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What happens during a food hygiene inspection?

During an inspection of a food business premises an Environmental Health Officer/Food Officer audits and inspects premises in accordance with the food law code of practice and food law practice guidance.

The aim is to make sure food business operators and their staff are meeting legal food hygiene and safety requirements, and that the food they are producing/selling (or even gifting as a sample) is safe for customers to eat.

To do this we will talk to a business owner, a manager and their staff about their activities, and how they manage food safety. They will also look at the establishments food safety documentation, as well as assessing the structure of the premises.

During the course of the inspection we may take photographs, samples or swabs; if this done, we will explain why we are doing this.

How does an Environmental Health Officer undertake a food hygiene inspection?

To be able to issue an accurate food hygiene rating, we must be confident in the food businesses ability to manage a food business and their understanding of food safety management and the risks involved.

We will: 

  1. Ask staff about any quality control systems and practices and will ask questions to establish their understanding of risks and how to control them.
  2. Look at every part of the premises and equipment.
  3. Ask about staff training, controlling hazards and temperature control.

We may:

  1. Want to see the businesses recipes, Food Safety Management Systems, maintenance and production records, temperature records and staff sickness records too.

(All these documents should be referred to in the Premises Food Safety Management System, such as Safer Food Better Business or similar).

  1. Take photographs, samples and swabs from the premises.

How do Environmental Health and Food Officers judge a business and award a Food Hygiene Rating Score?

Environmental Health and Food Officers work to the guidelines of the Food Safety Code of Practice when conducting hygiene inspections.

They use Food Safety legislation (Regulation (EC) 852/2004) to determine:

  • compliance of structural standards
  • hygiene knowledge, standards and practices
  • policies and procedures implemented and maintained to accurately
  • record (document) how you protect the food you prepare and serve. 

Our job is to make sure that your food hygiene standards meet legal requirements and your food is safe to eat.

To do that we look at:

  • how hygienically is food prepared, cooked, reheated, cooled and stored
  • how much does the unit’s structure lend itself to food hygiene? Do the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation etc. aid hygienic food handling?
  • can the policies and systems laid out in the Food Safety Management System ensure that food safety will always be maintained?

What happens if there is a problem?

There are a number of actions we can take if they find contraventions of food hygiene legislation in a catering business.

Dependent on the seriousness of the issue, we might:

  • write informally to you outlining the contraventions they witnessed and providing you with a timescale in which to rectify them
  • serve an improvement notice if breaches of the law have been identified, which formally instructs you to correct the issues
  • may discuss with you voluntary procedures to help rectify contraventions – this might include voluntary surrender of food rather than formally seizing or detaining it or a voluntary closure of your premises instead of serving a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice which can formally close your business but the voluntary closure means that a notice won’t be placed on the door
  • serve a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice if there is an imminent risk to consumers. A Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice can be used to stop the use of processes, premises or equipment


If an officer advises you to do something they must make it clear whether you need to do it to comply with the law (legal requirement) or whether they are recommending it as good practice only:

  • the officer must give you a reasonable period of time in which to carry out required work except if there is an imminent risk to public health
  • exclude any food handler from working if they are suffering from a food-borne illness or infectious disease

Prosecution of food businesses

For every serious, or persistent breaches of legislation; a food business may be prosecuted which could result in fines or event imprisonment. Prosecution can also lead to a person being banned from running a food business in the future and/or the prohibition of a process and/or use of premises or equipment.

What to do if you receive an improvement notice

Where formal notices have been served, the recipient of the notices (usually be the person registered as the food business operator or owner of the premises) must take immediate steps to comply with the notice.

They must keep the EHO up-to-date with any progress and contact us immediately if they are unable to comply with the requirements on the Notice within the specified time period.

Request a hygiene rating re-score

You can request a hygiene rating re-score; this is a paid for service.

Food Hygiene Rating Scheme: Request for a re-visit

Ways to contact us about food hygiene inspections

You can contact us by: