Food complaints

No matter how good a manufacturer or supplier of food is, there will be occasions when something goes wrong and the food sold is not acceptable to the customer. These will often be picked up by the manufacturer or supplier and an Allergy Alert or Food Hazard Warning will be made.

If you have purchased something which you are unsatisfied with or wish to make a complaint about then please follow the advice below.

Firstly you should call the manufacturer, supplier or shop where you bought the goods.

A prompt complaint to the retailer or manufacturer will ensure that the manufacturer can recall (if necessary) any product and that your complaint can be dealt with as quickly as possible. Instances where it is appropriate to contact the manufacturer are as follows:

  • although you are not satisfied with the product, you are not unduly concerned about it and merely want your money back
  • the complaint is not of a serious nature, eg a part of a pea pod in a can of peas, or a 'flat' carbonated drink
  • you are not sure when and where you purchased the product, or you are not sure where and how you stored it

The Environmental Health Service will only deal with food complaints that pose a public health threat. 

The Environmental Health Service does not get involved in any compensation claims. Compensation claims are a civil matter that you must take up with the manufacturer and courts if necessary. Environmental Health will deal with:

  • unfit food eg. decomposing meat, food poisoning.
  • food that is so contaminated that it could not reasonably be eaten, eg. heavy mould growth on cheese.
  • food which contains something which is not of 'substance' demanded, eg a bolt in a loaf of bread.
  • Trading Standards deal with all other food complaints- see below

The do's and don't's when making a complaint


  • keep receipts (not essential but helpful)               
  • keep the food in the wrapper and container   
  • take digital images with a camera phone or digital camera and email them to             
  • keep perishable food under temperature control (especially if your complaint involves decomposition or off smells and tastes)               
  • read the label for best before and use by dates, and instructions for use. If you use food that is out of date, or in a different manner than required by the instructions you can expect problems        
  • if you are unhappy with the response from the manufacturer and you believe your complaint posed a public health risk then contact the Environmental Health Service


  • be tempted to handle or pull out any 'foreign' object found in the food - leave it in place    
  • put the food in a place where further deterioration could take place (instead put it in the fridge but separate from other foods)
  • throw away any of the food

What we cannot do?

  • We cannot carry out an investigation without the food to examine. We must have the packaging, so we can check the batch codes, dates and the company who made the product.
  • We cannot get you a refund for your food or get involved in compensation.
  • You can then decide if you want to us to deal with it or return to the store for a refund, etc. They may be willing to refund you your money and then carry out their own investigation.

What we can do?

  • We can investigate the problem, if you bring the food to us with all the packaging information. Please let us know when you are going to visit. 
  • When we receive a complaint, we will ask you about the purchase and the discovery of the complaint. A statement may be taken. This statement provides the council with a record of what you saw, and will help us collect information whilst it is fresh in your mind.
  • We will contact all the people involved in making and selling the food. If we believe the business has been careless, or has overlooked a problem, we may consider formal action. Most complaints are dealt with informally; most manufacturers are concerned about both food safety and their public image and will offer their apologies. An investigation can take up to six weeks, in some cases it might be longer.

Environmental Health action

The time taken to investigate a food complaints can vary because manufacturers often have to be contacted and be given the opportunity to provide an explanation as to how the problem occurred.

We often contact the Local Authority in whose area the manufacturer is situated and ask the local Environmental Health Officer to provide us with information about the manufacturer.

Although these consultations can be lengthy the investigation of your complaint will commence within 24 hours of receipt of the article.

You will be kept informed of progress and when the investigation is completed you will be informed of the outcome in writing. However, should you require any information about your complaint at any time please do not hesitate to contact this department.

The Environmental Health department  will only take formal action when:

  • there is a public health risk  
  • there is a good chain of evidence             
  • the company concerned does not have a reasonable defense as to why the incident happened         
  • the action complies with the council's Enforcement policy

If formal action is pursued you will be asked to make a statement andmay have to give evidence in court.

If the council does not take formal action, we will write to you explaining this and you will be asked if you wish your details to be released to the company concerned so that they can contact you directly.

Can I take private action against the company?

Your statutory rights are not affected should we take formal action. You may wish to consider withdrawing the complaint from the council and undertaking private legal action. Alternatively, you may take private action upon completion of our investigation (if appropriate).


Trading standards

Trading Standards also deal with food complaints. The type of complaints they deal with are as follows:

  • chemical contamination of food and improper use of additives              
  • composition of food, eg sausages must contain a minimum percentage of meat   
  • adulteration of foods          
  • labelling offences and misleading claims              
  • quality and nature of food, eg Cod sold as Haddock

For more information please look at  Nottinghamshire Trading standards