What to expect when the Food Safety Officer calls

Last but not least in our series, ‘What to expect…’, we asked one of our qualified EHPs, Rachel Platt, for an insight into Food Safety Officer visits. As a food business operator, you are legally responsible to ensure that the food you serve is fit for consumption, that the premises complies with regulations and that the public is protected.

Organisations such as shops, restaurants, cafes, stalls, vans and catering businesses must have a food safety management system in place, based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points Principles (HACCP), with easily accessible and adequate documents and records.

Will an Officer visit my business?

Officers have a right to enter and inspect your premises, and usually proceed without having to give notice.

The frequency of visit depends on factors such as:

  • Your Food Hygiene Rating
  • Any complaints received
  • Condition of premises
  • Type of foods handled
  • New business registration
  • Number of consumers at risk

Importance of a good food hygiene rating

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) works closely with Local Authority (LA) Officers to ensure businesses comply with food law throughout the food chain. They have a responsibility to protect the public and are accountable for awarding food hygiene ratings following an inspection. This is based on a score from “0” (urgent improvement required) – “5” (excellent hygiene standards). According to the FSA, “the food hygiene rating is not a guide to food quality”, it is simply based on food hygiene.

Every business should aim for the top!

… After all, the lower your score, the more frequent the inspection. Businesses who have been awarded a Food Hygiene Rating Sticker (FHRS) of 3-5 are classed as low risk and will generally be revisited every 3 years.

14.29% UK businesses are rated between 0 and 3 and 70% people in England recognise the stickers, with nearly half using the information when choosing where to eat. So, why risk being awarded a low food hygiene rating?

If you request a re-visit/re-inspection from the LA to review your rating, LAs can now charge a fee. John Barnes shed some light on this update in our blog. Hence, it is even more vital to ensure good food hygiene at all times.

What will happen during the visit?

Officers work in line with Food Law Code of Practice. They will offer advice, encourage good practice, discuss any necessary corrective action and inform of any further action the Officer intends to take.

Officers will check food hygiene, equipment and structure, including layout, ventilation and repair. Ask yourself, how much does its structure lend itself to good food hygiene?

Food hygiene considerations can be remembered using the 4 Cs:

Cross-contamination, Cleaning, Chilling and Cooking.

Read up on the framework in our Fresher’s week: The difference between having flies or fries with that.

They will check food storage and handling practices. They will look for cross-contamination issues, labelling, colour-coded utensils and equipment, easily accessible wash hand basins and clean toilets.

Approximately 1.5 million people in the UK have a food allergy or intolerance. The 14 main allergens that are on the regulatory lists must be emphasised on the label.

What documents will the Officer look for?

Even if your business has no apparent hygiene problems, you can fail an inspection solely on lack of paperwork. Pen and paper records mean that HACCP records can be easily lost, illegible or incomplete.

  • Food safety management system
  • Due diligence records
  • Training records
  • Recipes
  • Maintenance and production records
  • Temperature records (and probe thermometers of course!)
  • Staff sickness records

What happens if something goes wrong?

Officers will offer guidance and advice to help you achieve full compliance. Following the inspection, you will receive a written inspection report that clearly distinguishes between recommendations and actions to be taken to comply with the law.

As well as receiving a poor food hygiene rating, enforcement action may be taken to protect the public. The Officer will communicate any required action in a written letter which will inform of the time actions need to be completed within. You may also be served with a notice:

  • Hygiene improvement notice or food labelling improvement notice – determines actions to be taken to be compliant
  • Hygiene emergency prohibition notice – prohibits you to use certain processes, premises or equipment which must be agreed by a court
  • Remedial action notice – similar to a hygiene emergency prohibition notice, but this notice does not need to be confirmed by a court. It prevents the use of certain processes, premises or equipment, or levies conditions on how a process is carried out. This notice can be used in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales but can only be applied in England

If your business has been visited and scored a Food Hygiene Rating below 2, we can help you, with our Food Hygiene Rating Scheme Re-Visit Service.

Mandatory display of scores is soon to be in place and a poor score can turn flurries of customers away. Poor standards can lead to catastrophic consequences for both you and your customers, as well as large fines or, even worse, closure.

Need some support in preparing for this visit? That’s what we are here for. Contact us today on 0203 740 3744 or email sales@shieldsafety.co.uk to hear about our solutions for managing Food Safety successfully.

The information contained in this blog article has been created for marketing purposes and is not official guidance and should not be used as a substitute for official Food Safety, Fire Safety and Health & Safety advice. Shield Safety take no responsibility if the information in the blog article is used to form part of a safety management system or used to form part of any legal or regulatory compliance for your business. For official guidance and to engage with Shield Safety services please do call our team on 020 3740 3744 or email hello@shieldsafety.co.uk.

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