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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. This Framework Agreement sets standards for how local authorities carry out their enforcement duties.

You can expect the inspectors to show you identification when they arrive and be polite throughout the visit. They should always give you feedback on an inspection. This means they will tell you about any problems they have identified and advise you about how they can be avoided. Inspectors should not be feared, they are there to help you comply rather than find ways to shut the business down.

If inspectors advise you to do something, they must tell you whether you need to do it to comply with the law, or whether it is good practice.

If you are asked to take any action as a result of the inspection, you must be given the reasons in writing. If the inspectors decide that you are breaking a law, they must tell you what that law is.

The inspectors should give you a reasonable amount of time to make changes, except where there is an immediate risk to public health. They must also tell you how you can appeal against their actions.

When the inspector thinks it is necessary, they can take ‘enforcement action’, to protect the public. This can be things like:

  • Inspect the records of the business
  • Take samples and photographs of food
  • Write to the business informally, asking you to put right any problems
  • Detain or seize suspect foods 
  • They can also serve you with the formal notice.

There are three main types of notice:

  • The first is a ‘Hygiene improvement notice’ or 'food labelling improvement notice', which sets out certain things that must be done to comply if the business is breaking the law.
  • The next type of notice is a ‘Hygiene emergency prohibition notice’, which forbids the use of certain processes, premises or equipment. This must be confirmed by a court.
  • The final type is a ‘Remedial action notice’ which 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 so they must be taken seriously.

Inspectors can also recommend a prosecution, in serious cases. If a prosecution is successful, the court may forbid you from using certain processes, premises or equipment, or you could be banned from managing a food business. It could also lead to a fine or imprisonment.

Finally, it is worth mentioning due diligence. Due diligence is the principle defence under the food safety legislation as if you can prove that all reasonable precaution was taken and that due diligence was taken to avoid committing the office, it can lead to the defendant being acquitted of the offence. Taking reasonable precautions involves having systems and controls in place to protect against likely hazards and risks. Due diligence requires these systems to be operated correctly. If the business also complies with the relevant industry good practice also assists in due diligence defence.