A LEADING environmental health expert has said it is vital local councils keep funding a food hygiene rating system, despite shrinking budgets.

Mark Elliott, chairman of Wales Heads of Environmental Health Group (WHoEHG) and head of public protection at Pembrokeshire County Council, has praised the food hygiene rating scheme, which was introduced in 2010.

Mr Elliott said the scheme, which scores businesses out of five and then posts the results online, had improved food hygiene across Wales.

“The number of businesses rated 5 (very good) has increased by almost 20 per cent since the start of the scheme and many have reported that a good rating has increased their takings significantly,” he said.

“In Pembrokeshire too the number of food business operators improving their food hygiene standards is also increasing with 94 per cent of food premises now scoring 3, 4 or 5 under the scheme.”

But he warned that the scheme's success was taking place against a background of rapidly shrinking local authority budgets and if it were to be continued would have to be adequately resourced.

“It is vital that such services are adequately resourced in future to protect public health,” he said.

In 2013, the Welsh Government made it mandatory for all food businesses to display their score, and Mr Elliott said this had helped consumers make more informed choices about where they want to eat.

“Giving consumers more information is having a positive effect on food hygiene standards,” he added.

Those failing to display a score face a fine or prosecution, while low-scoring businesses are given help to improve their rating.

In November, the scheme will be extended to business-to-business trade, meaning many small producers and factories will also be included.

To check a business’s rating, visit http://tinyurl.com/dyvdbgc.