Northern Ireland restaurants will come clean on hygiene ratings next year
Restaurants and other food businesses will have to display their hygiene rating from next year as the scheme becomes compulsory, the Food Standards Agency has said.
And the agency said the Year of Food and Drink in 2016 was a major opportunity to emphasise the quality of Northern Ireland produce.
The Food Standards Agency said it was working with Tourism NI, Food and NI to join in next year's celebrations.
It runs a food hygiene rating scheme for consumers and is bringing legislation through the Assembly to make it compulsory for a business to display its rating.
The agency said: "In partnership with local councils, we want to encourage food businesses to strive for, or indeed maintain a good or very good food hygiene rating.
"We will continue to promote the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme to consumers and we encourage food businesses to display their rating at their premises."
And the process of making it compulsory to display the rating is "well-advanced", the agency said, so that it will be mandatory to display the rating from October next year.
"There are two stages to this and we anticipate that the first stage, which requires a Bill to be passed by the Assembly, will be completed before Christmas.
"Once the Food Hygiene Rating Bill receives Royal Assent and becomes an Act, we will be in a position to launch a public consultation on the regulations that are required to implement the statutory scheme."
The agency has been working with restaurants in the 11 district councils in Northern Ireland.
And Michael Jackson, the agency's head of local authority policy and delivery, said: "We believe that the introduction of mandatory display of hygiene ratings will be good for both businesses and customers and will build on the success of the voluntary scheme.
"Since the introduction of the scheme in Northern Ireland in 2011 we have not seen a significant increase in the number of businesses that are displaying their rating sticker and not surprisingly there is only a very small proportion of businesses with poor ratings who display their sticker. This will change with the introduction of the legal requirement to display rating stickers with penalties for those businesses who fail to do so."
He said it was not expensive for firms to reach the top food hygiene standard of five.
"All that a business has to do to achieve that is to comply with existing food hygiene law - nothing more.
"When it becomes compulsory, however, a business which receives a rating of less than five, and then requests a further inspection to get an improved rating, will have to pay a fee of around £150."
And asked about the position of the Food Standards Agency on the recent WHO report on processed and red meats, he said: "Red meat such as beef, lamb and pork can form part of a healthy diet.
"But eating a lot of red and processed meat probably increases your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer.
"The findings from the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report are broadly in line with current Government advice, which is based on the possible link between consuming red and processed meat and colorectal cancer, which advises people who eat more than 90 grams (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day to cut down to 70 grams. This advice recognises the fact that red meat is also a good source of protein and other nutrients, including iron, zinc and vitamin B12."