Two of Scotland’s top chefs have condemned hygiene inspectors for making it “almost impossible” for restaurants to survive.
Andrew Fairlie and Tom Kitchin – who between them hold three Michelin stars – have called on Scotland’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) to drastically alter its “surreal” inspection guidelines.
Fairlie’s two-Michelin-star restaurant at Gleneagles failed to achieve a pass grade from the FSA last year because one of his staff washed his hands the “wrong” way.
Kitchin, who runs two restaurants in Edinburgh, said inspectors had turned up during lunch service, expecting him to “drop everything”.
The two successful chefs have called the inspections “unbelievable” and “overzealous”.
Fairlie, who was awarded the Roux Scholarship aged 20 and has cooked for the Queen, said: “The level of importance given to restaurant administration is bizarre. It has been a bit of a nightmare for most restaurants.
“We had a five-hour inspection – I can see why they’re doing it, but the time they spent assessing out admin was unbelievable. We’ve now had to employ a consultant to meet the laborious requirements set out by the inspectorate.”
Fairlie – whose specialties include £95 lobster smoked for five hours over oak shavings taken from whisky casks – failed an FSA inspection last year after staff washed their hands the “wrong” way.
“It borders on the surreal,” he said. “Every member of staff lined up and washed their hands for the required one minute and 30 seconds but if someone puts soap on the hands before the water then it’s an immediate fail, which is what happened in my kitchen.”
Last month, Fairlie’s restaurant was awarded an A-plus grade after a further inspection by the FSA.
Kitchin, who holds one Michelin Star, said: “I’ve had some inspections which have been incredibly difficult. Sometimes the inspectors turn up in the middle of lunch and expect you to drop everything.
“I find it frustrating because chefs like myself and Andrew Fairlie have been trained by real mentors of the industry.
“We expect cleanliness, we expect our chefs to take responsibility. Yes, of course we’re here to live by the guidelines but I think there’s an attitude of the ‘sheriff’ to some of the inspectors.
“Some of them are like parking inspectors trying to make your life miserable.”
Tony Borthwick, owner and head chef at the Plumed Horse in Leith, said: “We can be running a brilliant restaurant but if I forget to record the fridge temperatures for a week I’m told I’m a bad boy.
“I check my fridge a hundred times a day but I don’t always have time to write it down. In the eyes of an inspector that could make me a bad chef.
“They can turn up whenever they want and I’ve had inspectors turn up in the middle of a lunch service before.”
Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said it was “a pity” that the chefs were complaining “because the inspections are supposed to help the restaurants.”
He added: “If more than one chef is complaining, that tells me that there’s something wrong with the inspections. The good inspectors advise the chefs, they don’t prosecute them.”
The FSA in Scotland produces its own legislation concerning food hygiene, but loosely follows the same guidelines as England and Wales. All hygiene inspections are carried out by local authority staff.
A spokeswoman said: “The consistent conduct of inspections of hygiene controls is governed by a published code of practice on food law enforcement.
“The FSA regularly audits and reports on local authority enforcement practice in relation to conduct and hygiene.
“Statutory controls on food hygiene implement European requirements and are not specific to Scotland.
“The Food Standards Agency in Scotland maintains active engagement with local authorities and with the Scottish food industry and is unaware of this issue.”