Trading Standards Institute Advice

Working with the environmental health officer

This leaflet is for all food businesses including those working from home, and any business which serves or provides food.

What does the environmental health service do?
Your local council is responsible for enforcing food safety law in your area. All councils work to the same national standards for food safety.

Your council's environmental health service has a range of responsibilities focused on protecting our environment and public health. These include pest issues, health and safety, noise issues and food safety.

Each environmental health service has specialist food safety officers who must enforce food safety law to ensure all food businesses in the area meet and maintain legal standards for food safety. They do this by periodically inspecting food businesses and providing advice to business owners and food business operators.

There are three main reasons for inspecting your food business:

1: A routine visit to check that you are meeting and keeping to food safety standards.

2: As a result of a complaint. If there has been a complaint about your food, the condition of your premises or the way your business is being run, a member of the environmental health service will investigate the complaint.

3: To investigate an outbreak of food poisoning, GPs must tell the local environmental health service about any patient who has food poisoning. The environmental health service will then contact the person with food poisoning to find out what and where they may have eaten. If the person has eaten your food, the environmental health service will contact you.

These inspections of food premises are normally carried out without delay and are thorough. The inspection will include:

  • looking at your food safety management system
  • details of the food safety training you and your staff have received
  • cleaning standards in the premises
  • the condition of the structure and equipment
  • where you buy your food and ingredients from
  • storage conditions and temperature control
  • personal hygiene of your staff

What legal powers do environmental health officers have?
Environmental health officers are given a number of powers that they can use when they need to enforce the law.

This means that when they visit you to carry out an inspection, by law, you must let them in and let them inspect where they need to. They are only allowed to visit at a 'reasonable' time, which would normally be your normal business hours. They may contact you to agree a time, but often they arrive without letting you know.

If you work from home, they should give you 24 hours' notice before they visit you.

The environmental health officer can take food from your premises without your permission. This is called seizure.

If there is too much food to take away, they can separate it and mark it as unfit until they can arrange to for it to be removed. This is called detaining.

At the end of a visit, or shortly afterwards, you will be normally be given a report prepared by the environmental health service. This can confirm that everything is fine, but it may also make recommendations on how you can improve standards. Legal requirements may be set out and you will be expected to make these improvements and given a deadline by when they must be completed.

If you are not meeting legal standards, the environmental health service may issue you with a legal notice.

There are two types of notice: Hygiene Improvement Notice and Emergency Hygiene Prohibition Notice.

Hygiene Improvement Notice - This is given to you when something is not up to standard and must be improved to reach the standard set by law. The notice will set a period of time that you have to make the improvement (at least 14 days). If you don't make the improvement within this time, you may be prosecuted.

Emergency Hygiene Prohibition Notice - This is given to you if there is an immediate risk of harm or injury to your customers. It means the environmental health service intends to close your business and is applying to a magistrate to confirm that this is an appropriate course of action. Your business will remain closed until the conditions that are an imminent risk to public health are put right and the environmental health service give you permission to re-open

The environmental health service can start the process of you being prosecuted in a court of law. This could result in you receiving a fine, possibly a prison sentence or being banned from running a food business again.

What can I do?
All you need to do is keep to food safety laws.

Food Standards Agency (FSA)
The Food Standards Agency is the national government body responsible for food safety. You can contact them for advice, and you should be able to find all the information you need on its website. You can also phone them on 020 7276 8829 for general advice.

You can get any information you need to help you keep to the legal standards from your local environmental health service.

Working with your environmental health service
You should remember that all environmental health services want the same thing as you do - safe food, happy customers and for you to be successful.

Although environmental health services need to enforce food safety law, their priority is to help you keep to the law rather than punish you for not doing so. They have a lot of experience and expertise, and would rather help you get things right than start using their formal powers.

Registering your business
By law, you must register your business with the environmental health service at least 28 days before you open. However, you could contact the environmental health service sooner and get their advice about your premises and the type of food business you are intending to open.

You need to get things right before you start to avoid having to make expensive changes later.

Health and safety
Environmental health services are also responsible for enforcing health and safety law and they will also offer advice on health and safety issues.

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.