Inspecting & Investigating

Food Premises Inspections

The primary responsibility for identifying food hazards and putting into place controls rests with food business proprietors. The inspections of food premises that are undertaken by Surrey Heath Councils team of environmental health professionals serve the following purposes:

  • To find whether businesses are complying with food hygiene regulations and establish whether food is being handled, produced and sold hygienically.
  • To take action when this is not the case.
  • To work with local businesses in improving food hygiene standards.
  • To establish whether food is, or will be having regard to further processing, safe to eat.
  • To identify foreseeable incidences of food poisoning or injury as a consequence of consumption of food

The team has the main responsibility for enforcing the provisions of Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 and The Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 in relation to food safety.

Who inspects food businesses?

An Environmental Health Officer will inspect food business in Surrey Heath (always ask to see some form of official identification - if in doubt call us on 01276 707100). Food inspections are normally carried out without prior notice and the inspection time varies. They could be carrying out a routine inspection or visiting as a result of a complaint. They will look at the way you operate your business to identify potential hazards and make sure that you are complying with the law.

How often are businesses inspected by Environmental Health officers?

It depends on the risk associated with the particular business, which in turn depends on the kind of business (a restaurant poses a higher potential risk than a shop selling only packaged food, and therefore would need to be visited more often) and the condition of the business itself, as assessed by the inspector at each visit. Inspection intervals range from every six moths (highest risk) to every three years (lowest risk).

What happens during an inspection?

The officer(s) will:

  • talk to staff about your quality control systems and practises (where these exist)
  • inspect all parts of your premise and equipment
  • talk to you about staff training, controlling hazards and temperature control

The inspecting officer(s) may also request relevant documentation including recipes, maintenance and production records, temperature records, food safety management systems, staff sickness records. Inspectors may also take samples and swabs as part of a routine inspection.

What will happen if an inspector finds problems with food standards at my business?

This depends on the seriousness of the problem. Minor contraventions will result in the inspector advising on how best to rectify the situation. More serious matters will be dealt with more formally, ranging from the service of notice to possible prosecution for very serious offences. In very extreme cases (such as very dirty premises or a serious pest infestation), an inspector can order the closure of the business. In such cases we have to prove in Court that there is a real risk to health from the premises. In most cases we will help businesses comply with the regulations and trade successfully.

What powers do inspectors have?

Inspectors have the power to:

  • take samples and photographs and inspect records
  • write informally asking the proprietor to put right any problems they find - where breaches of the law are identified, which must be put right, they may serve an Improvement Notice
  • detain or seize food
  • in serious cases they may decide to recommend a prosecution (if the prosecution is successful, the Court may impose prohibitions on processes and the use of premises and equipment, impose fines, prohibit someone from running a food business and possibly imprisonment for serious offences)
  • if there is an imminent health risk to consumers, inspectors can serve an Emergency Prohibition Notice that forbids the use of the premises or equipment - the Courts must confirm such a notice
  • inspectors can also formally exclude someone from working in a food business if they are found to be suffering with a food-bourne illness or infectious disease

What am I entitled to expect from the inspectors?

You can expect our inspectors to:

  • have a courteous manner
  • show identification
  • give feedback from any inspection, such as information about hazards which have been identified and guidance on how they should be avoided
  • clearly distinguish between what you must do to comply with the law and what is recommended good practice
  • give you the reasons in writing for any action you are asked to take
  • show where there is an apparent breach of law and a statement of what that law is
  • give you reasonable time to meet statutory health requirements (except where there is an immediate risk to public health)
  • outline procedures for appealing against local authority action

May I refuse entry?

No. It is a criminal offence to obstruct an authorised officer in the course of his or her duty. Officers have the right of entry to food premises in reasonable hours. They do not have to make an appointment and they will usually come without advance notice.

What should I do if I receive an Improvement Notice?

You must take immediate steps to ensure that you comply with it, within the specified time period. If you do not comply then you may be prosecuted. If you cannot comply within the time period you should contact the Environmental Health Department immediately. Let the inspector know of the progress that you are making to comply with the notice.

What if you do not agree with the Inspectors action?

If you do not agree with the action taken by an inspector you should first contact the team manager to see if the problem can be resolved informally. If you are still unhappy with the outcome you may use the councils complaints procedure. If you think that Surrey Heath is applying the law in a different way to other Local Authorities you can seek advice from Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS). You have the right to appeal to a Magistrates Court against an Improvement Notice or refusal by a Local Authority to lift an emergency prohibition order.

What happens if my practises are identified as being consistently good?

Ultimately you will be inspected less frequently. However you may be eligible for an Award under the Councils Food Hygiene Award Scheme.

Where can I get further help?

Speak to the officer who inspects your premises. You can also find information on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website, www.food.gov.uk, and from the publications listed below:

  • Food Hygiene - A Guide for Businesses A general guide to food hygiene regulations.
  • Starting Up - Your First Steps to Running a Catering Business A guide for new catering businesses.

To order copies phone the FSA on 0845 606 0667. A number of new Good Practice Guides are at present being developed by the FSA.