Whether it's a global restaurant chain or a homemade cupcake business, environmental health officer (EHO) inspections are required on a regular basis to ensure the prioritisation of food hygiene and safety in the kitchen, guaranteeing that all food prepared for consumption is safe.
If basic kitchen hygiene rules are being followed at all times, EHO inspections should not be a cause for concern, but more a routine formality. Naturally, any organisation which can expect to be visited by an EHO should take steps to ensure that any EHO assessment produces positive results.
In this article, we explain what EHO assessments entail and exactly how a business should prepare for them.
EHO stands for Environmental Health Officer; a government official in charge of inspecting businesses in the food industry for health safety law compliance and potential failings in food safety practices. Their assessments can often have a significant effect on a business’s ability to operate, thanks to the ratings they can give businesses and their impact on reputation.
EHO inspections often take place without advance notice, so it's vital that food business owners are following food hygiene best practices at all times – not only to make sure inspections are always passed, but also to ensure food served is of the highest possible standard.
An EHO inspection is normally unannounced, since the officer does not have to, and generally will not, inform you of their visit. This visit will be during reasonable hours, usually during opening and closing times.
The inspection will include a routine inspection of the premises and may include the taking of food and substance samples. The officer will look into the storage and labelling of food, including temperature control and food safety management. They will also look into both personal and environmental cleaning practices, including the prevalence of hand-washing, the availability of a cleaning schedule and the management of cleaning substances.
Other areas that may be included in an EHO inspection include pest control, equipment maintenance and the condition of the premises.
After an EHO inspection, your business will be granted a food hygiene rating which scores premises on a scale of one to five. This rating can prove very beneficial to a food business; a high score can attract more customers who will be reassured by the added security and peace of mind that a food hygiene rating can bring.
On the other hand, a low score can drive customers away and seriously damage the reputation of the business. It is mandatory to display the food hygiene rating in Scotland and Wales, but in England it is voluntary. If you choose not to display your food hygiene rating, customers may assume that it is low.
EHO inspections are required by law and EHOs have the legal power to conduct an inspection whenever they deem it necessary. They can turn up at any time within a business’ working hours and have the legal authority to enter your business premises and inspect it.
An environmental health officer does not have to give you any advance warning before coming to inspect a business. The exception to this is if you’re running a food business from home, where you will be given a 24-hour warning in advance.
EHO inspections shouldn’t be daunting if your premises are regularly kept to a high level of food safety and hygiene. However, it always helps to be prepared.
Your starting point for environmental health inspections should be to read up on the checklist for what an EHO inspector will be looking for. We’ve created a food premises self-inspection checklist to help make sure you are on track. You can use this to assess your current systems and procedures for maintaining good hygiene and identify any areas that need improvement.
The most effective way to prepare for an inspection is to ensure everyone in the business is aware of what makes up best practices with regard to food hygiene. A great way to ensure this is to provide all of your employees with food hygiene training, along with completing the courses yourself.
We offer a brilliant selection of food hygiene courses that can all be completed online at any time, each involving informative training modules focused on everything from cleaning to storage. Our ‘Level 1 Food Safety and Hygiene’ is a great place to start.
Along with adhering to food hygiene best practices, here are some more top tips that will help to ensure success in the event of a visit from an EHO:
As previously mentioned, a great way to prepare for an EHO inspection is to know what is on an EHO visit checklist. The following list has been put together based on guidance from the Food Standards Agency and outlines everything you will be expected to have in your food preparation and serving environment.
The overall aim of this kitchen hygiene checklist is to ensure that your premises are clean and fit for purpose, that food hygiene rules are being followed, and that your working practices are in line with industry expectations. EHO inspections may also take into account whether your staff have undergone the correct food hygiene and safety training needed for their roles.
After an EHO inspection, a food business will be awarded a score from zero to five under the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, receiving an accompanying sticker or certificate to display to the public.
Naturally, a perfect five out of five score will be proudly displayed, but the NCASS states that a score of three or below is regarded as undesirable. Food businesses found to be underperforming in this way may be asked to make changes and improvements before they are allowed to reopen, or ahead of another EHO hygiene inspection.
If you receive a five after your EHO inspection, you should continue to maintain all of the work you’re doing to keep this high standard of hygiene in your business. If you receive a four, you should ensure that the environmental health officer shares what you need to improve on to get a better score next time.
If you receive a three or below, you need to take immediate action to improve the health and safety of your business in order to continue operating. Not only can your reputation be irreversibly damaged, but you may be unable to open and trade until your hygiene issues have been rectified.
The main area of authority that an environmental health officer has is the ability to give out ratings for businesses in accordance with the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. In order to make the assessment needed for this rating, they have the authority to enter a premises at all reasonable hours, without giving you prior notice.
An EHO also has the authority to serve a Hygiene Improvement Notice, which highlights areas of the business where immediate action is required to improve food hygiene. They also have the authority to serve a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice, which stops a business from operating because of the believed imminent risk to health.
In serious cases, an EHO has the authority to begin the process of prosecution. This can result in court appearances, fines or even imprisonment.
An environmental health officer has the legal authority to take photographic and video evidence of your premises during an inspection. This may be used as evidence if you are prosecuted for failing to adhere to appropriate food hygiene standards.
Food hygiene inspections can be carried out by EHOs at any time. If your business has previously been given a good rating then you may only receive an inspection every two years. If you’ve been given a poor rating or have been deemed as high risk for failing to adhere to good food hygiene standards, you may receive a visit every six months.
To recap, here are the main actions to focus on to improve your chances of passing your next EHO inspection:
Environmental health inspections can be stressful, but practising good food hygiene and being prepared for an assessment are the best ways to ensure that the whole thing goes smoothly. If you want to improve your food hygiene and safety knowledge further, undertaking an e-learning course is a flexible, cost-effective and convenient way to do so.
If you’re looking for relevant food hygiene training, Virtual College has a range of food hygiene training courses available, including our ‘Achieving a Five Star Food Hygiene Rating’ course which is ideal for food business owners.