The Dirt on British Food
MeatInfo, a website devoted to Britain's meat industry, reports that a food safety consultant has determined that UK foodservice facilities need to strengthen their hygiene and sanitation practices.
Speaking at a trade forum last month, Dr. Lisa Ackerley addressed how food facilities can “Stay Off TV and Out of Court,” a reference to the increasing media coverage of lax hygiene and sanitation practices among restaurants. Specifically, the UK's Watchdog and Rogue Restaurants are reality-based TV shows that feature eye-opening misdeeds in British restaurants.
Ackerley cited several areas contributing to restaurants' sanitation and hygiene failures: hand washing facilities; employee changing areas; restrooms; materials used in food preparation; and a common trade-specific practice known as the “30-second rule,” whereby restaurants reintroduce dropped food into the supply chain unless it has remained floor-bound for more than 30 seconds.
As a means for redressing the restaurants' deficiencies, Ackerley proposed beefing up training for restaurant employees as well as introducing incentives that reward those facilities found to be in compliance.
The latter seems misdirected and sets a poor precedent. Rather than reward those who abide by the law, we prefer an approach that penalizes transgressors. Ackerley points to the success of Scores on Doors, a recently introduced program in Britain that identifies the cleanliness of restaurants with a star rating system (a similar grade-based system is used in California), as evidence that an incentive program—in this case, the receipt of a finite number of accolades—is working. However, we feel a better characterization of the program is one that penalizes poor performers.
When we were visiting California recently, it was accepted among our party that only those establishments bearing the “A” classification (California awards letter grades to reflect cleanliness) would be worthy dining destinations. We simply ignored those that received anything less. Such a system in effect therefore penalizes those who do not merit the more favorable assessment; it doesn't reward those with higher stars.
Even putting aside what for some is a semantical debate, such a system still has its shortcomings. We would prefer that there be fixed minimal standards of compliance that merit either on-premise public consumption or not (in the same way that a physician is either licensed or not). Those that do not meet acceptable levels of hygiene and sanitation are therefore shuttered, an ascertainable level of compliance that ensures the public consumes food that was prepared in an environment that meets acceptable hygiene and sanitation levels.
As for redressing the common failures that Ackerley cites, the majority are situations where restaurants lacked adequate facilities that would allow employees to sanitize their environment (personal and surrounding). Of course, training programs that introduces proper cleaning techniques are also necessary, but the latter could not occur without the tools necessary for conformity.
The sanitation and hygiene practices of restaurants are notable public concerns, especially in light of H1N1 and seasonal flu epidemics. No doubt, the spotlight will continue to expose those whose practices are substandard, illustrating the importance of making sure that all food establishments are “up to code.”
Britain's food industry needs to improve their hygiene and sanitation practices. The majority of foodservice transgressors lack adequate facilities that would allow employees to properly clean and sanitize their environment.