25 February 2020 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
About 40,000 hospitality businesses in the UK risk being shunned for scoring low on food hygiene.
Thirty-four per cent of people would turn away at the door of a restaurant or café if faced with a food hygiene rating of 3 or less, which would affect at least 40,000 hospitality businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Research by insurer NFU Mutual shows that food hygiene is higher in the public consciousness than ever - two-thirds of people (69 per cent) now actively check food hygiene ratings before they part with their cash.
NFU Mutual's study also finds that restaurants rated 3 and below could already be losing more than half of their possible takings because customers are willing to spend on average £8 more (nearly double) on a meal at a restaurant rated 5 (£17.31 versus £8.97).
Public awareness of food-related illnesses is running extremely high. Ninety per cent of consumers are aware of salmonella being an issue for food producers, 86 per cent recognise the threat posed by E. coli and 68 per cent recognise listeria. Norovirus is the fourth most-recognised bug (44 per cent).
Only 6 per cent of respondents failed to identify any illnesses at all.
The study suggests that takeaways and sandwich shops are the most likely to have their ratings checked ahead of a visit - 55 per cent of customers said they actively look up takeaway hygiene scores. Restaurant scores are the next most closely observed, with 54 per cent of customers checking on them, followed by cafés (43 per cent) and pubs (37 per cent).
The public's concerns are reinforced by the Food Standards Agency's findings, which indicate that two-thirds of food-borne norovirus cases are linked to eating out and takeaways. It also reports that takeaways and sandwich shops have the worst hygiene ratings across the hospitality sector, with only 50 per cent rating a score of 5 and 27 per cent awarded a score of 3 or below.
Darren Seward, hospitality and food and drink manufacturing specialist at NFU Mutual, said: "Judged by the court of public opinion, even the smallest lapse in hygiene standards can make or break a reputation overnight, so it's crucial that businesses don't get complacent about food hygiene."
"Our research shows that consumers are already seeking scores out for themselves and turning away as a result. With a clear link between hygiene ratings and financial performance, the 40,000 hospitality businesses with a rating of 3 and below should prioritise hygiene now, or risk losing up to a third of their custom."
The National Audit Office announced that local authority spending on food hygiene fell by an estimated 19 per cent between 2012/13 and 2017/18 because of funding pressures.
Seward said the Food Standards Agency had paused aspects of its 'Regulating Our Future' programme, delaying mandatory display of hygiene stickers in England - originally set to launch in 2019 - because of Brexit.