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Enjoy safe food this Christmas

This is the time of year when many of us eat out; but the last thing you want is to end up with sickness or food poisoning after a visit to a restaurant.

Even in mild forms, food poisoning is not enjoyable; in severe forms it can be dangerous.

So while the majority of our restaurants and public venues are super clean and safe, there are some of course where for a number of reasons their hygiene levels may have dropped.

The Food Standards Agency has issued some good advice to help keep us safe over the Christmas and mid winter period. The FSA does important work in the UK. It is an independent government department responsible for food safety and hygiene and works with business to help ensure they offer safe food. The agency also works with local authorities to ensure Britain’s quite strict food safety regulations are enforced.

Businesses are inspected by a food safety officer on a regular basis. The officer will carry out a number of checks including how hygienically the food is handled; how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated and stored; and also the condition of the kitchens and the buildings including general cleanliness, lighting and ventilation. Other checks includes record keeping.

At the end of each visit the business is given a hygiene rating numbered out of five. The top rating is five and for anything below that, the inspector will explain to the owner or manager what improvements are needed and how a better rating can be achieved.

This hygiene rating can be shown on a sticker in the window and on a certificate displayed inside. The rules in England, Scotland and Wales are slightly different. In the last year, for instance, businesses in Wales have legally been required to show these stickers.

The FSA is suggesting that if you are planning on eating out this winter and over Christmas, you check the venue’s rating.

They have put together a great online facility where you can check the ratings of many establishments across the UK. Not all areas or business are covered yet, but a large number are.

All you do is put in the name of the establishment and the post code if possible, and the establishment’s latest rating will come up automatically.

In Scotland, there is a slightly different system called the Food Hygiene Information Scheme but you can still find out about individual establishments through the FSA site.

If you have eaten out and feel you have experienced food poisoning, it is important of course to let the establishment know.

If you have serious concerns about your experience, then you need to make an official report to your local authority. They have environmental health officers who handle complaints about food quality, hygiene and safety issues. Don’t get confused with Trading Standards Officers who handle complaints about food labelling, ingredients and weights and measures. These are not health issues.

The good news of course is that most restaurants and establishments today are clean and provide fresh and hygienically safe food. But sometimes it can be worth doing a quick food hygiene rating check before your visit just for total peace of mind.


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