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Government standards provide a great marketing opportunity for food businesses

The Food Standards Agency's hygiene rating system shouldn't be seen as a source of hassle. Instead, it provides a chance to boost your business's image.

If you're in the food industry then you don't need telling why cleanliness has to be among your top priorities. Clearly there are minimum legal standards to meet and failure to come up to scratch could be disastrous for your business.

Compliance takes effort and time, but maybe it should be seen as an opportunity for your business - rather than a source of hassle. There's a positive aspect that's worth taking into account - especially now the sun's out.

This is because the Food Standards Agency (FSA) doesn't simply exist to clampdown on breaches of certain criteria - it also helps consumers decide where they do and don't want to eat. Hygiene is a major concern these days, and no one wants to dig into a dish peppered with dirt.

So with summer well and truly here, now is the time to be focusing on getting more people through your doors - and one thing that will pull them in is authoritative proof that your kitchens are clean.

Clean and proud

If customers have a choice between a sandwich shop that scores high for hygiene and one that isn't even displaying a certificate, it's easy to work out which one they're going to be more tempted to try

The FSA shouldn't be perceived as an overbearing tyrant you need to appease - they give you access to an indispensable marketing tool. A recent survey conducted by the agency shows more and more businesses are taking advantage of the opportunity: at the beginning of 2013, 52% of premises in England were displaying their hygiene rating certificates in the window - up from 43% in 2011/12.

In the same timeframe, Wales saw a jump from 31% to 47% and Northern Ireland witnessed a leap from 50% to 57%.

The figures were mainly attributed to businesses with the highest ratings opting to promote their scores, and a telephone survey carried out by the FSA confirmed that one of the main reasons for managers deciding to display their certificates was customer perception.

The eyes of the public

You don't have to look very far for evidence of companies that have seen their reputations suffer as a result of bad hygiene-related press - the words 'Bernard Matthews' and 'bird flu' should conjure up some interesting memories, while Jamie Oliver recently had his flagship Ministry of Food closed down over health and safety concerns.

And with celebrity chef Marcus Wareing having fiercely condemned the FSA's decision to give his Berkley Hotel restaurant a score of one out of five for hygiene following a kitchen inspection, it's clear that businesses take their ratings very seriously.

Barmy for sarnies

As if to demonstrate the point that aiming for a high FSA rating can be valuable for your food business in the summer, the organisation recently released a guide specifically for sandwich bars.

Covering areas such as product handling, temperature control and staff training, the handbook is designed to help sandwich shops secure top hygiene scores - and that's essential now the sun is out.

With more people likely to be taking to parks and high streets across the country, they're going to need something to eat - and a sandwich or two fits the bill perfectly. If it's a choice between a shop that scores high for hygiene and one that isn't even displaying a certificate, it's easy to work out which one they're going to be more tempted to try.

That means that now is the time to shout about your sparkling kitchens from the rooftops - especially with families around, as every parent wants to know they're feeding their youngster something safe.

So don't hide away from the opportunity that the sun has brought with it - show the world your clean credentials and draw hungry customers to your counters.

Image credit: Food Standards Agency