By Tay Potier – Royal Borough of Greenwich
As we continue in this period of lockdown, and move to come out of it, some local authorities are offering virtual (may also be referred to as remote) inspections of your business, instead of a physical food hygiene and standards inspection.
So, what is a virtual inspection? Well, it’s an inspection conducted remotely over the phone (or another device) and email using photos and videos. They can be used by officers to gain information about what to look at on future physical visits, as well as to decide if a physical visit should be conducted now or delayed.
It is not being offered by all local authorities, so don’t worry if you are not contacted about it. Some will just delay your inspection until it can be done face-to-face, and others may carry it out face-to-face now with controls such as distancing and mask wearing in place. LAs are following FSA guidance and will have made choices about what they are doing, which is allowed so don’t feel concerned.
Anyway, a virtual inspection, how does it work? An officer from the food safety team will contact you to advise that you will be having a virtual inspection. They will discuss your business and how things have been, what you are doing, how many food handlers you have, etc. (much like the usual face-to-face conversation) and will make an appointment to carry out the virtual inspection over the phone. They may well ask you to email photos or scans of various documents such as your Safer Food Better Business records or pages, or allergens charts to them as well (they could also use file sharing software too rather than email), but they will explain how to send them any information they require. If your last inspection identified a broken wash hand basin, for example, they might want to see a photo of that fixed and with the taps running!
At the agreed time, a video call will be carried out either through a direct call, or a piece of software but the officer will explain everything. They will ask you to walk round your business and show them things such as your fridges and freezers, or anything else, just as they would have looked at themselves before. It’s nothing to worry about, just make sure you have a decent camera on whatever device you use and that it works! Maybe even have a practice with a family member so you know how to hold the camera? Make sure you allow enough time for the call, check if you have a signal/wifi in all parts of your business so you know if it’s not going to work, and that you are not going to be interrupted if possible. You want to get the most out of the process, and be able to fully engage with the officer. It’s a great opportunity to ask them any questions and to get an answer, so use the time rather than worrying that you have something else on as well.
As you always do, make sure your business is clean and tidy, and things are under control. All the usual regulations and guidance applies at this time, plus some extra about Covid-19, of course!
Its important to say that you cannot receive a new FHRS rating on a virtual inspection. That can only be issued on a face-to-face, but they do offer a good way of the LA keeping in touch with you, and providing information on your activities. If you don’t have access to a device with a camera on, just tell the officer, or if you are temporarily or permanently closed because you are isolating or doing childcare or anything else, please say. Officers will only know if you tell them!
It’s been really hard for all of us during the last 12 months, and we are all just trying to do the best we can, officers as well as you. As we continue to move forwards, it is very likely Covid-19 controls will be in place for some time to come, so please keep up to date with these, and please ask your officer if you have any questions. We are there for advice and please don’t hesitate to ask.
Please note that any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the Royal Borough of Greenwich or any other group or individual.