Need for Effective Monitoring under Restaurant Grading System

July 21, 2017

It is common practice for consumers to eat out in restaurants when visiting towns and cities. Every individual enjoys having a hot plate of authentic dishes ranging from Chinese, Indian or i-Taukei dish from restaurants time and again

With a number of eateries open in different areas, consumers have more options available to choose from.

However, not all restaurants offer hygienic and reliable services to the consumers.

The Council has over the past five years till to date received a total of 71 complaints against restaurants, fast food takeaways and café services. The nature of complaints included food being infested with pests/insects like cockroaches, dead flies and maggots, sale of stale and improperly cooked food especially meat and cold food being served to consumers.

Apart from this, the Council during its own service provider visits to restaurants had found that food were kept in wrong temperature, food handling practices have been unsafe such as serving food like root crops with bare hands, dirty tables and floors, deplorable conditions of wash area and toilet facilities, sale of stale or leftover food and poor personal hygiene of cooks and waitresses.

Given such state of restaurant services, it was imperative to have an effective restaurant grading system in place which could compel restaurants to improve their services or face closure over non-compliance.

The restaurant grading system came into effect in 2012 whereby restaurants were inspected and graded on a yearly basis and issued certificates based on their compliance to the Food Safety Act 2003, Food Safety Regulations 2009 and the Food Establishment (Grading) Regulation 2011. The grading is conducted by the municipal councils in the respective areas. The grading system allows restaurants to be awarded either ‘A’ certificate which indicates 90% compliance to requirements, ‘B’ grade indicating 80% compliance, ‘C’ grade indicating 70 % compliance while ‘D’ grade indicating 70% compliance.

For grades ‘C’ and ‘D’, restaurants are notified of areas of improvement which needs to take place within 7 days. Failure to comply with the notice may result in legal action and even closure of the restaurants.

However, despite the grading system being enforced, the Council continues to receive complaints from consumers regarding poor hygiene of restaurants and sub-standard quality of food.

The Council through its service provider visits, established that some restaurants that received high grade certification were in fact low on compliance.

The Council came across one such case in the Northern Division, which was issued an ‘A’ certificate but did not reflect the conditions required for an ‘A’.

The Council noted that the restaurant kitchen was dirty and unhygienic, poor ventilation, staff not wearing protective gears such as hand gloves and hair nets, improper storage of goods in the kitchen, lavatory facilities were filthy and smelly while no hand washing facilities were available.

Such complaints had prompted the Council to further undertake a survey to ascertain how the restaurant grading system worked as some restaurants seemed to have been provided with inappropriate grades. Following its survey, the Council identified areas where the grading system needed strengthening and has provided its recommendation to the relevant authorities for their consideration

In addition, the authorities need to contemplate the quality of food being sold by restaurants during their grading process, as presently, it is more focussed on the restaurant facilities. The Council gets majority of the complaints from consumers regarding the quality of foods being sold in restaurants. Hence, it is imperative to look into aspects of how the food is prepared at the restaurants.

The Council is hopeful that the restaurant grading system will see changes in due time to allow restaurants’ to uplift their services. The Council maintains that restaurants that do not meet public health expectation and continuously receive low grades should have their licences cancelled. Consumers’ health and safety are paramount and should not be compromised through unhygienic practices.

The Council will do its part by continuously monitoring the hygiene practices of restaurants, fast food takeaways and café services.

Consumers who have complaints in relation to restaurant services and food, are advised to lodge their complaints with the Council on its National Consumer Helpline Toll Free Number 155.