NEWS AND KNOWLEDGE

Why Your Social Food Hygiene Rating is Serious Business

By Alec Frisch, VP and GM of Foodservice at GP PRO

When Yelp went national last year with its Local Inspector Value-Entry Specification (LIVES) program—adding health inspection data and a correlating food hygiene rating score—the industry took notice.

Making health inspection data so easily accessible online was a bold move, particularly to an ever-more discerning and socially active public. And this is where controversy arises. Some may suggest that a posted food hygiene rating score may not reflect a restaurant’s current hygiene practices. Others may state that a score does not accurately reflect if an infraction was major or minor. And others may contend that a high score is misleading and can be bought in the form of advertising on Yelp or other social platforms.

But controversy aside, health and food hygiene rating data are now readily available online and is expanding. As a result, restaurants are wise to embrace this development and prioritize their approach to hygiene and food safety.
Who’s Looking at Your Food Hygiene Rating?
Consider the influence of Generation Z, those born from the mid-90s to the early 2000s who currently make up 26 percent of the U.S. population. This demographic spends $1 out of every $5 eating out and plays a powerful role in driving restaurant growth and relevance. Consider too that Gen Z is highly technology savvy and relies on social media, apps, and websites—including Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, Foursquare, Google, TripAdvisor, and more—to determine where to eat. That means every negative online review or poor food hygiene rating has the potential to drive this important group of consumers, and their dollars, away from one restaurant to another. Conversely, every positive review or high food hygiene rating has the potential to build brand loyalty and increase a restaurant’s revenue.

The fact is, whether health inspection data is posted online or not, consumers pay attention to hygiene and base their purchasing decisions on it. A report by the University of Missouri’s hospitality management department found “consumers would not revisit a restaurant that served tasty food at a reasonable price if the hygienic aspects of the restaurant were compromised.” That same report noted that consumers gave high grades to those restaurants that focused on sanitation, such as having clean utensils, tableware, tabletops, and restrooms. From my own work within the foodservice industry, I know this to be true, particularly among QSR and LSR establishments.

Focus on Preventive Action and Best Practices
There is no overlooking the fact that major outbreaks of foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria have more than tripled in the last 20 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 48 million instances of food poisoning occur in the United States each year, and nearly two-thirds of those are traced back to restaurants. It’s probably fair to say that once a consumer has gotten sick at a restaurant, they are not returning, and likely neither are their friends or family members. Yet such outbreaks are easily preventable if restaurants just follow a few health and hygiene best practices, including properly handling, cooking, and holding food; not using contaminated equipment or surfaces; and practicing proper personal hygiene, such as hand-washing. Operators are also adopting solutions such as hygienic foodservice products and touchless restroom dispensers to help reduce cross-contamination.

At the end of the day, it’s pretty clear that restaurant cleanliness and sanitation are non-negotiable to patrons, whether they get that information from an online food hygiene rating or from first-hand experience. At the end of the day, individual restaurants have an opportunity to implement hygiene-related best practices, to reduce the number of hospitalizations due to foodborne illness, to give patrons the experience they want and deserve, and, as a result, to improve their own bottom line.