When inspectors visit, they must follow the Food Standards Agency’s Framework Agreement on local authority food law enforcement, and the Food Law Code of Practice. The Framework Agreement, which can be found via 'See also' links, sets standards for how local authorities carry out their enforcement duties.
You can expect the inspectors to show you identification when they arrive and be polite throughout the visit. They should always give you feedback on an inspection. This means they will tell you about any problems they have identified and advise you about how they can be avoided.
If inspectors advise you to do something, they must tell you whether you need to do it to comply with the law, or whether it is good practice.
If you are asked to take any action as a result of the inspection, you must be given the reasons in writing. If the inspectors decide that you are breaking a law, they must tell you what that law is.
The inspectors should give you a reasonable amount of time to make changes, except where there is an immediate risk to public health. They must also tell you how you can appeal against their actions (see below).
When they think it is necessary, inspectors can take ‘enforcement action’, to protect the public. For example, they can:
- inspect your records
- take samples and photographs of food
- write to you informally, asking you to put right any problems
- detain or seize suspect foods
They can also serve you with a notice. There are three main types of notice:
- ‘Hygiene improvement notice’ or 'food labelling improvement notice' – sets out certain things that you must do to comply, if your business is breaking the law.
- ‘Hygiene emergency prohibition notice’ – forbids the use of certain processes, premises or equipment and must be confirmed by a court.
- 'Remedial action notice' - forbids the use of certain processes, premises or equipment, or imposes conditions on how a process is carried out. It's similar to a hygiene emergency prohibition notice, but it does not need to be confirmed by a court. (This type of notice applies to approved establishments only in England, and can be used for any food establishment in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.)
It is a criminal offence not to comply with a notice once served.
Inspectors can also recommend a prosecution, in serious cases. If a prosecution is successful, the court may forbid you from using certain processes, premises or equipment, or you could be banned from managing a food business. It could also lead to a fine or imprisonment.
Making an appeal
Every local authority must have a formal procedure to deal with complaints about its service. So if you do not agree with action taken by an inspector, you should contact the head of environmental health or trading standards services at your local authority, to see if the problem can be resolved through talking or writing letters. If you still disagree after that, you could approach your local councillor.
More information about making an appeal can be found immediately below and at food.gov.uk/business-appeal
If you are not happy with a local authority's complaints process, you can contact your local government or public services ombudsman (see 'External sites' links):
- England Local Government Ombudsman
- Scotland Public Services Ombudsman
- Wales Public Services Ombudsman
- Northern Ireland Ombudsman
You can appeal to the magistrates’ court (or a Sheriff in Scotland) about a local authority’s decision to issue a hygiene improvement notice or remedial notice, or not to lift a hygiene emergency prohibition order. When there is a ban on an individual, this can only be lifted by the court.
Any person served with a food labelling improvement notice may appeal against that notice to the First-tier Tribunal. Further information can be found on the Ministry of Justice website (see 'External sites' links).
When inspectors impose a hygiene emergency prohibition notice on premises, a process, or a piece of equipment, they must apply to the court (or a Sheriff in Scotland) for confirmation within a specified period of time.
Food that has been seized by an inspector can only be condemned as unfit for human consumption on the authority of a Justice of the Peace (or a Sheriff).
You can attend the court hearing if you want to. If the court decides that premises have been shut without proper reason, or food has been wrongly seized or detained, you have a right to compensation.