Helping small food businesses prepare for food safety inspections

Sintons’ regulatory team advises businesses on topics including data protection and health and safety. Sheila Ramshaw is the team’s food safety expert, who specialises in helping small and medium sized food businesses get ready for inspections by environmental health officers. Here, Sheila explains what’s involved in an inspection and how she helps business owners prepare.

Food business can be inspected at any time by their local authority to make sure they’re following all the necessary hygiene and safety regulations and that they’re serving food that’s safe for the public.

Environmental health officers can carry out spot-checks or they might be prompted to make a visit if they receive a complaint or a report from a member of the public.

The inspection results in a food hygiene rating and a bad rating can really damage a business’s reputation. If an inspector spots serious problems, they can stop you from trading or even recommend prosecution.

An inspection can happen at any time, with no notice, and the last thing you want as a business owner is to be unprepared. That’s why we help food businesses identify any issues and put them right before an official inspection.

Preparing for a food safety inspection

One of the best ways a business owner can be sure they’re abiding by the law is by booking a pre-inspection audit. This involves me visiting the premises, carrying out a mock inspection and giving advice on any improvements that need to be made.

This can be especially useful for smaller, independent traders who might not have the backing of a large organisation to guide them and for people who are launching a food business for the first time.

And it’s not a scary process; I’m not there to criticise, I’m there to help and give you the knowledge you need to be successful.

What kinds of things do environmental health officers check?

When an environmental health officer visits a food business they’ll take a thorough look at food and hygiene standards across all areas. They’ll ask about staff training, your cleaning schedule and processes for storing and heating food. They might ask your staff questions and check the temperature of food or take samples.

Something businesses often forget about, which can be picked up on during an inspection, is risk assessments for potentially dangerous equipment like meat slicers. Again, I can spot issues like this and help you get the right paperwork completed.

What action can an environmental health officer take if they find a problem?

Environmental health officers can take enforcement action to protect the public by seizing foods suspected to be unfit for human consumption. While at your premises they can serve a formal legal notice that sets out certain things you must do or forbidding you from using certain processes, premises or equipment.

Following an inspection they can send you a letter outlining issues and asking you to correct these. In more serious cases they can even recommend prosecution.

If you have been inspected and the outcome has resulted in enforcement action like this, you must respond quickly. I can assist you in appealing their decision if you do not agree with it or, if you accept their decision and need help in ‘putting things right’ I can assist then as well. If the worst happens and they decide to prosecute, I can represent you in criminal proceedings.

Abiding by allergen rules

I also work with businesses to help them understand the law in relation to allergens. Many people will have heard of Natasha’s Law, which came into effect in 2021 and which requires clear allergen labelling. And lots of food businesses, especially when they’re starting out, want to talk to an expert to make sure they’re getting this incredibly important area right.

Food safety for small businesses and pop-up food stalls

Organisations of all sizes – from tiny pop-ups to global conglomerates – all have to abide by the same food safety regulations. So even if you’re selling fast food from a market stall, you could be inspected and you need to have the right procedures and facilities in place – like hot water to wash your hands.

An audit like this can definitely help make sure you’re prepared for an inspection. It shows you’re taking the safety of your customers and your staff seriously and it can give you the confidence that you’ll be ready when the real inspectors call.

If you’d like to find out more about preparing for a food safety inspection, contact Sheila here.

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