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THE NSW government will introduce a statewide ”scores on doors” rating system for restaurant food safety but will make it voluntary, despite evidence from the NSW Food Authority that consumers want it compulsory.
The Minister for Primary Industry, Katrina Hodgkinson, said businesses could choose to take part in a year-long trial from next week but she was reluctant to force them to comply, even though similar schemes overseas are mandatory.
As a former small business owner, Ms Hodgkinson said she did not want to increase red tape and claimed a voluntary scheme meant ”consumers will have an opportunity to see in an open and transparent way just how well businesses are complying” with health regulations.
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But Alan Thompson, the owner of the Bangbang cafe, where Ms Hodgkinson announced the scheme, had a different view.
”I have no objections whatsoever,” he said when asked his views of a compulsory scheme.
”It [compulsory scheme] will make unscrupulous operators think twice.”
Under the scheme, participating restaurants are assigned a five-, four- or three-star rating by their local council based on inspection results and get a certificate to post in their business.
Three stars is the minimum as the scheme is specifically designed to avoid ”stigmatising poor-performing businesses”, according to the Food Authority.
In a paper assessing a voluntary scheme that ran for six months last year, the authority said consumers had ”a general preference for the program to become mandatory in order to enhance the credibility of, and engagement with, the program”.
Surveys conducted for the authority found more than 80 per cent of people wanted a scores on doors system expanded and most wanted gradings for food outlet safety to be available online.
Scores on doors schemes operate in many European and north American cities, including London and New York, where details of every inspection of more than 18,000 food businesses are available online.
A NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, has campaigned for tougher food laws for years. He said that with an estimated 900,000 cases of food poisoning in NSW each year caused by dodgy food outlets, a compulsory scheme was essential.
”Katrina Hodgkinson has ignored the international evidence of success for mandatory scores-on-doors schemes,” Dr Kaye said.
”She has handed a free kick to the substandard operators and taken away the ability of diners to use their choice of venue to exert pressure for safer food handling.”