Food safety inspections
Why are food businesses inspected?
Businesses that produce or prepare food for the public are inspected to make sure that:
- The food is safe to eat.
- The description of the food doesn't mislead the customer.
These inspections enforce the Food Safety Act 1990 and the regulations made under it.
Who will inspect my business?
Environmental health officers from your local authority will come to inspect your business. At Trafford Council, environmental health officers will check on both food hygiene and food standards. Food standards is concerned with issues such as composition (what food contains) and labelling.
When will my business be inspected?
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.
Environmental health officers 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.
What will the inspectors do when they visit?
The inspectors will look at how you operate your business to identify potential hazards, and to make sure that your business is following the law.
When inspectors visit, they must follow the Food Standards Agency's Framework Agreement on local authority food law enforcement, and relevant Food Safety Act Codes of Practice. The Framework Agreement sets standards for how local authorities carry out their enforcement duties. You can read it on the Food Standards Agency website.
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 hazards 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 would simply be 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 'How can I appeal?' below).
What further action can the inspectors take?
When they think it is necessary, inspectors can take 'enforcement action', to protect the public. For example, they can:
- Take samples and photographs of food, and inspect your records
- Write to you informally, asking you to put right any problems
- Serve you with an 'improvement notice' if you are breaking the law, which sets out certain things that you must do to comply
- Detain or seize suspect foods
- Serve an 'emergency prohibition notice', which forbids the use of premises or equipment (this notice must be confirmed by a court)
- Recommend a prosecution, in serious cases
If a prosecution is successful, the court may prohibit 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.
How can I appeal?
Every local authority must have a formal procedure to deal with complaints about its service. So if you don't agree with action taken by an inspector, you should contact us, to see if the problem can be resolved. If you still disagree after that, you can approach the Local Authority Ombudsman.
You can appeal to the magistrates' court about an improvement notice, or your local authority's decision not to lift an emergency prohibition order. When there is a ban on an individual, this can only be lifted by the court.
When inspectors impose an emergency prohibition notice on premises, a process, or a piece of equipment, they must apply to the court 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. 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.
Alternative Enforcement Strategy
Until recently the Council has been obliged to inspect each and every food business as part of its food inspection programme, however the law now allows local authorities to have an alternative enforcement strategy in place for low risk businesses.
The alternative enforcement strategy usually involves completing a self-assessment questionnaire, to review the food safety controls in place at your business, rather than being visited by an officer. If you are a low risk business and are requested, from time to time, to complete a self-assessment questionnaire, it is in your interest to do so as failure to complete the questionnaire may result in you receiving a visit from an officer.
Businesses likely to be low risk
- Chemists selling sweets, baby food, slimming products, etc.
- Public houses that only sell drinks and confectionary
- Newsagents that only sell low risk foods -sweets and wrapped food items
- Food businesses operating from domestic premises
- Sports and Social Clubs that only sell drinks and confectionary
- Guest Houses providing less than twenty meals a day
- Village/Church halls where only occasional catering takes place
- Residential care homes providing less than twenty meals a day
- Some larger retailers and caterers that have been previously inspected and found to have very good food safety standards in place.