Food hygiene inspections are one of the most important public health considerations for local authorities, and naturally they are a cause of stress for many food businesses, from small restaurants to major supermarkets. One of the biggest questions asked when it comes to food hygiene inspections is around timing. How often do they actually happen? Can you expect one regularly or are they sudden and unexpected? In this article, we’re going to help clear things up for you.
Firstly, it’s important to note that there are no set intervals between food hygiene inspections. The only one that you can be certain about is the very first one that you’ll have when your business opens. Beyond that, there are many factors at play. In addition, food hygiene inspections very rarely happen with an appointment – inspectors are permitted to make an inspection at any reasonable hour, and will usually come without warning. This might seem stressful for businesses, but it’s essential to make sure that the inspector is seeing the same standard that the general public experiences. They’re also permitted to inspect any element of the food production chain.
It helps to understand what food hygiene inspections are for to get a better idea of how frequent inspections are likely to be. There are roughly four major things that they’ll look at in an inspection, and if you’re lacking in any area, then not only are you likely to be marked down on your rating, but you’re more likely to find yourself being inspected regularly. This is especially true for higher risk establishments such as a nursing home which serves food to elderly people.
Inspectors will pay particular attention to these four areas:
During an inspection, inspectors are required to be both polite and helpful, and should approach things with a view to helping the business improve rather than just criticising it for anything that isn’t at the highest standard. Any issues that are found should be clearly communicated to the business owner and employees, and it should be explained whether sorting them out is a matter of good practice or legality.
As a result of the above, regular food hygiene inspections could range from intervals of less than six months to around five years if the premises is very low risk. There are of course other things that could trigger an inspection. Members of the public are entitled to make complaints to their local authority about any food business that they have concerns about, and there is every likelihood that this will mean a sudden and unexpected inspection. Similarly, if a business fails an inspection so dramatically that the inspector demands that they shut for a period of time, another inspection will occur before it can reopen.
Of course, you can also request an inspection of your own accord if you’ve made improvements to the way that your business operates and you want them to be reflected in your food hygiene score, which must be publicly displayed in many areas of the UK. Again, the visit won’t be booked in - you can only request it. The time this will take will vary hugely depending on your local authority and their ability to get round all of the businesses in the local area. Some are far more efficient than others.
To conclude, higher risk businesses like restaurants should expect to have an inspection roughly every six months, but establishments selling pre-packed food that they don’t prepare may have a couple of years between them. Therefore, rather than being concerned about when an inspection might come, you should concentrate on ensuring your food business in up to scratch at all times.
You might find that further training for yourself or your employees helps ensure this is the case. Virtual College is pleased to be able to offer the major Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 food hygiene certificates. Click here see our full range of online food hygiene courses.