FOOD hygiene is on the menu for two authorities working behind the scenes to ensure produce bought and eaten in the region is safe.

As part of national Food Safety Week this week, Darlington Borough Council and the Food Standards Agency have revealed the environmental health team visited 400 food businesses across the town between 2017 and 2018.

Officers inspecting each premises challenge the cleanliness and structural safety of every building, management of the business itself and if staff are fully trained and monitored when handling food.

Inspectors also factor in the overall running of each eatery before awarding a food hygiene rating – more than 95 per cent of the sites inspected in Darlington received a rating of three out of five, or “generally satisfactory”.

The council’s team of three environmental health inspectors visit any business that supplies or serves food direct to consumers, from restaurants, pubs and takeaways to schools, supermarkets and hospitals.

They also visit food producers, such as factories and dairies.

The town has 1,000 food premises in the borough, with the frequency of an inspection dictated by the potential risk to consumers.

Environmental health officer, Brian Whelan, said: “Just because a particular premises is inspected more regularly doesn’t mean it’s performing badly – the opposite is usually true.

“A major manufacturer that makes thousands of meals is likely to be hygienic but would receive more visits due to its risk factor.

“Any venue that has received a poor rating will also be inspected more regularly to make sure it brings itself up to standard.”

Low-risk establishments such as bars and pubs that serve only drinks and snacks are visited every three years, while places that are potentially more high risk, such as hospitals and food production premises, are visited every six months.

A standard food hygiene inspection takes roughly an hour, depending on the size of the venue.

Councillor Chris McEwan, Darlington Borough Council cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said: “We have a dedicated team working hard to ensure people in Darlington can eat out and enjoy their meals with peace of mind.

“A lot of the work that the team does is behind the scenes, but they are vital to ensuring people are kept safe and can make informed decision about where to eat.”

This year, the annual Food Safety Week will run until June 16.

Jason Feeney, chief executive officer of the Food Standards Agency, said: "It’s the responsibility of every food business – from abattoirs to corner shops, Michelin-starred restaurants to your favourite take-away – to comply with food regulations.

"This week we want to recognise the behind-the-scenes people throughout the food chain who work hard every day of the year to make sure businesses follow the rules and our food standards remain high."