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An Inspector calls... ADVERTISING FEATURE DO YOU REALLY KNOW WHERE YOU'RE EATING OUT? The food safety inspection t ki teams working to protect you.

WE all like to look after our health and, when choosing the best place to eat out, you might check for gleaming cutlery, sparkling glasses, spotless crockery, fresh flowers and even clean toilets.

But the best reassurance of good food hygiene standards comes from the work of the teams of local authority food safety officers - with access to the areas you can't see - when they inspect the 49,000 Scottish businesses selling food direct to the public. These inspectors search for more - a lot more - behind the scenes in food businesses ranging from restaurants, cafes and takeaways to nurseries, schools and care homes.

Now the Food Standards Agency in Scotland (FSAS) is promoting the Food Hygiene Information Scheme (FHIS), devised in partnership with local authority environmental health teams, that allows consumers easy access to the results of these food hygiene inspections.

Steven Craig, 33, has spent eight years on the frontline of this work as an Environmental Health Officer for Glasgow City Council's team that covers the city's 5700-plus food businesses.

It's no small task, as Steven explains: "There are always new businesses springing up. When one closes, another opens the following week so there's always something to get our teeth into."

Inspections are rigorous, taking up to four or five hours and involving a detailed observation of practices, discussion with management and food-handling staff and an audit of procedures and records.

"We take a snapshot of what goes on in a kitchen as we can only be in th it12 thBt there every six to 12 months. But there are always giveaways if a place is not operating safely," Steven adds.

Visits are conducted when a business will be at its busiest, often involving the environmental night team dropping into late-hour premises to carry out spot checks.

A former chef, Steven cooked in several large hotel chains and is passionate about food - and equally passionate about protecting public health. He retrained after seeing one of his own kitchens being inspected and knows that managing a restaurant safely is not an unreasonable requirement.

Steven's job has taken him to many interesting locations, including Ibrox and Parkhead football stadiums where large scale facilities must cater safely for thousands of hungry fans at a time from restaurant dining to the pie stall.

With over 130,000 cases of food poisoning in Scotland last year, 2330 requiring hospitalisation and 50 deaths, the importance of this work is not in doubt. Often it can be hard to pinpoint the cause of foodborne illnesses but many are thought to be down to eating in restaurants or from takeaways.

Steven explains: "Many people who are ill after eating food, generally class it as being caused by the last thing they ate. But, in fact, incubation periods can be up to seven days for bacteria or as short as an hour."

None of the inspectors have any qualms about closing down an establishment putting the public at risk. As Steven explains, it's a simple decision: "Would it be right if you got E coli food poisoning that left you with serious long term effects?" So how can you make the best choice? The FHIS provides clear information, rating eateries simply as a 'Pass' - when a business has met food hygiene legal requirements - or 'Improvement Required' where standards need to be raised.

These results are available online - www.food.gov.uk/ratings - or via a free app. Distinctive blue Pass certificates and stickers are also provided to food businesses for display.

All of Scotland's 32 local authorities are signed up to publish food hygiene inspection results on the FHIS website, with 23 currently participating and rollout across most of Scotland expected by the end of the year.

The good news is that over 85 per cent of Scottish food businesses within the scheme achieve a Pass, evidence that they respect food hygiene laws. The remainder assessed as Improvement Required are given a report explaining the changes they need to make.

Steven still enjoys dining out and the FHIS scheme can have no better endorsement when he concludes by saying: "I've downloaded the app on to my phone so I can make a quick check before I eat out because I know more than most that what you see out front is not always matched by what happens in the back."

Food inspection fast facts

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KITCHEN CHECK Steven inspecting food preparation hygiene
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 24, 2013
Words:735
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