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Food hygiene ratings - are they really fair on restaurants?

PUBLISHED: 11:01 11 August 2018 | UPDATED: 11:01 11 August 2018

Norwich food hygiene inspectors at work. 
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Norwich food hygiene inspectors at work. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

I live in fear of the day the food hygiene inspectors call.

Dirty crockery piled up, mouldy veg in the food bin, flies circling, work surfaces grubby, out-of-date food and drink in the fridge and cupboards.

Oh, and chopping raw chicken on the vegetable board, dipping my finger in food and licking it, etc, etc.

The inspectors would shut me down after slapping a “zero-star” sticker on the window.

In fact, they’d condemn me and probably pray for my soon-to-departed soul.

Luckily, I have the constitution of a hyena and rarely succumb to the flummery of food gripes.

Equally luckily, I am not a cafe or a restaurant (though that’s more by choice than luck).

You see, my theory is that it is only by exposing oneself to ecoli and salmonella that one becomes immune to it.

And my habit of scraping mould off food, then eating it, isn’t likely to earn my fine dining establishment five stars.

I’d quite rightly be considered a chicken-in-the-basket case.

Fair enough. But is the inspection system always fair enough?

Drawing on my barely-existent knowledge of food hygiene rules, plus my gut feeling (nothing to do with the salmonella stew I’ve just eaten), I suggest that it can be unfair.

In recent months, restaurants in Norfolk have been awarded one star out of five after an inspection - enough to create alarm and aversion among possible diners.

Would you eat at a place with one star on the window? With so much choice, of course you wouldn’t.

Sadly, the rating makes the mind conjure rats’ droppings, cockroaches and rancid milk.

But - and this is where it can be unfair - it might just be that the restaurateurs haven’t got the paperwork or their labelling right.

I know there are some weird restaurants around these days, but I’ve yet to find one that serves up paperwork.

We go to eateries to eat food, not foolscap.

So is it really cricket to damage the reputation of a restaurant so swiftly? Surely it’d be better to slap on a warning notice and give the staff a week to get their admin in order.

If cockroaches are free-diving into the French Onion soup or penicillin is being curated at the back of the fridge, shut the place down.

Any person whose business is to serve food to customers has no excuse for not doing it with care and pride.

But if they serve superb food but inspectors cannot follow the paper trail, just chill.

For most people who go into the dining industry, it is a labour of love.

They have to be passionate about food and drink because the demands are intense: ridiculous hours, difficult customers, the need to maintain excellence, the demand for new ideas, challenging staff.

I couldn’t do it: I can’t even keep my own fridge in order.

To have years of hard graft placed in jeopardy by a poor rating for shabby filing leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

It is, of course, a simplistic argument on my part. There is always nuance.

But I won’t hesitate to eat in a one-star establishment.

If it wasn’t safe, it wouldn’t be open.

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