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Hygiene standards - what to look for


couple eating When you are choosing somewhere to eat out or buy a takeaway, here are some things you might want to look out for to check that hygiene standards are up to scratch.


Signs to look for

Arrow If you are going somewhere local, keep a look out in the local press about food hygiene offences. But if you have ventured in somewhere new, watch out for the following:

Danger signs
  • dirty public areas (if the areas you can see aren't managed well, imagine the state of the areas you can't see)
  • dirty tables, crockery, cutlery and glassware
  • staff with dirty hands or fingernails, dirty aprons or long hair that isn't tied back
  • overflowing wastebins or bags of rubbish outside the premises (these could attract pests and flies)
  • dirty toilets and handwashing areas
  • raw foods displayed next to ready-to-eat foods or the same serving spoons or tongs used for both
  • food on display that has passed its 'use by' date
  • hair or insects in food
If you spot a few of these, there is a good chance that standards of hygiene are not what they should be and you might want to think about taking your business elsewhere.

If you think hygiene standards aren't up to scratch, see Know your rights.

Good signs
If you spot these, you have probably found yourself a good new eatery:

  • hot food is steaming hot when served
  • cold food is properly cold when served
  • a fresh batch of food is brought out when a batch is finished (an old batch of food should never be topped up with a fresh one)
  • self-service fridges are properly cold
  • staff hygiene training certificates on the walls or food safety instructions in food preparation areas


Know your rights

You have a right to be served food that is:
  • what you ordered
  • not described or presented in a misleading way
  • of satisfactory quality
  • safe to eat
If you're concerned that a restaurant is misleadingly labelling any food or describing it in a way that leads you to expect something different to what is served, you can report it to your local authority.

If you order a hot dish and you think that it might not have been cooked or reheated properly - don't eat it - send it back. A hot dish that is cold in the middle has probably not been properly cooked.

If you think hygiene standards aren't up to scratch:
  • complain to the owner
  • take your business elsewhere
  • report the business to your local environmental health service - this is important because you could help prevent poor hygiene making other people seriously ill


Food business inspections

All food businesses are inspected routinely by their local authority to check standards of hygiene.

An environmental health officer looks at the way staff work and whether the business is obeying the law. Generally businesses are not given advance notice of the inspection.

If the officer is not satisfied with what they find they can advise the business, issue a warning letter or formal notice to put the situation right, or prosecute the business. In extreme cases, the premises can be closed down immediately.

It depends on the type of business and its previous food safety record how often routine inspections take place. Complaints or concern among the public influence the frequency of inspections or prompt a follow-up investigation by the local authority. So remember to complain if you have a concern.

Food poisoning

If you're concerned about your health, contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or get in touch with your GP. This is especially important for children, elderly people, pregnant women and people who are already ill.

If you think that you have become ill because of food you have eaten from a restaurant or other food business, you should contact your local authority.