Over 7,000 businesses in the North West could be losing more than a third of business if customers look before they book this Valentine’s, as 34% of people would turn away at the door if faced with a food hygiene rating of 3 or less.

64% of businesses in the North West have a hygiene rating of 5, matching the average in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The figure falls to its lowest in London at just 50%.

Available today in a new report ‘A Fresh Look at Food Hygiene’ from insurer NFU Mutual, which protects thousands of food and hospitality businesses, the research surveyed more than 2,000 people and also analysed the hygiene ratings awarded by the Food Standards Agency in the UK.

NFU Mutual’s research also found that restaurants rated 3 and below could already be losing more than half of their possible takings as the public are willing to spend on average £8 more (nearly double) on a meal at a restaurant rated 5 (£17.31 vs. £8.97).

It found the importance of food hygiene is high in the public consciousness, as more than two thirds of people (69%) now check the ratings of eateries they use and 55% say food hygiene and recall issues have affected the way they buy food from businesses such as restaurants and cafes, with 28% now taking longer to look at the menu.

According to the National Audit Office (NAO) around one million people in the UK suffer a food-related illness each year, potentially causing up to £1bn in lost earnings for businesses and hospital admissions.

“Nobody wants to risk putting off their Valentine’s date with an unfortunate gift of food poisoning.

“Businesses with a rating of four or five tend to show it off at the door with pride, so if you can’t find the rating sticker, your venue might have something to hide. Check the Food Standards Agency tool online in advance or ask the restaurant before you book, as they have a duty to tell you.” (Darren Seward, Hospitality Sector Specialist at NFU Mutual)

Citing Brexit as one of the reasons, The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has paused aspects of its Regulating Our Future programme, delaying the mandatory display of hygiene stickers in England which was originally set to launch in 2019.

Wales and Northern Ireland have already been subscribed to the mandatory display of food hygiene ratings for a number of years with positive impacts reported by the FSA on improving standards.

NFU Mutual’s research shows the proposed law has gained an even stronger groundswell of support from consumers in recent years, with 91% in favour of the rule in 2019 compared with 88% when consumers were surveyed for the hospitality insurer’s 2017 report.

The ratings are also more important than three years ago, as only nearly 1 out of 50 people stated that they would not be influenced by a food hygiene rating displayed in a window, compared with 1 in 20 in 2017. In 2017, just 20% of people knew the ratings for their favourite food outlets.

In a 2019 report, the NAO also announced that only 52% of food businesses in England were displaying hygiene ratings in their premises and Local Authority spending on food hygiene fell by an estimated 19% between 2012/13 and 2017/18 because of funding pressures.

“A law making the display of ratings compulsory could be a game-changer for the hospitality industry, helping consumers to make informed decisions and also helping businesses that are prioritising hygiene to stand out from the crowd.

Judged by the court of public opinion, even the smallest lapse in hygiene standards can make or break a reputation overnight, so it’s important that businesses don’t get complacent about food hygiene. Businesses with a rating of 3 and below should prioritise hygiene now in anticipation for the legal proposals to be reawakened or risk the potential to lose up to a third of custom.” (Darren Seward)

To request a free PDF copy of the full report click here.


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