[warning]See also the sections Food Law Basics and Links and on FSA Guidance.[/warning]
Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) work for local authorities and advise on the management of food safety including hygiene, kitchen design, pest control and waste disposal. EHOs are also responsible for the control of pollution and other environmental nuisances. Their duties include the inspection of food premises, as well as enforcing the provisions of the UK laws and the EU food hygiene legislation. They also investigate complaints about food and collaborate with the local Health Protection Unit in the investigation of outbreaks, particularly of food or water-borne illness.
When inspectors visit, they must follow the Food Standards Agency’s Framework Agreement on local authority food law enforcement and the Food Law Code of Practice. Food Business Operations (FBOs) can expect the inspectors to show identification when they arrive and be polite throughout the visit. They should always give feedback on an inspection. This means they will tell the FBO about any problems they have identified and advise about how they can be avoided.
If inspectors advise a customer to do something, they must tell them whether they need to do it to comply with the law or whether it is good practice.
If the FBO is asked to take any action as a result of the inspection, they must be given the reasons in writing. If the inspectors decide that the FBO is breaking a law, they must say what that law is. The inspectors should give a reasonable amount of time to make changes, except where there is an immediate risk to public health. They must also tell the FBO how they can appeal against their actions.
When they think it is necessary, inspectors can take ‘enforcement action’, to protect the public. For example, they can:
- Inspect records
- Take samples and photographs of food
- Write to the FBO informally, asking them to put right any problems
- Detain or seize suspect foods
HEPNs, RANs and Other Stuff You Don’t Want
They can also serve various notices if you piss them off. Which is fair enough because with something like E. coli O157 you could kill a punter if you get it wrong. But unless you’re running a toilet and really don’t care they’ll generally work with you. If they need to get your attention there are three main types of notice:
- Hygiene Improvement Notice or Food Labelling Improvement Notice – sets out certain things that must happen to comply, if the business is breaking the law
- Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice– forbids the use of certain processes, premises or equipment and must be confirmed by a court
- Remedial Action Notice – forbids the use of certain processes, premises or equipment, or imposes conditions on how a process is carried out. This is similar to a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice but it does not need to be confirmed by a court: this type of notice applies to approved establishments only in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and can be used for any food establishment in Scotland.)
It is a criminal offence not to comply with a notice once served. In serious cases inspectors can also recommend a prosecution. If a prosecution is successful, the court may forbid use of certain processes, premises or equipment, or individuals could be banned from managing a food business. Prosecution could also lead to a fine or imprisonment.