In a brazen attempt to show themselves in a better light, “concerning” numbers of restaurants and cafés in the City of London have illegally displayed false food hygiene ratings.
A survey of 140 of the 1,800 eateries located in the financial district of the City found 22 (16%) had green stickers displayed showing incorrect ratings that were higher than those they had been given in their most recent food safety inspections.
After announcing its findings, the City of London Corporation called for a change in the law to force businesses to display accurate ratings on their shopfronts, even if they are poor.
Currently, those with the lowest possible ratings of one or zero (out of a possible five) have no obligation to warn their customers. However, it is a criminal offence to display an incorrect rating sticker.
“The worst case found was a place that used to be five stars but had been downgraded to two stars – the five star was still in the window,” said Steve Playle, trading standards manager at the City Corporation.
Speaking to a meeting of councillors on 21 May, he said: “Trading standards visited 22 premises and made them use wallpaper scrapers to remove the stickers from their windows.
“We gave them an obligatory warning in writing and we advised them they should seek a re-rating [new inspection] if they wanted to.
“In one case, within about two seconds of arriving at a premises the manager wrote a cheque for £210 asking to pay for a re-rating.”
Deputy Jamie Ingham Clarke asked: “I’m just concerned that 16% were displaying the wrong scores. Does that mean our enforcement powers aren’t strong enough?”
Mr Playle admitted trading standards does not routinely check if businesses are displaying false scores. He also encouraged consumers to “check ratings online before they visit”.
The Corporation said that 96% of all businesses in the City have ratings of three or above. The survey also found 36% of businesses inspected were not displaying food hygiene stickers at all. Despite this, 87% of those questioned said it should be illegal not to display the stickers.
Jeremy Simons, chair of the port health and environmental services committee, said: “The rights of consumers to make informed choices about the food they eat is something we take very seriously.
“Where we have found restaurants being dishonest, we have acted quickly to rectify the situation.
“Food hygiene standards are very high in the City, with 96% of outlets having a rating of three or more.
“But we will continue to work with the other premises to ensure they understand the importance of upholding the best standards in their businesses. Consumers can also check a restaurant’s rating on the Food Standards Agency’s website before they visit, and report any premises displaying false figures.”
The Food Standards Agency oversees the Food Hygiene Rating scheme that is carried out by the City Corporation and all other UK councils.
The agency has lobbied since 2017 for the mandatory display of the green stickers, which is currently the law in Wales but not the rest of the UK.