COMMENT: Information would help us to decide where to eat

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Eating out or ordering a takeaway meal is one of life’s luxuries for many, and it is good to know that there are people ensuring we have a safe and rewarding experience.

We frequently cover stories where restaurant owners face the courts for breaching hygiene regulations — but it is reassuring to know that these cases are in the minority — thanks to the work of our environmental health officers.

Such breaches can lead to fines of thousands of pounds, but the success of Portsmouth City Council’s hygiene ratings system means that less than one per cent of food premises owners have ever been taken to court.

So it is the work that goes on behind the scenes that keeps us safe from food poisoning.

The hygiene inspectors’ job is to inspect premises to assess levels of hygiene and to advise on improvements where risks of contamination are found.

Inspectors believe advice and education are the path to success, and senior officer Chris Larkin said: ‘The aim is to get businesses to improve so prosecutions, which have featured a lot in recent years, are a last resort.’

What many might find surprising, however, is that businesses are not legally obliged to display their hygiene ratings for all to see.

Many of us tend to base our custom on the recommendation of others, or price, or location — but surely we would take food hygiene ratings into account if they were prominently displayed on restaurant windows, menus and publicity?

Restaurants are naturally keen to display a high rating — it is the low ratings we don’t get to know about.

So, while we can feel reassured that hygiene inspectors are working behind the scenes to ensure our safety, surely we are grown up enough to make informed decisions based on information that should be in the public domain?