Regional newspaper The Northern Echo has speculated that food businesses could be misleading the public by displaying fake hygiene rating stickers procured from eBay. The stickers, which have been on sale at the online auction site priced from £2.49 to £8.49, sold in their dozens.
Its investigations found that the “high-quality vinyl stickers” were proving popular, with one eBay member having sold 58 from one advert alone, potentially making as much as £500. Other adverts offered buyers versions of the official sticker in a range of different sizes at a similar cost.
John Stirk, the owner of several restaurants with a five-star rating in the North East, told The Northern Echo, “I know how much work it is to get a five. It’s an achievement and an accomplishment – it's not taken lightly. The sale of them is absolutely shocking, there's clearly a flaw in the system if people can do this. If you're a business that is showing as five-star in your window, when you are anything other, then you are lying to the public – it's embarrassing.
Stirk called for holograms or unique numbers to appear on food hygiene stickers that could be checked online to deter businesses showing a false score.
Catriona Stewart, Head of Regulatory Standards and Compliance at the Food Standards Agency, said, “Food hygiene rating stickers are issued only by the local authority following an inspection. The sale of stickers by anyone else directly to food businesses is not allowed. Fortunately, this has not been a regular occurrence, but we all need to remain vigilant. If you do see stickers being offered for sale, please report this to the FHRS team at firstname.lastname@example.org and we, as holders of the trademark for the stickers, will take immediate action to stop it. The recent listings on eBay were removed as soon as we contacted them.”
The FSA also warned that displaying a false hygiene rating may constitute an offence, and businesses have been successfully prosecuted for doing this in the past.
Kate Thompson, CIEH Director said, "In Wales and Northern Ireland, food hygiene ratings must be displayed by law, while in England there is no requirement for businesses to display their food hygiene stickers. However, using a food hygiene rating that is incorrect is illegal across the UK under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, and to do so is to intentionally deceive the public. There have been a number of prosecutions by Trading Standards officers and we would encourage consumers to check the FSA's website where up to date ratings are published."
A spokesperson for eBay said the listings in question had now been removed and insisted that the site had strict policies that prohibit the sale of government-issued documentation, including food hygiene stickers. They said, “We have advanced filters in place that automatically block listings that do not comply with our policies. They block millions of listings every year, and the eBay team performs additional checks on the marketplace to identify any listings that do not comply with our policies.”
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