Dramatic U-turn for historic Ulster hotel’s food hygiene score

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A historic hotel which was previously given the lowest possible rating for food hygiene has completed a dramatic grading U-turn.

When a food safety officer visited Ballygally Castle Hotel in Co Antrim last month, they rated it at zero out of five, meaning “Urgent Improvement Necessary”.

But in a dramatic turnaround, the hotel’s rating has been bumped up to four (“Good”) following a re-inspection this week.

The 17th century castle and four star hotel on the picturesque Antrim Coast Road is part of the Hastings Hotel Group, a long-established Northern Ireland family company which owns some of the province’s best-known hotels.

Speaking prior to the reinspection, marketing director Julie Hastings said the family was “shocked and saddened” that the renowned coastal venue had received a zero.

She told the Times: “We have always held the highest possible food hygiene rating in all our hotels, so we were very much taken aback by this, as were the staff at the hotel.”

This sentiment was shared by many local people, who took to social media in their droves to express their surprise at the inspector’s assessment.

And while Julie acknowledged the zero rating had been a “blow” to the hotel’s reputation, she was also confident that the venue would bounce back.

The hygiene ratings, compiled by local authorities in partnership with the Food Standards Agency, are awarded to businesses based on how the food is handled, the condition and cleanliness of the premises and the management of the business, which includes good record keeping.

In a summary of its findings at Ballygally Castle last month, the council had stated that hygienic handling of food needed an “urgent improvement” while management of food safety, including systematic checks, required “major improvement”.

The cleanliness and condition of the facilities was described as “generally satisfactory”.

The hotel had called for an “immediate re-inspection” of its facilities , which took place on Monday.

At the time of going to Press, the venue was still listed as a zero rating on the Food Standards Agency website. However, the site added that the hotel had been recently reinspected and a new rating would be published soon.

Julie added: “Ballygally Castle has been an important part if the community for many years and it enjoys a good reputation. We want to assure people that any issues identified by the inspector have been rectified.”

Ballygally Castle Hotel was given a major boost back in 2014 when it underwent a £3m expansion and refurbishment.

And the profile of the hotel has been raised significantly in recent years by its association with the worldwide sensation Game of Thrones, as the venue is close to several key filming locations for the hugely popular TV show.

Julie added: “Ballygally Castle Hotel has been doing better this year than it ever has before. It us a big draw for Game for Thrones fans and is a hugely popular wedding venue; it does more weddings than any of our other hotels.

“So while we were shocked and saddened by the zero food hygiene rating, we are confident that the hotel will bounce back. We take this very seriously, and this experience shows us we cannot rest on our laurels.”

In addition to Ballygally Castle, Hastings owns five of the north’s best-known hotels, including the Europa and the Culloden, all of which received the top food hygiene rating of five.

Food hygiene ratings are designed to enable consumers to make informed choices when eating out in restaurants, pubs, cafes, takeaways, hotels, and other outlets.

For more information about food hygiene ratings, visit www.food.gov.uk