Trading Standards Institute Advice

Choosing a supplier

This leaflet is for all food businesses that buy food, products or services.

As a food business, you will probably use different suppliers to provide the different goods and services you need. It is good business practice to choose your providers and suppliers carefully.

What will I buy from a supplier?
You would normally need:

  • food ingredients and food products
  • packaging, wrapping, and disposables
  • cleaning materials
  • staff needs, such as protective clothing and laundry services
  • equipment and machinery for both production and service

You will also have to think about pest control, regular deep-cleaning, equipment maintenance services, and waste disposal.

Why does choosing a supplier matter?
A good supplier will improve your business by making you more productive and efficient, improve the reputation of your business and help you reach the legal standards you need for food safety.

You are the customer and you must decide the level of quality and service you need. The goods and services you get should improve your business, not create problems or hazards.

Food and food products
The most important thing is food.

Whether you are buying food that is raw, partially prepared or ready to eat, the food must be fit for human consumption and meet the quality standards you demand for your business.

Always choose suppliers with a good reputation.

You should ask around and find out who other businesses use and trust. Recommendations from their customers are a good way of checking a supplier's product quality and level of service.

Once you have chosen a supplier you should meet them, and visit their premises if you can as this will give you the chance to see how they work and how they source, process, and package their products. It will also allow you to assess standards of cleanliness and the personal hygiene of staff.

Your food safety management system
By law, you need to have a food safety management system in place. This will set out how you intend to manage food safety so that your products are safe and that you can identify problems and show how you will deal with them.

You should get written confirmation that from your suppliers that they have a food safety management system or HACCP (Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points) in place. This should make sure that food delivered to you will be in good condition.

Know your suppliers
You need to make sure that the members of your staff responsible for ordering food know the suppliers that you use. Their contact details should be readily available and this should ensure they don't use a poor or unauthorised supplier if there is an emergency.

Is the price too cheap?
If food is extremely cheap or unlabelled, it may come from a supplier that isn't genuine or uses poor quality food products. No unlabelled foods should be accepted from suppliers.

Non-food products
For packaging and disposables products you must use materials that are suitable for using with food, and depending on your business, you may need products that can be recycled and that are biodegradable.

You should make sure that packaging materials are stored in clean and hygienic conditions. Also think about what they are made of and where they come from.

Cleaning materials
Before you choose a supplier for cleaning materials you may have to do some research.

Any products used in a food business must be 'food safe'. This means that they are products designed to use in food areas and on food surfaces and which will not affect the quality and safety of food.

A good supplier will know about these products and will be able to tell you which products are best for your business needs.

If you buy materials from a retailer you should always read the labels and check that they are suitable for food area and surface use.

A supplier should also be able to give you safety data sheets which will show you all the information required by the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations. The safety data sheets should tell you about protective equipment you may need, such as gloves or goggles.

Businesses often spend a lot of money on catering equipment.

You may want to buy domestic rather than catering appliances, but these may not be good enough for the constant use needed in a food business.

Equipment that breaks down can create food-safety problems as well as being a problem inconvenient for your customers.

Catering equipment is more expensive but is designed to last longer. You can choose from many specialist catering equipment suppliers, and they will be able to supply you with quality items of a high standard, suitable for food production.

You should always ask people for their recommendations. Use a supplier with a good reputation and speak to them about what you need.

Make sure your supplier will be able to support you for as long as the product lasts, and that they will be able to provide you with spares and servicing. You should also make sure that maintenance engineers are used to working on food premises, around food and food preparation or serving areas.

Remember all the support services you will need for your business: 

  • rubbish and recycling collection (including liquid waste such as used frying oil)
  • pest control
  • cleaning and sanitary services for production areas (premises and equipment)
  • staff areas, eating or service areas, and customer areas such as cloakrooms and toilets
  • equipment maintenance
  • utilities maintenance (electricity, drains and so on)

You should select your service suppliers and contractors in the same way you chose your product suppliers.

You should select suppliers that have been recommended to you. If relevant, you should also find out whether the suppliers you have chosen have professional accreditation or membership.

Ask them what experience they have working with food businesses.

You should agree with them what services you need, how often you need them and when the services will be delivered. Always try not to disrupt your business

You should make sure you carry out activities such as cleaning and maintenance when it's not too busy and preferably before or after normal business hours when food is stored, protected and at no risk. 

More information
You will find further guidance in our other leaflets on this website. Information can also be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Alternatively, contact your local environmental health service for advice.

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance.

© 2018 itsa Ltd.