Inspections of food businesses are carried out by appropriately qualified regulatory services officers to determine compliance with applicable UK and European Union Food Law, including The Food Safety Act 1990 and The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013. Inspections are carried out routinely and are also carried out to investigate complaints.
Inspections are generally carried out without prior notice, although appointments may be made at the officer's discretion in particular circumstances. Officers are authorised to enter businesses during any hours of operation, including times when the business may not be open to the public. It is a criminal offence to refuse entry to an authorised officer. It is also an offence to provide an officer with misleading information or not to give them reasonable assistance which they may require.
The frequency of inspections depends on the level of risk associated with the type of premises and its past record.
Higher risk premises will generally receive more frequent inspections. These include factories, restaurants, takeaways, cafes, public houses serving food, nursing and residential care homes, schools, bakeries, butchers, supermarkets, hospitals and mobile caterers.
Lower risk premises will usually receive less frequent inspections. These include newsagents, small grocery stores, pharmacies, small post offices, off-licences and garages.
What happens during an inspection?
Inspectors will look at the operation of a food business to identify potential hazards and to ensure they are following the law. If problems are identified during the inspection, inspectors can take enforcement action, which can include:
- taking samples and photographs of food and inspecting business records
- writing to the proprietor informally, asking them to rectify any problems
- serving an 'improvement notice' if the proprietor is breaking the law, which clearly states what the problem/offence is, what must be done to put it right and the time period for compliance (failure to comply is an offence which will normally result in prosecution)
- serving an 'emergency prohibition notice' which forbids the use of premises or equipment
- recommending a prosecution in serious cases.
If a prosecution is successful, the court may prohibit the business from using certain processes, premises or equipment, or the offender could be banned from managing a food business. It could also lead to a fine or imprisonment.