Consuming Issues: Is your favourite restaurant dirty?
Saturday 19 September 2009
Marco Pierre White once likened the front of his star restaurant to heaven and its kitchen to hell. He was talking about the ordeal for staff (among them Gordon Ramsay), but there are other, unknown horrors happening behind the swing doors.
Food hygiene has been in the news recently, notably over the mass illness at Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck in Bray, the E.coli cases in Wrexham this summer, and the latest environmental health ratings of supermarkets.
Poor food hygiene isn't limited to headlines though. According to the Health Protection Agency (HPA), 4.5 million people in England and Wales get food-borne illnesses such as salmonella and E.coli every year.
These bugs can be extremely nasty, resulting, as they did at Godstone Farm in Surrey (through the touching of farm animals infected with E.coli), in renal failure and the hospitalisation of 13 children.
So, how can you check whether your favourite restaurant is a health hazard, whether it has rats or the chefs any soap? This used to be confidential in all but the most appalling cases, where local authorities would prosecute, but since the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the shroud of secrecy over environmental health inspections has started to lift.
We can't see the whole picture yet, because two-thirds of councils don't publish summaries of their inspections. But a third do – and the results are a click of a mouse away.
Ninety-eight local authorities in England publish their ratings of food premises (five stars being best, no stars a disgrace) on the national "scoresonthedoors.org.uk" website. Of the 90,194 eateries listed, 20,353 – 23 per cent – have two stars or less. Of those, 2,344 had zero stars. Separately, 33 London boroughs publicise publish their five-star ratings at eforms.yourlondon.gov.uk.
Publication of these ratings raises standards because no food business wants customers to know it might be dodgy (I wouldn't knowingly eat anywhere with less than two stars). But the Food Standards Agency is planning to relax the judging, meaning far more premises will earn four or five stars without any improvement. Perhaps as a result of lobbying, the FSA is seeking to push through the weakest system, simply to get it accepted.
And it seems some of the big supermarkets don't wish to be covered by hygiene ratings at all. In a two-page letter to the FSA's then chair, Deirdre Hutton, in December, Asda's corporate affairs director, Paul Kelly, wrote: "There is no substantiation as to why Scores on the Doors should be extended to retail premises."
Readers of Tuesday's Independent will have seen that, in a new league table, one in 20 Tescos and one in 25 Asdas scored less than three stars, signifying they breached some, or many, aspects of food safety legislation.
According to the London scheme, a one-star rating shows a "poor level of compliance with food safety legislation – much more effort required". A zero rating shows "a general failure to comply with legal requirements. Little or no appreciation of food safety. Major effort required." In normal language, they are likely to be filthy.
If food businesses had to display their star rating, perhaps restaurateurs, takeaway owners and shops would take more care.
So, how did The Fat Duck and the Llay Fish Bar, which the National Public Health Service for Wales said was the "most likely source" of the E.coli outbreak that infected four people, fare?
The HPA said the source of the Fat Duck outbreak, which laid low 529 diners, was sewage-infected oysters (and therefore beyond the restaurant's control), but it did criticise the slow reporting of the incident and allowing sick staff to work.
Heston Blumenthal is widely considered to run a clean kitchen. Probably his place would have scored four or five stars, but, because Windsor and Maidenhead council does not publish its hygiene reports, we don't know.
In Wrexham, health officers gave the Llay Fish Bar no stars last August, a score published on the council's website. The fish bar has re-opened because the authorities could not prove it was responsible for the E.coli. If you had checked its score, would you have popped in for cod and chips? The ratings are there, online, on council websites, scoresonthedoors.org.uk and eforms.yourlondon.gov.uk.
Heroes & Villians
Hero: Channel 4
Without Channel 4's backing, The End of the Line probably would not have been made. The fishing docu-film showed how industrialised trawling has left some species on the brink of commercial extinction, with too few left to be worth catching. Its release has sparked a debate on overfishing that has resulted in retailers such as Pret A Manger changing how they source tuna. But one thing: couldn't the once-pioneering channel broadcast End of the Line on its main terrestrial channel, rather than, as planned, the digital ghetto More4?
Villain: French car-makers
The French make lovely food, but they don't make very good cars. At least that's what 77,000 car owners told Which? about the performance of their motors. In the magazine's annual survey, six of the least popular 10 cars were French, including four Renaults, a Peugeot and a Citroën. Bottom of the pile was the Renault Espace (1997-2003). The Mégane (1996-2003) was described as "a pile of rubbish" and the Laguna (2001-2007), pictured, as "an impulse buy... regretted ever since". One reader described the Espace as: "A fantastic car, if only it would work for longer than a month at a time." Ouch!
The FTSE 100 is inching closer to its record high but can it maintain these levels?
MPs call for Equitable Life policyholders to be paid £2.8bn owed by government
Fuel poverty could claim 100,000 lives over next 15 years, warns energy charity
Bank-beating exchange rates on your international payments
Weekly Money: Round-up of the personal finance stories you may have missed 23-27 February
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Fearne Cotton quits Radio 1 after ten years for 'family and new adventures'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
iJobs Money & Business
£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...
£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...
£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...
£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...
Day In a Page
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads