FORMER chef Louise Doughty knows every trick in the book.

The environmental health officer at Swindon Borough Council started working in kitchens at 16 years old, spending a decade-and-a-half in chef’s whites before turning gamekeeper and joining the council.

Her team is responsible for keeping Swindon diners safe, inspecting around 2,000 restaurants, takeaways and other food businesses in the town.

Of those firms, only nine have been given a food hygiene rating of zero.

While some will claim the zero-rated restaurants have fallen foul of the regulations merely because they failed to fill in paperwork, the truth is a lot more complex.

Mrs Doughty said: “We don’t hand out zero and one ratings willy-nilly.”

Environmental health officers assess food businesses against a strict set of criteria written by the Food Standards Agency. Of five key areas inspected by officers on their unannounced visits, only one relates to documentation.

“It’s things such as going in somewhere and it’s filthy,” said Mrs Doughty, putting into context the zero hygiene ratings.

“You get a knife and scrape it along one side of a fridge handle and it comes out curly.

“I’ve done that with chopping boards. You get a big cook’s knife and scrape it towards you and and get a vile slug on the blade that’s just filth embedded in the chopping board they claim they clean.”

Her officers are on the lookout for cross contamination of food, for example raw meat stored alongside ready-to-eat foods like salad leaves.

“Personal hygiene is another big thing,” she added. “An apron doesn’t cost a lot, but you go into some places and they’ve got their outdoor clothes on and their menu up their front.

“You can tell what’s on the menu that day because it’s all up their front.”

The work of the environmental health team can save lives. Indeed, they can inspect food businesses off the back of warnings from GPs or members of the public about serious food poisoning incidents.

Mrs Doughty said: “We don’t do this for fun. The bacteria we deal with are pathogenic. They’re pathogenic for a reason. At worst it’s fatality. The bacteria that could kill you include E.coli, Listeria, Salmonella and Botulism to name just four. Thankfully, in this country because of the heavy policing of food, the statistics aren’t as high as they are in other countries.”

Nationally, it is estimated by the Food Standards Agency that a million people suffer from food poisoning every year. Last summer, the government agency issued a warning after nine people died Europe wide when they contracted listeriosis from eating frozen vegetables that had not been properly cooked.

Mrs Doughty advised anyone concerned about where to eat to check ratings the Food Standards Agency’s website. If anyone had concerns about a food business, they should contact Swindon Borough Council.

Prospective restaurant owners were advised to register with the environmental health team as soon as possible: “Set up your bank account first, us next.”

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