CaptureLOVED-up diners are being urged to keep an eye out for the tell-tale signs that nothing will spoil their Valentine’s date.

With less than two weeks to go to this year’s romantic extravaganza, Middlesbrough Council’s Public Protection Service is reminding consumers that a little homework can help to ensure an enjoyable and memorable evening.

Hygiene ratings at food businesses across Middlesbrough are a handy guide to ensuring standards are up to scratch – check online or look out for the striking green and black stickers.

And local food businesses that have achieved top marks in the national Food Hygiene Rating Scheme are being encouraged to promote their achievements and drum up business.

The green and black ratings stickers are now a common sight across the town, providing an instant assessment of the outlet’s cleanliness and approach to food handling and an insight into the places diners can’t see like the kitchen and food stores.

The current scheme has been running in Middlesbrough since March, 2012.  Before the national scheme, Middlesbrough Council was part of the local Tees Valley Food Hygiene Star Rating scheme.

After every food hygiene inspection by the Council’s Environmental Health Officers, businesses are provided with a sticker showing their hygiene rating, ranging from 5 (very good) to 0 (urgent improvement necessary).

James Stoker, owner of Chilli Cake in Baker Street, Middlesbrough, said: “Health and hygiene is at the forefront of our business practices.

“Getting the top hygiene rating is like getting a reward for all the hard work and effort we continually put in.

“We are a young and developing business and the support from Middlesbrough Council’s Environmental Health Team has been superb.

“Through the food hygiene rating scheme our customers can feel reassured and come and enjoy our food.”

Judith Hedgley, Middlesbrough Council’s Environmental Health Manager, said: “Food hygiene rating schemes have helped to drive up hygiene standards in food businesses. They encourage those poorer performing premises to comply with food laws and meet customer expectations.

“The ratings also recognise and reward businesses that take food hygiene and the interests of their customers very seriously.

“We encourage customers to check out the hygiene rating before they book a restaurant, order a takeaway, or buy food from their local or corner shop.

“Customers have an expectation that where they buy their food is clean and hygienic, and it should be. 96% of food businesses in Middlesbrough have achieved a hygiene rating of 3, 4 or 5.  82% of businesses have been awarded the top 5 rating.

“Standards of hygiene in Middlesbrough have never been higher.”

Councillor Julia Rostron, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive Member for Adult Health and Social Care, said: “Middlesbrough Council is proud to be part of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme.

“We want more and more customers to use the scheme and search out the most hygienic places to buy their food.

“We also encourage all businesses in Middlesbrough to celebrate their achievement by displaying their hygiene rating with pride.

“For businesses it’s a great way to attract more customers and it gives residents and visitors to the town more confidence when choosing where to eat.”