Do you know what's in your food?crsschmidt

A Varsity investigation following Cambridge City Council’s switch to a new national Food Hygiene Rating Scheme has exposed a poor state of hygiene in many Cambridge students’ favourite and most frequented restaurants and cafes. These include the mobile catering firms whose low hygiene ratings will be nothing new to students, but also more upmarket institutions, as well as University-owned outfits. 

Each establishment’s score is allocated according to a new national Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS). Cambridge is one of 150 local authorities which have begun to run it. The scores according to this new national framework, however, reveal that here a number of eateries have been underperforming.

The new FHRS food hygiene rating

Under the new scheme, each food business receives a score between zero and five. Businesses whose hygiene standards are deemed very good receive five, while any institution that receives zero does so because their hygiene state represents a health threat, These are required to make urgent hygiene improvements, and risk being closed down altogether. None of the businesses surveyed received a score of zero. 

A score of two, however, conveys that improvement is necessary, and one that major improvements are required. 28 establishments in Cambridge postcodes CB1, CB2, CB3 and CB4 were given scores of one and two.

Some of the recipients of these scores will come as more of a surprise than others. Alimentum, one of Cambridge’s Michelin starred restaurant, which on its website boasts food ‘prepared with passion, integrity and originality’, together with a recommendation by the Sunday Times, received a score of two in its last inspection in December 2012.

Uncle Frank’s, less surprisingly retains its score of one from its last local inspection.  One supermarket was included within the camp of low-ranking establishments, specifically the Spar on Chesterton Road. A number of delis and Mill Road’s International Food Store join it. Few would automatically think of nightclub The Place as a site for food purchase, yet it too has a hygiene score, and a low one of just two at that, from an inspection sixteen months ago in December 2011.

Not all fast food establishments come in for criticism, however, from the hygiene inspectors. Legendary Greek fast food joint Gardies enjoyed a top mark of five in its last inspection.   

The Trailer of Life counts many Cambridge students among its fansBen Sutherland

No rating is displayed for the Trailer of Life on the FHRS website, which a spokesman for Cambridge City Council explained was because it is registered for the sale of food with South Cambridgeshire District Council, and as such, “it is they who should display the rating not us.” The trailer is owned by a Polish couple whose registered address is in Great Chesterford. While this can appear misleading, “the principle is based on where the food business is based, and not where it trades. While the two locations are usually the same, for food mobiles, as in this case, this may not be the same.”

One eatery with links to the University came in for criticism for lax commitment to hygiene regulations. The University Sports and Social Club on Mill Lane was slapped with a score of one at the start of the 2012-13 academic year. Students can still rest easy, however; Cambridge colleges have all received scores of five, while the University Library Tea Room received top marks.

Restaurants in need of improvements include some of Cambridge’s most recognisable names, which are frequented by students and town residents alike. Café Milano on St Andrew’s Street, Sri Lankan restaurant Ceylon Cinnamon, haunt of many student society end of term meals, the Varsity Restaurant, which serves food from Greece and the Mediterranean, were all judged in need of major improvements, and given a score of one.

Nor were chains exempt. If the staff of bigger nationwide chains such as Pizza Express, Café Rouge and Jamie’s Italian were all able to breathe a collective sigh of relief on receiving scores of 4 or 5, the mere fact of being a chain was not a guarantee of subscribing to their rules and regulations in practice. 

This was particularly of smaller chains, with only a couple of branches across the country to call upon. The chain Browns Bar & Brasserie, whose Cambridge branch is situated on Trumptington Street , received a score of two in its inspection of July last year.

Sorry Cinnabon fans...audrey_sel

Meanwhile, Cinnabon, whose Cambridge branch is one of four stores owned by the company nationwide, and which offers deals to students through advertising in University publications, emerges with one,

A local food hygiene rating scheme has existed for food outlets in Cambridge for many years, but the hope is that participation in a single nationwide scheme will allow businesses across the country the chance to operate on a level playing field.

SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget

The aspects which are examined when examining an institution’s hygiene standards include temperature issues, preparation and cooking. Inspectors also take into account the condition of the buildings and the precautions the firms take to ensure food is safe to consume.

Examples of instances where food hygiene standards would be felt to have lapsed would therefore include failure to provide soap for cleaning hands, windows not fitted with insect-proof screens and evidence of raw meat not stored in adequate refrigerated conditions. Equipment coming into contact with food may not have been effectively cleaned or disinfected.

Second year English student at Trinity Hall Naomi Wood expressed concerns about the number of eateries which the new rating scheme has exposed received low hygiene scores. “I would expect low hygiene scores from certain places, but the number of well-known names that have been revealed by this study is worrying. When I eat out, I have always, until now, just assumed that restaurant kitchens at least will be clean and hygienic.”

“I’m not sure how it will affect my choice of restaurants in the future – although at least it can’t be as bad as the student kitchen I share with twelve people!”

A spokesman for Cambridge City Council warned that the change of system might have allowed for some anomalies in the data. “Clearly, we have just undergone a complete review of our database, and as such, it is possible that some of the codes may have been incorrectly allocated.”

They added, however, that “whilst we have tried to ensure that this is not the case, we are reliant on businesses and members of the public to inform us of possible errors; in this case, we believe that the information is correct.”

This new scheme will not necessarily translate into more obvious display of hygiene stickers by establishments. Each business receives a certificate and window sticker to show their score, but is not legally obliged to display them. The rollout of a new online scheme, however, will allow students to check more easily than ever before when eating out which are safe, and which should be shunned.