Consuming Issues: Is your favourite restaurant dirty?

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 "" 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

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, and

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!

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Pricing Analyst

    £30 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pricing Analyst to join a leading e-...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is a mul...

    Guru Careers: C# Project Team Lead

    £55 - 65k (DOE): Guru Careers: A unique opportunity for a permanent C# Develop...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club that later became synonymous with Hillsborough has dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor