Hospitality without hygiene? A definite no-no, whether the eatery in question is large or small. Be it a student cafeteria, kebab stand or five-star restaurant, safety and hygiene must always be the top priorities when serving guests. To provide consumers with greater transparency, a “traffic light” hygiene rating scheme was developed – and has sparked vehement debate ever since over the advantages and disadvantages of the plans. TÜV SÜD’s food experts explain the ins and outs of the system.
When the traffic light is red, the rule is to stop – a simple principle that is also the basis of the hygiene scheme. North Rhine-Westphalia was the first German state to launch the scheme, applying it to around 150,000 food operations and introducing laws and pilot projects that set an example to the rest of the country. Under the law finally passed in February 2017, all hospitality operators must now display the results of their official inspections on their premises or post them on their website.
Colour codes for hygiene
The display takes the form of a coloured strip shaded from green to yellow and red, with an arrow that indicates the current hygiene level as a numerical score. The “traffic light” is red if the operator has had 55 or more points deducted in the official inspection; fewer than 37 deductions score green, while scores between those two extremes are rated yellow.
A “green” rating means that all requirements are fulfilled or only a few minor infringements have been found. “Yellow” shows that some requirements are not fulfilled, while “Red” warns that hygiene requirements are inadequately fulfilled or that there are several serious faults in the restaurant or cafe. However, “red”-rated food outlets are still permitted to continue operating; particularly serious cases would be closed down by the officials immediately.
Consequences for restaurant operators
The obligation for restaurants to display their hygiene rating on the premises will come into effect after a 36-month transition period. However, an obligation of this kind, under which transparency is imposed on restaurant owners, also involves disadvantages and risks. Given this, many restaurant owners and professional associations in the hospitality and catering sector advocate taking a voluntary rather than mandatory approach. Poor results after an inspection may cause takings to tumble, and a “red” rating may even mean closure – even if the restaurant has already remedied the hygiene problems found by the inspection. In addition, restaurant owners that apply for a second inspection to confirm hygiene improvements will incur extra costs.
Pros and cons
“The traffic light scheme will not bring any changes in current hygiene requirements. Consumers are already protected by law against untenable hygienic conditions in the hospitality sector”, explains Dr Andreas Daxenberger, food expert at TÜV SÜD. However, the scheme places restaurant owners under the obligation to disclose and display the results of their official inspection. Advocates of the scheme regard this as a step towards increased transparency in the restaurant industry, a view that has the support of many consumers; on the other hand, critics warn that inspection results are merely a snapshot, spotlighting conditions that may be only temporary. A restaurant owner might be able to remedy the hygiene problems quickly but be forced to wait for a follow-up inspection; in this case, the inspection results no longer reflect up-to-date conditions in the restaurant. For critics of the scheme, cases like this – in conjunction with the potential mismatch between the drastic impact that is feared from the hygiene rating and the actual hygiene problems identified – are seen as violations of the rule of law.
Press contact: Carolin Eckert