How the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme could work for cleaning

18th of January 2021 Article by Paul Wonnacott
How the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme could work for cleaning

Vectair Systems' Paul Wonnacott brings news of an initiative to establish a public toilet hygiene rating scheme in the UK.

The coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns meant that last year, we saw a huge increase in the number of people spending time outdoors, whether for exercise or to de-stress and unwind. With shops and restaurants closed, the only toilets available for use were public ones - mainly the standalone type that you see in parks and recreation grounds.

During the first lockdown many of these were closed, but over time they were slowly allowed to reopen... which was great - well, for the lucky individuals who were able to find one. It's a fact that the average English council only runs 15 toilets per every 12,500 citizens.

According to The Guardian newspaper, over the last two decades the number of public toilet facilities in the UK has dropped by almost 40 per cent, while the population has increased by more than eight million. Since 2010, 60p in every pound local government receives from central government has been cut - and because local authorities are not legally required to provide public toilets, they fall victim to these cuts.

This makes going to the toilet outside of your own home a luxury.

What's worse, is that the toilets that are available are often so dirty that many people would rather go anywhere but in them. So, how do we raise the standards of these toilets, whilst also allowing the public to make an informed choice on whether or not they are desperate enough to use a dirty loo?

I'm pleased to say that a small group of us (led by Susan Cunningham, recent winner of the Impact Award in the Technology & Marketing Awards for cleaning, for her work on ‘Public Inconveniences') have been making progress‘behind the scenes on coming up with ideas for a toilet hygiene rating scheme in the UK. The idea is that this would work in a similar way to the very successful Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS).

The FHRS, which operates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, was formally launched in November 2010 after a report highlighted several high-profile outbreaks and deaths from foodborne illness. The scheme is a Food Standards Agency/local authority partnership initiative which provides information about hygiene standards in food premises at the time they are inspected to check compliance with legal requirements.

The transparency this provides enables consumers to make informed choices about where to eat out or shop for food and provides an important incentive for businesses to achieve and maintain compliance with food hygiene law.

Ultimately, it enables consumers to make informed decisions about where they eat - whether in a restaurant or when ordering a takeaway.

Consumer awareness is key to the scheme, and food outlets advertise their rating on a sticker, often in their outside window. In the scheme's ‘bi-annual public attitudes tracker' published in June 2017, just over half of the British public said that they are aware of the food hygiene rating scheme, and 85 per cent of people reported having seen a sticker on display in the last 12 months.

Of those aware, 64 per cent used the rating to help them to make decisions about where to eat or buy food. Hygiene ratings range from 0 to 5, with 0 meaning urgent improvement is necessary, and 5 meaning very good. Research says that most people see a rating of 4 as the lowest acceptable that they would consider when choosing a food venue.

We are keen to see a toilet hygiene rating scheme operating in a similar way - the main aim being that consumers can make informed decisions about where they use the toilet outside of their own home. Unsanitary and unsafe toilets can of course be linked to illness and it's important that we can ourselves decide whether we want to take risks or not. This might be based on whether or not we are in the vulnerable category, for example.

If washing hands is the biggest single thing we can do to help stop the spread of coronavirus, why as a country aren't we prioritising the cleanliness of our public hygiene facilities where we wash our hands? For me, this extends beyond just public toilets in parks and retail spaces. If we don't have an independent scheme that ‘verifies' the cleanliness of hospitality venues like hotels and restaurant, we only have their word that their toilets are as clean as they say they are.

A scheme like this would also, in my opinion, provide a great opportunity for venues to demonstrate their commitment to cleaning by achieving a high rating - especially with more and more consumers taking hygiene into account when deciding where to go and where to stay.

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