Questions and answers relating to food safety inspections and enforcement.
How does the Council keep a check on the food sold in the borough?
Officers from the Food Safety team carry out routine sampling of food on a programmed basis from food businesses in the borough. Samples are tested to see if the ingredients match the label, if they contain any non-permitted additives, or if they contain dangerous bacteria. If a product is found not to comply with standards we can insist on it being removed from sale.
Who inspects food businesses?
Either an Environmental Health Officer or an authorised Technical Officer employed by the Council will inspect food businesses in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (always ask to see some form of official identification – if in doubt call us on tel: 020 7361 3002). Food inspections are normally carried out without prior notice, and the inspection time varies. They could be carrying out a routine inspection or visiting as a result of a complaint. They will look at the way you operate your business to identify potential hazards and make sure that you are complying with the law.
How often are businesses inspected by Environmental Health officers?
It depends on the risk associated with the particular business, which in turn depends on the kind of business (a restaurant poses a higher potential risk than a shop selling only packaged food, and therefore would need to be visited more often), and the condition of the business itself, as assessed by the inspector at each visit.
Inspection intervals range from every six months (highest risk) to every five years (lowest risk).
What happens during an inspection?
The officer(s) will:
- talk to staff about your quality control systems and practices (where these exist)
- inspect all parts of your premises and equipment
- talk to you about staff training, controlling hazards and temperature control
The inspecting officer(s) may also request relevant documentation including recipes, maintenance and productions records, temperature records, food safety management systems, staff sickness records. Inspectors may also take samples and swabs as part of a routine inspection.
What will happen if an inspector finds problems with food standards at my business?
This depends on the seriousness of the problem. Minor contraventions will result in the inspector advising on how best to rectify the situation. More serious matters will be dealt with more formally, ranging from the service of notice to possible prosecution for very serious offences.
In very extreme cases (such as very dirty premises or a serious pest infestation), an inspector can order the closure of the business. In such cases we have to prove in Court that there is a real risk to health from the premises. In most cases we will help businesses comply with the regulations and trade successfully.
What powers do inspectors have?
Inspectors have the power to:
- take samples and photographs, and inspect records
- write informally asking the proprietor to put right any problems they find – where breaches of the law are identified, which must be put right, they may serve an Improvement Notice
- detain or seize 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 and equipment, impose fines, prohibit someone from running a food business and possibly imprisonment for serious offences)
- 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 – the Courts must confirm such a notice
- inspectors can also formally exclude someone from working in a food business if they are found to be suffering with a food-borne illness or infectious disease
What am I entitled to expect from the inspectors?
You can expect our inspectors to:
- have a courteous manner
- show identification
- give feedback from any inspection, such as information about hazards which have been identified, and guidance on how they should be avoided
- clearly distinguish between what you must do to comply with the law, and what is recommended good practice
- give you the reasons, in writing, for any action you are asked to take
- show where there is an apparent breach of law, and a statement of what that law is
- give you reasonable time to meet statutory health requirements (except where there is an immediate risk to public health)
- explain the steps you can take to appeal against local authority action
May I refuse entry?
No. It is a criminal offence to obstruct an authorised officer in the course of his or her duty
What should I do if I receive an Improvement Notice?
You must take immediate steps to ensure that you comply with it, within the specified time period. If you do not comply then you may be prosecuted. If you cannot comply within the time period you should contact the Environmental Health Department immediately.
Let the inspector know of the progress that you are making to comply with the notice.
Who governs what the officers do?
The officers must comply with, and/or adhere to:
- European Union Food Safety Directives and Regulations where appropriate
- The Food Safety Act 1990 and also associated regulations
- Code of Practice issued by the Food Standards Agency
- Advice in relevant approved industry guides for food businesses
Officers cannot make up the rules and regulations as they go along. Collection of credible evidence is pivotal in any case that may lead to prosecution.
What can I do if I think the outcome is not fair?
If you do not agree with the action taken by the inspector, you should first contact the Food Safety Team Manager. You can do this by calling 020 7361 3002.
In the first instance we will try to resolve the problem informally. If you are still not happy then you can ask for your complaint to be referred to Head of Environmental Health and Trading Standards where a further investigation will be undertaken.
If you are still not happy then your complaint will be escalated further and could be referred to the Ombudsman for a detailed investigation to be undertaken. You could also approach your local councillor.
See the Find your ward councillor.
If you think your local authority is applying the law in a different way from other authorities you can seek advice through your trade association.
You have the right of appeal to a Magistrates’ Court against an Improvement Notice or refusal by a local authority 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 the magistrates decide premises have been shut without proper reason, or food has been wrongly seized or detained, you have a right to compensation.