Angela Youngman looks at a scheme in Norwich that is raising interest around the country and two other awards that encourage good hygiene and healthy eating.

Norwich is at the forefront of a new publicity initiative designed to encourage all places which prepare food for consumption to be safe and hygienic.  Nurseries and early years centres are regarded as a key target for the scheme.

Known as the Safer Food Award, it was launched in May 2005. Under the scheme, premises are star rated and the results placed on a public website. The website is continually being updated, as it is added to every time inspections are carried out. The number of stars awarded is dependent on the score the premises receives in four categories:food hygiene and safety; structure and cleaning; confidence in management and control systems; risk of food contamination.

According to the Food Safety unit at Norwich City Council, the award is unique in that it is the first to base its award scheme on the hazard rating assigned to all food premises during inspections, and it shows how well a food business complies with the law. Every local authority is obliged to prioritise food hygiene inspections with the most high-risk premises being visited the most often. This is done by assigning a hazard score made up of its potential for harm and its compliance with the law.

However, Norwich is using the information gained during the inspections in a new way. Instead of simply ranking premises according to the risk they pose, it is now using the compliance part of the hazard score to assign a number of stars to the premises from zero to five. The star rating is more easily understood than a hazard score, and because it is based on objective scoring accurately reflects how well a food business complies with the law.

This means that the scheme is cost effective. It does not require any additional or special inspections. It can be applied to all food premises, not just those which do well. A further advantage is that the scheme is objective – the hazard score applied to any premises is clearly defined in the codes of practice and so promotes greater consistency of enforcement. Universal application is possible because almost all local authorities in the country use the hazard scoring system. It encourages caterers to improve their rating by providing an inspection summary sheet showing where standards are already high as well as where they can be improved upon. Norwich is the first to provide caterers with information of this kind.

The scheme has already attracted considerable interest from other local authorities keen to set up similar systems. Jaan Stanton, food safety team leader in Norwich, comments ‘I think everybody is waiting to see how our scheme works. This is very much the way forward, nationally and locally. It is an excellent idea.’

There have been complaints that the scheme is unfair as premises have to wait until their next inspection – which could be anything from six months to five years – before they have a chance to improve their star rating. However, Stanton believes that it will act as ‘an incentive to keep standards high at all times because they don’t know when they are going to be inspected. We give them a rating on the day as we see it. We wouldn’t then rescore them a few days later just because they had put the things right which we have highlighted. They have to wait until the next inspection. That way we can ensure they maintain high standards all the time.’

Nurseries are regarded as a key target for the scheme. As they cater for children, they are inspected more frequently and attract a higher than normal hazard rating. Initial results have been very promising. Generally, nurseries and first schools listed have been attracting four and five stars.

Local nurseries listed on the site have been quite pleased with the scheme. Among those listed are Chapelfield Day Nursery, Earlham Early Years Centre and Starting Out Day Nursery – all of which have been awarded four stars.

Lisa Holt, Business Development Manager at Chapelfield Day Nursery, said ‘It has been a definite benefit to us. Parents have commented about the star rating. They are definitely aware of it. We have always had a chef and paid a lot of attention to food at this nursery.’ Chef Barry Slade said ‘We didn’t know about the star rating system when we were inspected. I was very pleased when we got four stars – but want five next time! We get fresh fruit and vegetables every day and keep everything clean and tidy. We take care to inspect fridges and other equipment daily.’ The intention now is to aim for five star rating. At Chapelfield they are planning to increase the amount of organic food served, even though this will cost more. It is felt that organic food will be safer for the children, and will appeal to parents.

At Earlham Early Years Centre, Manager Ann Winter commented ‘We knew nothing about the rating until it appeared in the papers. It was a pleasant surprise. We had done nothing special for it – just what we had always done paying attention to cleanliness, systems, paper-work etc. Parents are very pleased and impressed with our rating.’

National Food Safety Week

The Food and Drink Federation give awards to those who encourage food safety. One of the runners up in the 2005 awards was Telford and Wrekin Borough Council, where key stage 1 children devised a puppet play based around Tony Ross’ story of the Little Princess, to raise awareness of how germs spread from our hands to our food. This was the result of a partnership between the early years coordinator and the head teacher of a school in a priority neighbourhood. The show visited other schools during National Food Safety Week. If you would like to take part next time, visit the federation’s website where you will find ideas of the kind of event you could organise or visit.

They also provide images you can download and use as posters/reminders about issues such as hand-washing, and resources you can buy.

For further information go to www.foodlink.org.uk

A healthy eating award in Rochdale

In Rochdale an award has been launched to reward businesses that excel in three areas of healthy eating – food safety, hygiene and healthy and smoke-free eating. This award is at three levels, bronze, silver and gold. Those who achieve it receive a certificate, a window sticker to advertise their status and publicity on the council’s website. The scheme is aimed at nurseries and schools as well as other businesses serving food. Alongside the award, Rochdale MBC provides training which it plans to offer to staff at nurseries and schools.

More information at www.ehn-online.com/localeye.shtml

For more information go to the Norwich website and search under ‘Food Safety Awards’ www.norwich.gov.uk  

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