A TEA room owner has criticised the food hygiene inspection system after her business was given just one out of five because of paperwork issues.

Varese Ferrao, who runs The Georgian Tearoom in Rowcroft, Stroud, says the one rating given after an inspection in August 2018 was unfair.

Her business was rated ‘good’ for hygienic food handling and the cleanliness and condition of the facilities but deemed to need ‘major improvement’ in the management of food safety and thus received an overall score of just one from Stroud District Council.

Varese said she asked for a pre-opening inspection from the council in March 2018 and wasn’t told at that time that a staff manual and training procedures were needed even though she would be the only person working in the kitchen.

“The paperwork is a cleaning checklist, for example, to say the floor has been cleaned, the oven-deep cleaning, etc. As the only one in the kitchen, cooking and managing the food systems, I did not realise I needed to tick a box on a physically printed piece of paper once I had cleaned the floor to say that I had cleaned the floor.”

Varese added: “The first two categories achieved good, and these categories recognise correct food labelling, correct storage and temperatures of food, and also the suitability and cleanliness of the physical premises. As it happens, all food is prepared to order so the ingredients display the manufacturer’s expiry dates. This is legally accepted and reflected in the good rating we achieved.

“The trainee food inspector said during the inspection that everything was generally good, although we might be ‘slightly marked down’ due to lack of paper training documents for staff. Also, rather than a ‘very good’ for food handling, a ‘good’ was given as I had slightly ripped the packaging on a loaf of bread when pulling it out the freezer, leaving it exposed (albeit for a few minutes only during the busy lunchtime service). I did not argue the point again of having no staff yet as ‘slightly marked down’ to my mind would mean the loss of a half to one star, not four. This we only discovered later by post to our disbelief.

“I requested a reason for the low rating and how I was disappointed at all the work we had done to ensure we were 100% compliant, to be given a one rating. In the meantime I implemented a whiteboard system as I could not bring myself in all good conscience to ‘tick’ lots of pieces of paper, amounting to over 100 sheets a month. As a result of my complaint, the inspector attended a few weeks later with her manager. The manager accepted our whiteboard system. We were also told that we had to display notices requesting people to advise us of food allergies as our system of asking the customer if they had any dietary requirements was not enough. We are in character of the Georgian period of 1817 and had hoped not to display such notices, as these were not of the period. Nevertheless, we conceded.

“They left, satisfied, and with no other improvements advised. However, the rating was not changed. I did not pursue it anymore as I was fatigued over the whole injustice of it all.”

Varese added: “There are food establishments who have four-star ratings with worse results in category one and two than us, so how are these justified? The public perception and scaremongering that businesses with a one rating will give customers food poisoning is a serious misconception and very damaging.”

A SDC spokesman said: “Having read the published article about the Georgian Tea Rooms food hygiene report there are a number of inaccuracies that should be addressed. Food establishments that receive low hygiene scores frequently attribute this to “paperwork” which gives an entirely false perception of the legal administration required of anyone who runs a food business.

"Ms Ferraro claims “the paperwork is a cleaning checklist” – it is not. The requirement is for a documented food safety management system, which is vital to the professional running of a food business. Food business operators must be able to demonstrate what they do to keep the public safe. This includes keeping accurate allergen information, monitoring the temperature of food, stock control, preventing cross contamination, controlling pests as well as cleaning and disinfection.

"Ms Ferraro claims that a system would require “lots of pieces of paper, amounting to over 100 sheets a month.” This is not true. The Food Standards Agency’s free “Safer Food Better Business” pack that we recommended Ms Ferraro use requires a single page record per week and it can be completed and saved electronically, so paper needs to be used at all.

"Ms Ferraro further claims that she “chose not to pay the circa £500 fee to get an immediate change of rating”. A re-evaluation costs £160 plus VAT and will only change the rating if the proprietor follows the advice and makes the necessary changes."

"There is a great deal of free information on the Food Standards Agency’s website and our food safety officers are always available to offer advice.”

READ MORE: Zero and one-star food hygiene ratings given to Stroud businesses