What can you expect during a food business inspection? An Environmental Health Officer explains…

This blog post comes from the Food Standard Agency.

We spoke to Luke, an Environmental Health Officer from Gwynedd Council in Wales, who talked to us about how he helps food businesses be safe and successful.

“I’d really recommend environmental health as a degree and a career – it’s interesting, challenging and rewarding, and every day is different”

After completing a degree in environmental health at Cardiff Metropolitan University, I became an Environmental Health Officer. I have been doing this for 20 years and have worked for several local authorities in England and Wales. Working in environmental health is great, each day is different and has a new challenge. Environmental health is a broad field, so you have to make sure you are up to speed with the latest professional developments, so you’re always learning something new.

When I inspect businesses, I am there to assess the business and identify any food safety risks. I assess how the business complies with food safety requirements as well as the quality of food safety management processes. I give business owners information and advice to help educate them and teach them processes and methods that will help ensure that their food is safe.

“I always recommend that food businesses reach out before they open, so I can offer advice at the planning stage”

My role isn’t just about inspections, I support businesses at all times and they’re welcome to give me a call or an email to ask for advice. I get a lot of business owners checking what they need to do to comply with x, y and z. This gives me faith that they are really thinking about their responsibilities.

I always recommend that businesses reach out before they open to the public, so I can offer advice at the planning stage. I direct them to Gwynedd Council’s website for further information and I suggest they check out the FSA’s website.

“It’s quite normal to be nervous about inspections. But there’s nothing to worry about!”

I understand how businesses must feel at inspections, as if they’re under a magnifying glass, but I’m always professional and ensure that things run smoothly. I make it clear that they can ask questions throughout, and I make sure to explain everything to them and give reasons for any issues. There’s total transparency.

Inspections and visits

We know new businesses in particular are eager to know what to expect for their first inspection, so we asked Luke to give us an overview of what an inspection or visit entails.

Most businesses won’t know when I’m going to turn up for an inspection, but it’s great if they can be prepared with any questions or highlight any areas of uncertainty so that we can look at them together.

When I arrive, I explain who I am and what I’m there to do. I’ll then start assessing their processes and procedures, such as how they prevent cross-contamination. I also look at the structure of the building and the food preparation areas including fridges, handwashing sinks and how they wash items. I look at the business management side of things like Safer Food, Better Business (SFBB) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) documentation, and if staff training is up to date.

While all of this is happening, the business is open and trading as usual. It’s important we see first-hand what their methods and processes are. I’ve done several inspections where the business is very busy, and I always find ways to work around the pressures as best I can.

“The biggest question I get asked is straight after the inspection: “What’s our score?”

Unfortunately, I can’t confirm the rating straight away as I need to review my evidence. But, as I am committed to transparency, the business will already be aware of any areas of concern, so they’ll have a fairly good idea if the inspection has gone well or not. Another popular question I get asked is if they should be aware of any changes to food safety advice or new training. I’ll give advice and signpost to guidance online.

After the visit and once I’ve reviewed my evidence, I will follow up with a letter to the business confirming their rating and any areas for improvement. If there were any issues, I will have raised these during the inspection, so there are no surprises. The letter will outline any improvements they need to make and a timeline. I may revisit the business if there are any issues which require a follow-up.

I always encourage food businesses to be proactive in their knowledge of food safety. Food safety advice can change over time, so it’s important that businesses take responsibility. If there’s a significant change in advice, for example the introduction of allergen labelling for Pre-Packaged for Direct Sale (PPDS) food, we send a letter to businesses with information and links to relevant guidance. We also make sure to keep the advice on our website up to date. I always advise businesses to register for updates on the FSA website, especially recall alerts.

Businesses need to be completely open and honest with me during inspections”

When a food business registers, we send them an information pack which tells them all about the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS). It’s important that businesses work through the pack and take appropriate steps before their inspection. I visit lots of businesses and have picked up tips and examples of best practice, which I can share with businesses who ask for advice.

During an inspection, we’re there to ensure the overall safety of the consumer and it’s in everyone’s best interest for the business to do well. I’ve had a lot of feedback from businesses that say they’ve benefitted from the inspection experience. It’s allowed them an opportunity to take stock, assess their food safety methods and identify areas for improvement. Many business owners say that our feedback during an inspection is invaluable.

Further advice on preparing for an inspection

If you’re planning to start or are currently running a food business, we want to make it easier for your to do the right thing and keep your customers safe. Find details of your local authorityregister your business and visit our Business Guidance Hub to find a range of advice, guidance and training for Food Business Operators.

Want to find out more about what an Environmental Health Officer would look for during an inspection? Take a look at our food safety management system known as Safer Food Better Business.

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