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Food safety inspections

Food law inspections and businesses in the food industry

The Food Safety Act 199Photo of green bean salad0 and regulations made under it aim to make sure all food offered to the public is safe to eat and properly described. 

The role of Medway Council's Environmental Health and Trading Standards services is to help people to produce safe food and to meet their other responsibilities. Environmental health officers check on food safety and hygiene, while trading standards officers concentrate on food composition and labelling.

Inspections

Environmental health officers and trading standards officers have the right to enter and inspect food premises at all reasonable hours. They do not have to make an appointment and they will usually come without advance notice. They carry out routine inspections and may also visit as a result of a complaint. How often routine inspections happen depends on the potential risk posed by the type of business and its previous record. Some premises may be inspected at least every six months, others much less often.

Inspectors will look at the way people operate their businesses to identify potential hazards and to make sure they comply with the law. They will discuss any problems and advise on possible solutions. They also have powers which they can use when they think it necessary to protect the public. These are explained below.

People running food businesses are entitled to expect:

  • a courteous manner
  • to be shown identification
  • feedback from any inspection, such as information about hazards which have been identified and guidance on how they could be avoided
  • a clear distinction between what the inspector is recommending them to do because it is good practice and what they must do to comply with the law
  • to be given the reasons in writing for any action they are asked to take
  • where there is an apparent breach of law, a statement of what that law is
  • reasonable time to meet statutory requirements, except where there is an immediate risk to public health
  • to be told the procedures for appealing against council action.

The inspectors' powers

They can take samples and photographs and inspect records. People running food businesses and their employees must not obstruct inspectors. Inspectors may write and ask businesses to put right any problems they find. Where breaches of the law are identified that must be put right, they may serve people with an improvement notice. They can detain or seize suspect 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 or equipment, fines and possibly imprisonment. 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. A notice must be confirmed by the court.

If you think the outcome is not fair

If you do not agree with action taken by the inspector, you should first contact the council on 01634 333333, to see if the problem can be resolved informally. If disagreement remains after that you could approach your local councillor.

If you think the council is applying the law in a different way from others, you can seek advice from the Local Authorities Co-ordinating Body on Food and Trading Standards (LACOTS) either through your trade association or the council.

You have the right of appeal at a magistrates court against an improvement notice or a refusal by the council to lift an emergency prohibition order made earlier by the court.

A magistrates' court must confirm the emergency closure of a business or the seizure of food. If magistrates decide premises have been shut without proper reason or food has been wrongly seized or detained, you have a right to compensation.

Medway Council is ready to help if you need any advice on food safety or labelling. Trade associations and independent consultancy services can also help.