Trading Standards Institute Advice

Starting a food business

This leaflet is for all food businesses that plan to sell food and food products or prepare food products for farmers' markets and other market stalls.

What is different about a food business?
Starting your own business can be a big step for anyone, and there are many things you need to think about before you start doing business.

When you start your own business you need to consider money and staff issues. But, when you deal with food you also need to think about specific food safety issues and make sure that your food products meet the requirements set by food hygiene and safety laws.

You are responsible for your business. The information in this leaflet should help you start out.

Food safety law
There are a number of laws that food businesses have to comply with to ensure food safety and hygiene.

These give definitions of what a food business is and who is responsible in the business.

'Food law' means the laws, regulations and administrative provisions governing food in general, and food safety in particular. They cover any stage of production, processing and distribution of food, and also of feed produced for, or fed to, food producing animals.

'Food business' means any undertaking, whether for profit or not and whether public or private, carrying out any of the activities related to any stage of production, processing and distribution of food.

'Food business operator' means legal person(s) responsible for ensuring that the requirements of food law are met within the food business under their control. This may be the legal owner of the business but not always. It can also be the person who has day to day management control of the business.

What do I have to consider?
Your first step is normally to find the right premises and fit them out. This is very important, not just in terms of how well your business does, but also for food safety reasons. Your business shouldn't be near anything that may cause contamination issues. You should always check what the other businesses near you do and avoid anywhere where there is dirt, dust, fumes, too many vehicles, a pest problem or a lot of waste.

The next step is to consider access and facilities. You should avoid buildings with limited access as your staff and customers need to be able to get to you. Also, if delivery drivers find it difficult to deliver goods, they may leave them outside, and this presents a risk of contamination.

You also need to consider your utilities (gas, electricity, water and so on). You will use gas or electricity to cook and prepare food, and you also need hot water, for example, for washing your hands and cleaning.

By law, you also need a suitable supply of drinking (potable) water. You must have a drainage system in place that can deal with the amount of waste you may produce. Some food businesses produce a large amount of waste water.

You will need outside storage bins with fitted lids that are big enough to hold the waste you produce, and you will need facilities for getting rid of food waste and recycling.

Registering your business
By law, you need to register your business with your local authority at least 28 days before you start trading.

You need to fill in a form, which you can get from your local authority, that asks you for some basic information about yourself and the kind of food business you want to run. You don't have to pay for this, but you may have to pay a large penalty if your local authority prosecutes you for not registering.

An authorised council officer may inspect your premises within 28 days before you start trading to make sure that you are meeting the requirements of food hygiene laws. The officer will carry out a risk assessment of your business which they will use to decide how often they will need to inspect you in the future.

When you register you will come into contact with the local environmental health officer, whose job it is not only to enforce food hygiene laws but to give you advice about the best way for you to meet and keep to these standards.

Once you have registered, you will need to tell the local authority if you make any changes to your business. You should do this within 28 days of bringing in the change.

Design of your premises
You should think about how your business premises are designed and built. By law, your business premises must be 'fit for purpose'. This means that they should be designed, managed and have the right equipment to minimise the risk of food contamination. Your premises must also be kept clean and hygienic.

By law, you must keep your premises clean and hygienic. You should:

  • make sure everything is easy to clean, and that you can get around and underneath equipment to thoroughly clean all areas
  • choose smooth, hard surfaces that are easy to clean and disinfect
  • avoid surfaces that can absorb grease and dirt, such as untreated or unsealed wood
  • choose equipment that you can clean easily, and avoid anything that can damage easily and become harder to clean properly

The layout of your food preparation area
You need to think about the layout of your food preparation and serving areas. You should keep raw food away from cooked food so there is less risk of cross contaminating your prepared food. You should:

  • think of raw food as dirty and cooked food and ready-to-eat food as clean
  • work in a way that starts with raw food and moves onto cooked foods, this is known as a 'dirty to clean' work flow
  • have separate areas for raw and cooked foods, or if you can't do this, make sure you clean and disinfect your work areas between tasks
  • keep raw and cooked food separate - for example, when you store them in fridges and freezers

You may want to use different coloured equipment such as chopping boards, knives and cleaning equipment for raw and cooked food, which when used properly will help you keep them separate and prevent cross-contamination. Your staff must understand these rules before they work in food areas.

Food safety management systems
By law, since 2006 most food businesses have to have a written system in place to show how they are managing the safety of their food.

A food safety management system helps you identify where and how the safety of the food you produce could be put at risk. Used properly, and by keeping written records, possible hazards or dangers can be controlled. You may be prosecuted if you do not keep written records.

At least one person at your business must be properly trained in how to use your food safety management system. If you are a small to medium-sized business, an easy way for you to train staff is by using the Safer Food Better Business (SFBB) package, which you can get from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Staff and employees
You need to carefully choose your staff and train them to meet high food safety standards. You should think carefully about employing anyone who has poor standards of personal care and hygiene.

When choosing your staff, you should try to find out what they know about food safety and their experience of working with food. They don't always need to have experience but they do need to understand how important it is, and must work in a way that will produce a safe food product.

The 'business operator' is responsible for making sure that people who handle food are trained to give them the skills they need to carry out their work efficiently and safely.

By law, your staff must be trained and/or supervised appropriately for the work they do. You must make sure the training is suitable for their jobs and keep records to prove this.

You should not think of staff training as an annoying exercise you need to do to satisfy the environmental health officer and comply with food safety law. The production of safe food needs all staff to keep to good food hygiene working practices all the time. This needs to be monitored and reviewed to make sure good food safety standards are kept to and that the reputation of your business is enhanced.

Food safety training will help prevent food being contaminated and promotes the health of consumers. Your business may also benefit because:

  • there will be less waste, which will reduce your costs
  • you will be more productive, helping to increase your profits
  • you will have fewer complaints, which will help your business's reputation

Training will also help you promote your business's image to customers, create positive attitudes to food hygiene in your business, and help to improve customer care.

These are important aims in the management of any successful business. 

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.