5 minutes

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is an independent government department working to protect public health and consumers’ wider interests in relation to food in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

The Food Standards Agency Hygiene Rating scheme data provides information about businesses’ hygiene standards. The scheme is run in conjunction with local authorities who appoint food safety officers locally to conduct the inspections.

Ratings are a snapshot of the standards of food hygiene found in the premises at the time of inspection. Ratings are typically given to places where food is supplied, sold or consumed, such as:

  • restaurants, pubs and cafes
  • takeaways, food vans and stalls
  • canteens and hotels
  • supermarkets and other food shops
  • schools, hospitals and care homes

How inspections are conducted

A food safety officer from the local authority will inspect a business to check that it follows food hygiene law to ensure that the food is safe to eat.

At the inspection, the officer will check the following three elements:

  • how hygienically the food is handled – how it is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored
  • the physical condition of the business –including cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation, pest control and other facilities
  • how the business manages ways of keeping food safe, looking at processes, training and systems to ensure good hygiene is maintained. The officer can then assess the level of confidence in standards being maintained in the future

Except for Scotland (See Scottish Hygiene Ratings below) on completion of the inspection one of the following overall ratings will be issued:

  • 0 = urgent improvement is required
  • 1 = major improvement is necessary
  • 2 = some improvement is necessary
  • 3 = hygiene standards are generally satisfactory
  • 4 = hygiene standards are good
  • 5 = hygiene standards are very good

To get a 5 rating, businesses must do well in all the elements referenced above. If a business fails to achieve the top rating then the inspector will explain to the business what actions they can take to improve their hygiene rating.

Scottish Hygiene Ratings

Scotland operates a different rating scheme to the rest of the UK but the principles are the same in that they are conducted by the local authorities and check the same elements. The ratings in Scotland are as follows:

  • Pass: A ‘Pass’ indicates that the business broadly met the legal requirements. These requirements include the conditions found and the management procedures in place for providing safe food.
  • Improvement Required: Where a business has failed to meet these requirements it will be issued with an ‘Improvement Required’ certificate.
  • Exempt Premises: A very small number of premises may be registered as food businesses in circumstances where it is unlikely that customers will view them as food premises. The assessment for such premises will have concluded that the food safety risk is negligible. In such cases (and only with the agreement of the business), a certificate will not be issued and the information on the local authority website indicates that the business is currently exempt from the food hygiene information scheme.
  • Awaiting inspection: Where a business has not yet been inspected, it will be issued with a temporary certificate advising consumers of that fact. This will appear as ‘Awaiting Inspection’ on the website. Premises will also require to be re-inspected where they have changed ownership.

Display of the rating at the premises is mandatory throughout the UK, except for England where it is voluntary.

Frequency of inspections

Each local authority plans a programme of inspections every year and a new rating is given each time a business is inspected by a food safety officer. The frequency of inspections depends on the potential risk to public health.

The assessment takes account of the following factors:

  • type of food that is handled
  • the number and type of customers, for example vulnerable groups
  • types of processes carried out before the food is sold or served
  • hygiene standards seen on the day of the last inspection

Businesses that pose a higher risk such as butchers are inspected more often than businesses that pose a lower risk such as a small retailer selling a range of prepacked foods that only need to be refrigerated. The time between inspections can vary from once every six months for the highest risk to two years for the lowest.

In between inspections, local authorities will also monitor businesses in other ways to ensure they are maintaining hygiene standards. These could be calls from the public or reports of food poisoning. If these checks reveal anything that might indicate that hygiene standards have deteriorated, the officer will carry out an inspection and a new rating will be issued.


Exempt businesses are still inspected by the local authority food safety officer but are not given a food hygiene rating, these includes businesses that are low risk to public health, for example:

  • newsagents, chemist shops or visitor centres selling pre-wrapped goods that do not require refrigeration
  • childminders and businesses that offer caring services at home