Booker, Spar and the NFRN said they have dedicated field teams to support store owners in improving their food hygiene standards.

Sid Sidhu, who runs a Budgens in Kenilworth, went from a zero to a five-star rating five years ago following construction work in his store. “I was making some refurbishments to my store and the back ended up looking like a construction site, which was the contributing factor to my shop receiving a failing zero rating at the time,” he said.

“I went up to five stars once I resolved that, but I make sure I document every food hygiene-related practice I make in the store to ensure I keep the rating.

“There’s nothing complicated about it. For example, it’s all about ensuring my staff clean certain parts of the store at the end of the day. I write everything down so I have a clear documentation of what I have done.”

Tips to improve your food hygiene rating

Jonathan France
Environmental health inspector

Keep a weekly schedule of your food hygiene standards. For example, make Monday the day you sweep the floors, while Tuesday could be the day to check the dates in the fridge, and so on.

Plenty of help and resources are available. If you’re not sure where to get them, speak to your health and hygiene inspector, or your local council. Go to Food Standards. All of these organisations will be happy to help you.

When it comes to inspection, be as transparent as possible. One of the main reasons many stores get a failing rating is because they don’t show the proper documentation. After all, how will the hygiene inspector know that you’ve been doing checks if you don’t show them?

Molly Johnson-Jones
Retail analyst at Stone & River

The reason the multiples and major chains have much higher success rate for passing food hygiene ratings is that they follow a strict regime of compliance. It’s important to ask what they do because these areas are often overlooked.

Display your passing food hygiene rating in your shop window. Customers will be more likely to shop at your store if they know they can rely on the food products you sell.

Create a checklist of areas which need improvement in the store. You can only improve the standard of food hygiene by being more rigorous.