Smileys keep food safety high in Denmark

The smiley-scheme is highly popular among Danish consumers and the food enterprises. Smileys have proved effective in raising food safety

The Danes have seen smileys on inspection reports, in all their retail food enterprises since 2001.

The four different smileys signal how well the enterprise does comply with food regulations

In 2008 the elite-smiley was introduced. Enterprises with the best inspection records are now using this in their marketing.

The smileys appear at the top of the food inspection reports. Click for sample.

The reports must be displayed for consumers to read, before deciding to enter a shop or a restaurant.

The reports must also be placed easy to find on the enterprises own homepages

All reports for the last four inspections, are available at

Publication philosophy
Make the inspection results public. Make the content easily understood by the smiley-faces.

Then consumers can use the results to make a more informed choice on where to shop.

Consequently enterprises have another powerful incentive to secure a high food safety.

Such is in short the philosophy, behind the Danish smiley-scheme,

Shops and restaurants responsible
In Denmark the shops and restaurants are responsible for complying with the food regulations. At unannounced inspections, the public food inspectors check, how well the enterprises are at this.

All shops, restaurants and other enterprises selling foods and beverages to the public are inspected on a regular basis – typically one to three times a year. How often, is decided on a risk evaluation of all lines of food enterprises.

Smiley-reports are to be posted in all supermarkets, groceries, bakeries, butchers, greengrocers, kiosks, restaurants, pizzerias, canteens, hospital kitchens and elderly homes.

Even the hot-dog stands in the streets must display them.

What do the smileys symbolize?
There are four different smileys. They symbolise that the inspector either:

 had no remarks,
 has emphasised that certain rules must be obeyed,
 issued an injunction order or a prohibition,
 issued an administrative fine, reported the enterprise to the police or withdrew an approval.

Enterprises with hazardous health conditions are closed down until problems are fixed.

Elite Smiley Elite-smiley
The elite-smiley is awarded to enterprises with the best inspection history.

Enterprises with only happy smiles on their last four inspection-reports – and no remarks during the last 12 month – may use the elite-smiley in their marketing.

Elite-status is, however, only applicable to enterprises inspected at least once a year.

Inspections – how often?
All enterprises are placed in a risk group, determined by their line of trade. There is set a standard frequency per year for each group, as shown in the examples below for retail. Elite-enterprises are inspected less often, thus freeing up ressources for more inspections in the not so well driven enterprises.

Risk group    Examples of trades Standard frequency Elite frequency
High Restaurant, slaughter 2 1
Moderate Baker, Grocery store, sausage stand  1 0,5
Low Kiosk  0.5 0.5
Ultralow Bar, wine shop, pharmacy As needed N/A

The worst result determines the smiley
At each inspection a number of areas are checked, and assigned a result (1 - 4). All results, and all the inspectors' remarks, are published on the inspection report. The smiley for the inspection is determined by the worst of the results. Click for sample of inspection report.

All areas inspected over time
The areas controlled may vary from inspection to inspection, and from shop to shop.
But over time the inspections will cover all food regulations concerning hygiene, food contamination and labelling relevant to the enterprise.

What if you get a sour smiley?
Enterprises receiving one of the three not happy smileys will be re-inspected within a reasonable time.

Enterprises will be charged for re-inspections, whereas ordinary inspections are paid for by tax-payers.

23,7% increase of happy smileys
There is a great deal to smile about in Denmark.

In first half of 2010, 86,7% of the establishments received the happy smile, 11% the small smile, 0,6% received the straight face and 1,6% the sour smiley.

In 2002 there were 70,1% happy smiley's. With a increase of 23,7% happy smileys it's safe to conclude, that smiley's has helped increase food safety in Denmark.

58,8% has earned the elite-smiley
More than 58% of restaurants and other food retailers, that qualify for it, has earned the elite-symbol. And the percentage is growing.

Sour smileys bad for business
Scoring 100% on consumer-awareness, the smiley-scheme is probably the best-known public schemes in Denmark.

According to the same survey, carried out by the Nielsen research company in 2007, as many as 97% of the consumers agree that smileys are "a good or a very good idea".

Two of three consumers say they would reject a restaurant with a bad smiley. And 59% state, they actually have chosen to dine somewhere else, because of a bad smiley.

Thus, a sour smiley is really bad for business.

Enterprises: Fair scheme
Therefore it is very positive, that as many as 88% of the enterprises agree that the scheme is "a good or very good idea".

This is based partly on the fact that 86% say that their last smiley was 'fair' – no matter the smile.

8 of 10 owners or managers say they have held discussions with their staff to secure a happy smiley. And many have improved their routines and standards for the same reason,

Enterprises have come to accept that in Denmark only happy smiles are good for business.

Last modified date: 31-05-2011