One in five premises selling food in Sunderland is rated as being only satisfactory or lower, latest figures show.
Research carried out for the latest NFU Mutual Food Hygiene Ratings Report - using data from the Food Standards Agency website - shows that, out of 2,126 businesses on Wearside, some 481 have a FSA hygiene rating of 3 or less.
A 0 rating means urgent improvement is necessary, although nowhere in Sunderland is currently marked that low, while a 1 rating means major improvement is needed.
A 2 rating means improvement is needed, while a 3 means the premises is “generally satisfactory”.
A 4 means a rating of ‘good’ and a 5 is rated as ‘very good’ by inspectors.
In Sunderland, 22% of businesses are rated as a 3 or lower - which is the highest of anywhere in the region and double the North East rate of 11%.
Wales and Northern Ireland have already subscribed to mandatory display of food hygiene ratings schemes, with new legislation set to come into force in England by 2019.
Mandatory display means any outlet that serves or sells food must display its score in a prominent place such as the front door or window.
The NFU Mutual report says that its reserach has shown that 44% of people would turn away from even their favourite place to eat if a food hygiene rating of less than four out of five was on display - meaning hundreds of businesses on Wearside could potentially miss out on custom.
Darren Seward, hospitality sector specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Our report shows that when it comes to food safety customers have naturally high standards and that a ‘good’ score can no longer be seen as an aspiration but a minimum benchmark.
“Hopefully, any future legislation will drive excellence in food safety and it’s important that businesses don’t forget that the ratings are there to keep people safe as well as to uphold their place in a competitive market.
“Imminent compulsory displays are destined to be a game changer for those businesses struggling to reach the top grades.
“In advance of legislation changes all business owners should prioritise their food hygiene plans and processes, acting now to ensure that they have considered all hygiene and paperwork aspects rated by their local authority including cleanliness, structure and confidence in management, to ensure a continued rating of 4 or 5 for the day an inspector calls.”
Coun Michael Mordey, Portfolio Holder for City Services, Sunderland City Council, said: “Three star rated premises are considered by the Food Standards Agency to be generally satisfactory and, of the 2,145 premises in Sunderland, 97% are achieving satisfactory ratings.
“This compares well to other areas across the country. In the case of lower-rated premises, council officers always provide practical support and advice to businesses to help them improve standards and go on to achieve better food hygiene ratings.”