Food hygiene inspections are undertaken by an EHO (Environmental Health Officer). When deciding on the frequency of inspections an EHO must take account of the Food Law Code of Practice (also know as the Code). The Food Standards Agency has recently revised the Code for England & Northern Ireland. Steps are currently underway to revise the Food Law Code for Wales .
This article considers how often food hygiene inspections are undertaken, and the impact the revised Food Law Code of Practice will have on the food hygiene inspection frequency for food businesses across the UK.
What is the Purpose of a Food Hygiene Inspection?
Food hygiene inspections are carried out to ensure that food businesses are complying with food hygiene legislation and that food is safe to eat. The inspector will assess how well your business is implementing controls to prevent harm to customers. This includes harm from food poisoning, foodborne illness, foreign bodies in food and food allergens.
Who Carries Out Food Hygiene Inspections?
In accordance with the Food Law Code of Practice all food premises within a local authority geographical area are subject to routine food hygiene inspections by Food Safety Officers.
A Food Safety Officer is also known as an EHO. The term EHO means Environmental Health Officer. These professionals have a degree in Environmental Health and/or a post graduate qualification.
Environmental Health is a branch of public health that focuses on external factors in the environment that can impact human health, safety and wellbeing. EHOs tend to work within a local authority. Some are generalists, whilst others specialise.
What is the Role of The EHO in a Food Hygiene Inspection?
An EHO will carry out planned inspections and audits of food businesses. They also investigate complaints. Typically, visits will be unannounced. As a result of a food hygiene inspection, the EHO will provide a food business with a Food Hygiene Rating, unless an exemption applies to that business.
EHOs play an important role by identifying, monitoring and minimising the factors that determine health within an environment. In doing so, they make places safer and healthier for people by preventing harm, ill health and disease.
What To Expect During A Food Hygiene Inspection?
If you are a new business owner, watch the video below to gain insight into what to expect during a food hygiene inspection.
What Happens After The Inspection?
A few days after the inspection, the business owner will be sent a letter confirming the food hygiene rating that has been awarded. The letter will outline any improvements that need to be made and the date the work must be completed by. A food hygiene rating sticker will be enclosed with the letter. In more serious cases, enforcement action may be taken, and this will be outlined in the letter.
EHOs are given enforcement powers to protect the public. This means that following an inspection they can:
The business will be given adequate time to make the required changes, unless there is an immediate risk to public health.
How To Appeal
If the business owner does not agree with the Food Hygiene Rating or enforcement action, as stated in the letter from the EHO, an appeal can be made. The letter or notice will explain how to appeal a decision by the inspector.
To find out how to appeal click here
Requirement To Display The Food Hygiene Rating Sticker
The business owner has 21 days from the date the notification is received to display the food hygiene rating sticker in a prominent place. This could be the front door of the premises, or on a window adjacent to the front door. Currently only food businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are required by law to display their sticker. It is currently voluntary for food businesses to display their food hygiene rating sticker in England.
Consequences For Failing To Display The Sticker
There are consequences in Wales if a business fails to display its food hygiene rating sticker in a prominent place.
In England, businesses are encouraged to display their sticker, but it is voluntary.
A food business owner in Wales failed to display his food hygiene rating sticker because the owner disagreed with the rating. To read about this recent case click here.
How To Appeal A Food Hygiene Rating or Enforcement Action
If a business owner does not agree with the food hygiene rating or enforcement action, as stated in the letter from the EHO, an appeal can be made. The letter or notice will explain how to appeal a decision.
To find out how to appeal a food hygiene rating or an enforcement notice sent by an EHO click here.
The Revised Food Law Code of Practice
EHOs must take account of the Food Law Code of Practice when verifying whether a food business is complying with food law. The Food Law Code sets the approach that is used to determine the frequency of food hygiene inspections.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recently revised The Food Law Code of Practice that applies to England and Northern Ireland. Work will start soon to evaluate how the Code will need to be revised to fit the needs of Wales.
The updated code provides a new approach to how EHOs will deal with food hygiene inspections. How often a business will be inspected is going to depend on their Inherent Risk Profile and a Compliance Assessment (the latter takes into account performance and track record). The Compliance Assessment has a whole section that takes allergen management into account. The two final scores are then plotted on to a decision matrix to determine the minimum frequency at which future inspections must be carried out.
This new approach means that non-compliant food businesses will be inspected more frequently. Food businesses with a poor compliance rating will also receive more frequent follow up inspections. In comparison, compliant food businesses will receive less frequent inspections. Surveys and questionnaires may be used instead to assess the performance of compliant food businesses.
This will free up local authority resources. Rather than visiting all food businesses, local authority EHOs will target food hygiene visits towards premises with a poor history of compliance and under-performing businesses.
This is a big change to the way in which EHOs will carry out their food hygiene inspections.
It is good news for responsible food businesses that maintain a good or excellent compliance rating. Those businesses may only receive a food hygiene inspection once every 5 years.
When Will The New Changes Take Place?
The new Food Law Code of Practice will not be implemented until a transition period has taken place. In England, this will start in the summer of 2023. During this period EHO’s will receive training in the new regime.
What Action Should You Take Now?
Food business owners need to familiarise themselves with the new Food Law Code of Practice. It provides important insight into how a food hygiene rating is applied and how the frequency of food hygiene inspections will be determined.
In particular, food businesses need to understand the requirements that will be used to form their Compliance Assessment score. A whole section of the Compliance Assessment is dedicated to the management of food allergens, indicating the importance of this topic.
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