Scores on doors for all Australia?

Lord Young told the U.K. government last month that he welcomed the Food Standards Agency’s decision to “drop the unfortunate title ‘scores on doors’” to describe restaurant inspection disclosure.

The POHMEs (Prisoner of Her Majesty’s Exile) have done their own review of the national food safety system and recommended that scores on doors be rolled out across Australia.

Good for them.

The national food safety review states that two-thirds of the 5.4 million cases of gastroenteritis in Australia each year can be attributed to food poisoning from restaurants, takeaway outlets, caterers and cafes (in a population of 21.4 million).

But, according to The Australian, it warns that the existing 2003 guidelines "may not provide the guidance needed to develop an effective food safety management approach for retail/food service."

Under the existing national rules, local councils inspect food outlets to check they are complying with basic standards for food hygiene and preparation. The safety standards are "outcome-based," replacing prescriptive regulations in each state.

But NSW, Victoria and Queensland have since broken away from the national system, imposing "add-on" requirements for staff working in food service and retailing to attend food training courses.

"State and local governments in some Australian jurisdictions are developing or piloting voluntary schemes that assign a ‘food safety rating’ based on routine inspection outcomes," the consultation paper, prepared for the Food Regulation Standing Committee of federal, state and territory food ministers, says.

"These approaches may provide a ‘positive’ incentive by publicising good food safety performance."

NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria already use websites to "name and shame" companies fined over food safety breaches — yet Victoria has only three prosecutions on its website, compared to 1821 penalty notices in NSW.

Restaurant inspection is a snapshot in time and disclosure is no panacea. But it can boost the overall culture of food safety, hold operators accountable, and is a way of marketing food safety so that consumers can choose.