Food law inspections and your business

If you run a business that makes or prepares food, it will be inspected to make sure you are following food law. Find out what inspections might involve and the action that inspectors can take if they find a problem in your business.

The inspectors

The inspectors will be enforcement officers from your local authority (or district council in Northern Ireland).

What inspections are for

Making sure food is safe to eat

The inspectors will check if your business produces food that is safe to eat. To do this, they will look at:

  • your premises
  • the kinds of food you make or prepare
  • how you work
  • your food safety management system

You can find information about the legal requirements on food safety and hygiene on this website, as well as by downloading the 'Food hygiene: a guide for businesses' booklet via the link towards the end of this page. You can also contact the environmental health service at your local authority for advice.

Making sure descriptions are not misleading

The inspectors will also look at how you describe food, for example on a menu or label, to make sure the description is not misleading for customers.

More information on food safety labelling (including allergy) can be found on this website. Other information about food labelling can be found on www.gov.uk.

Frequency of inspections

The inspectors might come on a routine inspection, or they might visit because of a complaint. How often the inspectors routinely inspect your business depends on the type of business and its previous record. Some premises might be inspected at least every six months, others much less often.

Inspectors have the right to enter and inspect food premises at all reasonable hours. They do not have to make an appointment and will usually come without notice.

Food hygiene rating schemes

If you serve or supply food direct to the public, you may be covered by the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. This means that when your business is inspected, you will be given a hygiene rating from '0' at the bottom to '5' at the top, based on the hygiene standards found at the time.

In Scotland, you will be given a ‘Pass’ or ‘Improvement Required’ result as part of a similar scheme called the Food Hygiene Information Scheme.

You will be given a sticker/certificate with your rating or result. You can put these on display to show your customers how good your hygiene standards are. They will also be able to look these up on the Food Standards Agency’s website at food.gov.uk/ratings

You can find out more about the schemes, in the 'Frequently asked questions' section at food.gov.uk/ratings

What inspectors do

Inspection visits

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).

Taking action

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.

Further information

Your local authority can advise you about food law and the food safety knowledge needed for you and your staff.

Food safety management packs

If you run a small catering or food retail business, there are packs available from the FSA to help you put in place a food safety management system. The following packs can be found via the links below, or you can contact your local authority for more information:

  • Safer food, better business - England and Wales
  • CookSafe and Retailsafe - Scotland
  • Safe Catering - Northern Ireland
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