A WORRYING number of businesses could be misleading the public and displaying false hygiene ratings as they turn to Ebay for counterfeit stickers, The Northern Echo has found.
A probe into the wrongful selling of five-star food hygiene stickers found numerous listings on the online auction site going anywhere between £2.49 and £8.49, with dozens being snapped up in recent days.
Businesses in the North East have since branded anyone displaying a false hygiene rating as “embarrassing” and borderline “fraud,” while the Food Standards Agency has warned risk of action to anyone found misleading the public.
Read more: County Durham takeaway boss wants to put poor hygiene score ‘behind him’ after revisit
The probe found listings which appeared to show Food Standards Agency-branded stickers being produced onto “high quality vinyl,” with one “long-time member” selling 58 on one advert alone, potentially making as much as £500.
Meanwhile, a similar listing also appeared on the auction site with pictures appearing to suggest the buyer would be able to receive a reproduced version of the official sticker in a range of different sizes at a similar cost.
Last night John Stirk, who owns several businesses across the region, slammed those purchasing the stickers on Ebay for wrongful use as he said it highlights a flaw in the system.
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Mr Stirk owns Stirks Italian Steakhouse at The Belmont in Durham, Stirks at The Broadway in Sunderland, The Butchers’ Deli in Durham City and Stirks Butchers in Grangetown which all have a five-star hygiene rating.
He told The Northern Echo: “I know how much work it is to get a five, people can come and see our paperwork or eat off the floor if they want to, but a five score is 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 businesses that is showing a five-star in your window, when you are anything other, then (you) are lying to the public – it’s embarrassing.”
Mr Stirk added that he believes food hygiene stickers should carry a hologram or a unique number which can be checked online in order to deter businesses showing a false score.
Another business owner, who runs a pub in North Yorkshire but asked to remain anonymous, said they did not feel it was right that businesses could obtain reproductions or wrongfully-sourced hygiene stickers.
She said: “It’s not a legal requirement to have a rating sticker on show in your establishment, but I don’t think that it’s right that you can purchase fake ones, this could be classed as fraud if detected by environmental health.
“There are a lot of illegal things for sale on Ebay, there should maybe be hefty fines for incorrect stickers being on show.”
Read more: Ebay respond after NHS Covid vaccine cards appear on website for £5
After The Northern Echo contacted Ebay for comment, the listings in question were removed with only a handful of “novelty” and unbranded stickers remaining.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said its stickers remain trademarked by the authority and are only allowed to be issued by a local authority.
Jesse Williams, Head of the Food Hygiene Ratings Scheme 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 and when we become aware of this happening, we take the necessary steps to stop it. We have contacted Ebay to ensure these listings are removed.”
The FSA warned that displaying a false hygiene rating could be an offence and that businesses had been prosecuted previously as it said local authorities could also take further action.
In response, an Ebay spokesperson said: “Ebay has strict policies which prohibit the sale of government-issued documentation, including food hygiene stickers. We have now removed the listings in question.
“Ebay has advanced filters in place which automatically block listings that do not comply with our policies.
“These filters block millions of listings every year, and the Ebay team also performs additional checks on the marketplace to identify any listings that do not comply with our policies.”
To view the hygiene ratings for a particular business on the Food Standards Agency website – click here
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