Operating a food business - Frequently asked questions

Why are food premises with a 0 or 1 food hygiene rating not closed down?

Food hygiene ratings awarded to food businesses are determined by the standards found at the time of a food hygiene inspection.  The rating awarded is based on scores given by the inspecting food safety officer in three areas:

  • Hygiene and Safety
  • Structure
  • Confidence in Management

The scores given are then rated on a scale:

  • 5 is at the top of the scale, this means the hygiene standards are very good and fully comply with the law
  • 0 is at the bottom of the scale, this means urgent improvement is necessary

To get the top rating, businesses must do well in all of the three areas above.

Bromley’s food safety officers work closely with food businesses which are given poor ratings advising them on the actions they need to take to improve their hygiene rating and comply with food hygiene legislation.  The officer will also tell the business how quickly these improvements must be made - this will depend on the type of issue that needs to be addressed.  Officers also have several enforcement options available to them as well as giving advice and guidance, to make sure these improvements are made.

Much goes on behind the scenes when a premises is given a poor rating, of which the public may not be aware.  This may include:

  • writing and sending reports listing action points to the food business operator;
  • regular re-visits to the premises to check progress of the required work;
  • meetings with food business operators and other relevant persons;
  • 1-2-1 coaching sessions with food business operators is also offered to the poorest businesses;
  • service of Improvement Notices which are legally binding, and;
  • in some cases, action through the courts e.g. prosecution

The reasons for a poor food hygiene rating being given is different for each premises and therefore, the type of action taken by food safety officers depends on the circumstances.  Additionally, the poor rating initially awarded will remain with the business until it is next inspected or until the business applies for a revisit for re-scoring, even if they have taken action to remedy the problems identified.

If during an inspection the officer finds that a business’s hygiene standards are extremely poor, and there is an imminent risk to public health, when food may be unsafe to eat due to the actual or the significant risk of contamination, the officer can act to ensure consumers are protected.  This could result in the authority stopping/prohibiting part of the business from operating, stopping a process or treatment or closing the premises down completely until it is safe to reopen.

Food safety officers must adhere to the provisions of relevant food hygiene legislation and must follow Codes of Practice, where the circumstances in which formal closure/prohibition powers can be used are laid out.

The closure of a food business can only be required where one or more of the following circumstances have been met:

  • very poor structural condition;
  • very poor equipment and/or poor maintenance or routine cleaning;
  • serious accumulations of refuse, filth or other extraneous matter (e.g. raw sewage), resulting in the actual contamination of food or a significant risk of food contamination; and
  • an active and uncontrolled infestation of pests.

A rating of 0 or 1 does not in itself mean that a food premises can be formally closed by the authority.

Formal closure is usually used if the officer considers that there is a risk of the establishment continuing to trade or continuing to use a process/treatment, or there is a risk of the premises being re-opened without the officer’s knowledge and/or agreement.  In many cases, with the food safety officer’s agreement, food business operators decide to close voluntarily themselves in order to address the problems.  This may be overnight, or for a few days or longer until the food safety officer is satisfied that the problems have been addressed satisfactorily.  When this happens, the public are unlikely to be aware that the premises has closed as a result of a visit by a food safety officer.

It is also worth bearing mind that even if a food business is formally closed or closes voluntarily, it does not necessarily mean that the premises will remain closed for good.  Once the problems that led to the closure have been addressed, and the officer is satisfied that this is the case, then the premises must be allowed to reopen.

For more information about food hygiene ratings:  Frequently asked questions about the food hygiene rating scheme