Restaurant customers urged to look at hygiene 'scores on the doors'
Only a third of people regularly check food hygiene ratings at restaurants and takeaways, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
New research also shows just 6% actively consider the scores on the doors, instead prioritising type of food, location, service and price.
But with an estimated 4.3 million meals expected to be eaten out in Northern Ireland over this festive period, the FSA is warning consumers to check a restaurant's hygiene rating before booking this Christmas.
Mark O'Neill, a senior adviser with the FSA in Northern Ireland, said: "We are now urging people to make the most of this new transparency by looking for these ratings and choosing restaurants which score three or above this Christmas.
"That way we can all play a part in improving food hygiene standards in Northern Ireland."
New laws which came into force last month mean businesses are now required to display FSA hygiene stickers.
District councils will carry out inspections at restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaways, supermarkets and other food shops as well as hospitals, care homes and schools must put the results in public view.
Scores will range from five, which means the food hygiene standards are very good, down to zero where urgent improvement is necessary.
The new system replaces a voluntary scheme that was run since the end of 2011.
Mr O'Neill added: "We are pleased to see that so many food businesses in Northern Ireland are already compliant with the Food Hygiene Rating Act, which came into operation in October, making it mandatory for food businesses to display their hygiene ratings.
"This means that around 90% of businesses should now be displaying hygiene information on a green and black sticker somewhere easy to spot outside of their premises.
"We expect that consumers will be pleased with this development as our recent survey showed that 95% of people in Northern Ireland believe that businesses should have to display their ratings, which now they do."