Is this restaurant clean? NVWA restaurant inspection reports ‘easier and faster’ available online

The Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) has made it a lot easier for diners to check online whether the restaurant or cafe where they would like to eat is up to hygienic standards. From 1 September, NVWA inspection reports for restaurants and eateries around the Netherlands will be made available online within two weeks of inspection; information about whether a restaurant is compliant or not will also be made available.

The publication of NVWA inspection reports of restaurants and eateries is not really new, but recent changes ensure that results will include the whole country, not just the four large cities, as it was before, and entrepreneurs who are performing particularly badly can now be mentioned by name. Results will also go online faster than before. Objections and appeals are still possible, according to the NVWA, and after the legal period in which entrepreneurs can appeal, the first results will become available online from 21 September.

Enforcement tool
The move follows a request from the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer), which had been calling for a faster, more active disclosure of inspection results. The NVWA itself uses this active disclosure as an enforcement tool, it states. The organisation believes that, whilst transparency can lead to better compliance with laws and regulations, both entrepreneurs and consumers are expected to benefit from active disclosure, since they can now make better choices based on the inspection results. “The publication of inspection reports provides insight into the work of the NVWA and encourages entrepreneurs to comply with legal rules,” the authority told Dutch media.

The hospitality trade association Koninklijke Horeca Nederland (KHN) has expressed some reservations in the media about the new way of publishing the results. It may be good news for diners, but there are some potential negative consequences for the sector, it said. The KHN therefore stresses that, although food safety is paramount and action should be taken in extreme cases, ‘99.9 percent of catering entrepreneurs already adhere to hygiene regulations,’ and that real extremes are, fortunately, rare in the Netherlands.

KHN director Dirk Beljaarts said in Het Parool: “Catering entrepreneurs take their responsibilities with regard to food safety seriously, day in day out, and a single incident says nothing about the overall structural approach. It is not right that a negative publication follows immediately, as soon as something goes wrong.” Online publications have the potential to cause reputation damage for entrepreneurs, and KHN wonders whether this is in proportion to the importance of transparency. “A re-inspection after, for example, two weeks, should give catering entrepreneurs the space and time to make the necessary adjustments and to have the negative report removed from the website.”

Beljaarts added that the organisation supports the online publication of results, provided that all catering establishments were checked ‘in the same way and regularly’. However, due to understaffing at NVWA, the current inspections provide an ‘unfair playing field’. One problem is that the most recent report will remain available online, even if this is one or two years old – by that time the situation may have improved significantly, but this will not be visible to customers.

Step by step
In 2019, the NVWA carried out more than 17,500 restaurant inspections, in which three key areas were assessed: proper handling of food, hygiene and pest control. Any catering companies who were non-compliant received more frequent visits, or were given a ‘stamp’ with points for improvement. Up to now, catering establishments that underperformed had been listed anonymously, e.g. in the NVWA’s annual reports. Some inspection reports were available online, but only for the four largest cities, Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht, where the NVWA had been conducting a trial. Information about catering establishments in other municipalities will now be added step by step. Although entrepreneurs themselves remain responsible for food safety, help can be called in from an external agency, for example to provide support in setting up a safety control system.

Written by Femke van Iperen