Today I came across an article in The Age on unhygienic restaurants in Melbourne (Ref 1). This article mentioned that restaurants in the City of Hobsons Bay, which includes Brooklyn, Laverton and Altona, also feature prominently among the offenders. As I am living in Altona, I am concerned so I went to search for this Register of Convictions (click here for access), maintained by the Department of Health.

Of the 25 premises listed, 7 are located in Melbourne CBD, 3 in Hobsons Bay (Brooklyn, Laverton and Altona North), 3 in Boroondara (Camberwell, Hawthorn, Ashburton), 2 in Bayside (Brighton, Hampton), 2 in Hume (Dallas, Meadow Heights) and 1 each in Cardinia, Yarra, Stonnington, Greater Dandenong, Geelong, Ballarat, Warrnambool and Surf Coast Shire. I am not sure why Hobsons Bay is being singled out although Boroondara too has 3 listings.

This register was set up on 1st July last year, following the example of a similiar “name and shame” website in NSW.

Other restaurants reported having unhygienic conditions by The Age or Herald Sun in the past, include the following: Ref 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

In Singapore where hawker food is very common, all hawkers are assessed by the National Environment Agency (NEA) for their hygiene standards on an annual basis and are required to display their hygiene gradings (A, B, C or D) in a conspicuous location of their stalls (Ref 11). According to a 2009 report (Ref 12), more than 90 per cent of Singapore’s food stalls have achieved either an A or B grading for hygiene standards and as of 31st July 2009, there was no stall with the lowest D grading. On 5th March 2010, NEA launched, an interactive web portal that offers useful information on hawker centres and food stalls. The portal allows registered users to review or recommend hawker stalls or hawker centres and to provide feedback to NEA on hygiene matters in hawker centres. The users can rate a food stall based on 4 criteria: taste, cleanliness, service and affordability. There are several restaurant rating sites in Australia but I do not think there is one that provides ratings on cleanliness.

The government here could consider a similar hygiene grading system. If every food-preparing business has to undergo assessments, there will be no issue of “name and shame” as everyone receives the same treatment. I believe most members of the public do not know that such a register exists and many do not read The Age so the requirement of every restaurant and food stall to display a hygiene grading sign will provide very helpful information to the public. This will force restaurants to maintain high hygiene standards, in order to attract customers.