The Introduction of food hygiene scores for establishments selling food has been criticised by small businesses.
On the face of it, it is a very good idea that should reap only positives and innumerate benefits. Scoring establishments that sell food on a scale of 0-5 (with 0 being the lowest and 5 the highest) based upon their food hygiene standards should encourage businesses to improve their food safety standards and help customers choose the most hygienic outlets.
However, the unclear and inconsistent scoring system has prohibited many establishments achieve the score that they believe that they deserve. The scoring system has been let down due to an inconsistency within the reviewers and even the dependency upon correct paperwork. An outlet may be marked down significantly if they have not submitted all of the correct paperwork even if the food safety standards are very high.
This in particular is having a negative effect upon smaller businesses due to their limited resources. Whilst larger businesses may be able to dedicate a team or an individual to the task of submitting the paperwork, smaller and new upstarts may struggle to find the time to keep abreast of all of their administrative duties. Sheron Jones operates a small sandwich bar and bemoans the impact that paperwork has upon the score that she received, she mused:
"People looking at my three-star will think we're not keeping it as clean. I think it's very unfair. They could make the paperwork easier for businesses. I used to work in a bank so I know paperwork - and it's not straightforward."
Furthermore, smaller businesses may not be able to keep on top of superficial cleaning duties with the same ease as businesses who can afford to employ dedicated cleaning staff.
Incredibly, in some circumstances the score depends entirely upon the individual marking the establishment. Andy Griffiths, who runs his own butchers, was affected by such inconsistencies. He revealed: "On a previous visit, I had a complaint that there was blood on a door handle of the fridge and then another person came in and said, 'You're a butcher's shop - so you're bound to have a bit of blood somewhere'."
The scheme is currently operating in parts of Wales but may become law within the year. A spokesperson for the Welsh Government enthused about the scheme: "Food hygiene is essential for the protection of public health. The rating scheme will help drive up standards, so it will benefit both consumers and businesses alike.
"The scheme will enable consumers to make more informed choices about where they choose to eat or shop for food, while good food hygiene means a higher rating which is good for business.
"If the Bill becomes law, it is expected that the mandatory scheme will not come into operation until late 2013, allowing businesses to prepare."