What happens during a food hygiene inspection?
During an inspection the EHO will work in accordance with the Food Law Code of Practice and Food Law Practice Guidance. Their aim is to make sure that you are meeting legal food hygiene and safety requirements and that the food you are producing or selling is safe for consumers to eat.
The EHO will talk to you and your staff about the practices and procedures that you use to manage food safety, they will look at your food safety documentation and also examine the structure and cleanliness of your premises. During the course of the inspection, the EHO may take photographs, samples or swabs and if they do, they should explain to you why they are doing this. They should provide you with a summary of their findings, including clear instructions on any legal contraventions detailing what is wrong or why it is wrong and what you need to do to put it right.
Don’t be afraid of your EHO
Remember, your EHO is there to provide advice. They want to see your business succeed and they only take enforcement action when advice, guidance or any other options have failed or when there is an imminent risk to public health and safety. Don’t be afraid to ask them for advice.
How do EHOs apply the National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme?
EHOs will judge your business against three criteria outlined in the Food Hygiene Rating Brand Standard:
Food Hygiene and Safety Procedures
Confidence in Management
Marks are made for non-compliance and added together to calculate a total score. The lower the marks, the higher the overall rating out of 5.
We have put together a handy guide that outlines in more detail the principles of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, how the ratings are calculated and the safeguarding measures in place for businesses.
Key things to be aware of
- The EHO is authorised by the local authority to enter your business premises – don’t refuse them entry as this is considered obstruction and is an offence under the law
- The EHO will want to check the business ownership and management details, contact details and opening times
- The EHO will ask you and your staff about the food safety practices and procedures – make sure everyone is familiar with the control measures and can explain them and where applicable demonstrate them through records
- The EHO will look at every part of your premises and equipment
- They’ll ask you about staff training, controlling hazards and temperature control
- They will want to see your safety management system, NCASS Daily Diary, risk assessments and training certificates
- They may also ask to see your maintenance records e.g. gas safety certificates, portable appliance testing (PAT) checks, accident records and evidence of your pest control checks
- They might also take photographs, samples of food and swabs to check the cleanliness of food contact surfaces and equipment.
What hygiene rating should you be aiming for?
Every NCASS member should be aiming for the top score of 5 to maintain the high standards of food safety that NCASS, and all our members, are so proud. Anything under a score of 3 is undesirable but you can improve it over time if you take the right action. To help you prepare for food hygiene inspections, we provide assured advice and guidance including template risk assessments and accredited training packages. We have put together the following inspection checklist to ensure you’ve got everything in place for your next inspection and to achieve the best food hygiene rating score that you can! Work through the list, be as prepared as can be and you can rest easy that you will reap the rewards and be part of the high standards of food safety that NCASS is so proud of.
What could happen if an EHO thinks there’s a problem?
- They will informally write to you outlining the contraventions they witnessed and provide you with a timescale in which to rectify them.
- The EHO will exclude any food handler from working if they are suffering from a food-borne illness or infectious disease.
- A EHO might serve an improvement notice if breaches of the law have been identified, which formally instructs you to correct the issues.
- The officer may discuss with you voluntary procedures to help rectify contraventions. This might include voluntary surrender of food rather than formally seizing or detaining it, or a voluntary closure of your premises instead of serving a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice (see below). This means that your business will be formally closed but the voluntary closure means that a notice won’t be placed on the door.
- They might serve a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice if there is an imminent risk to consumers. A Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice can be used to stop the use of processes, premises or equipment.
- An officer might recommend a prosecution which could result in the prohibition of a process and/or use of premises or equipment. They may also recommend fines or even imprisonment and you may be banned from running a food business in the future.
- If an officer advises you to do something they must make it clear whether you need to do it to comply with the law (legal requirement), or whether they are recommending it as good practice (therefore not a legal requirement).The officer must give you a reasonable period of time in which to carry out required work, except if there is an imminent risk to public health.
What to do if you are served with a Legal Notice
If you have previously failed to comply with important legal requirements such as properly training staff on key food safety control measures or properly implementing a safety management system, then you could be served with a Hygiene Improvement Notice. This is a legal notice and requires you to take immediate steps to comply.
The Hygiene Improvement Notice will outline what is wrong, why it is wrong, what suitable steps to take and how you long you have to take this action.
Our advice is to read all of the information on the notice carefully. If there is anything you do not understand or need to clarify then you should contact the EHO. Their contact details should be outlined on the notice. You are also advised to keep the EHO up-to-date with your progress and contact them immediately if you are not able to comply within the specified time. This deadline is important and you must not ignore these legal matters. The consequences of not addressing this could result in prosecution proceedings being taken against your business. Any request for an extension of the notice should be made in writing before expiry of the notice.
An Emergency Hygiene Prohibition Notice may be served if conditions or activities are considered so harmful or unhygienic that they represent an imminent risk to the public. This notice will require immediate closure of part or all of the business and require it stays closed until the risk is removed and the business made safe. It could require you to immediately cease a certain activity e.g. Vacuum packing foods, if they are found to be carried out without sufficient controls in place.
It is important that you work with the EHO to resolve these matters and get the business back on tracks.
You also have the right to appeal to a Magistrate’s Court against an improvement notice and against a local authority’s refusal to lift an emergency prohibition order. If the court deems that the premises has been shut or that food has been seized without proper reason, you’ll have the right to compensation.
What if you think the outcome is unfair?
First, contact the Environmental Health Manager at the local authority which your business is registered with. They’ll try to resolve the problem informally but if you’re still unhappy and if you’re an NCASS member, you can refer it to us in writing so we can advise you.
NCASS members get extra support
As an NCASS member you’re part of our Primary Authority Partnerships with the Royal Borough of Greenwich (England) and Monmouthshire Council (Wales). NCASS has agreed standards for you to work to and they’re set out in your Safety Management System and risk assessments. If you follow the advice in this system, you are working to NCASS’s agreed standards.
Primary Authority and Assured Advice
The NCASS Safety Management System and training courses have been “assured” by the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Monmouthshire County Council. This means that the content has been verified and prevents other local authorities from taking enforcement action against that information without first formally discussing this with the primary authority partners who can then interject on behalf of the business.
NCASS members can have the reassurance that the Safety Management System has been assured by an experienced Primary Authority and therefore, if they implement the system fully, they will have robust compliance arrangements in place.
The key thing here is implementation!.
NCASS Members should highlight the fact they are part of a Primary Authority partnership during routine inspections with EHOs. The EHOs should take this into consideration when planning the inspection and considering what information to review.
Ace Your Hygiene Rating
With our free Guide to the National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme
plus an Inspection Checklist.
Our comprehensive guides will help you get to grips with the scheme and provide you with the essential knowledge to ensure the best rating for your business.