Brownie Points: How To Survive An EHO Visit

EHO visits can be daunting and it can feel like inspectors are holding the survival of your business in their hands but if you know what to look out for, your business might just come out the other end.

The outcome of an environmental health inspection (EHO) could dramatically impact your business. Beyond the legal consequences, their findings are publically available and used by customers to make judgments about your quality. Your food hygiene rating, for example, tells the public about the cleanliness of your premises. If you’re a business with a poor rating, customers may be sceptical about buying from you.

If your business prepares or sells food, be that cooked or packaged, then you must register using the food business registration service. From there, environmental health officers will undergo an inspection to ensure you comply with legislation.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that you adhere to a strict cleaning schedule and basic food hygiene. As the UK hospitality sector has been closed for months, there is a greater risk of dirt and pests. The British Pest Control Association (BCPA) has recently issued advice: encouraging businesses to review the likelihood of infestation during closure and to take further precautions to fulfil their legal requirements before reopening to the public.

How your business is inspected could be changing. Because of the pandemic, officers have been unable to undergo inspections, causing a significant backlog. To tackle this, local councils are considering implementing digital inspections (electronic tours where the business owner uploads documentation). This has received criticism given it increases the risk of an inspector missing vital information.

What is an Environmental Health Officer (EHO)?

An EHO is responsible for inspecting food businesses and ensuring they comply with environmental health laws. They analyse the entire business process, including food preparation, cleanliness levels, the competence of staff, and overall standards for food. In short, EHO’s ensure businesses are safe to the public.

They specialize in a variety of areas, including investigating food hygiene concerns and enforcing safety standards; following up complaints of food poisoning, infectious diseases or pests; collecting samples for laboratory testing; and giving guidance to employers who have failed an inspection.

Officers use a health inspection checklist to ensure a food business meet the requirements of the Standards Agency – giving a score from 0 (high risk,) to 5 (low risk). If you score 2 or below, you will be served an improvement notice outlining the serious improvements you must make. 

What do Environmental Health Officers Look For?

They follow their checklist and the food safety guide to judge a business based on three strands of criteria. Marks are given for non-compliance and the lower the overall marks, the higher the overall hygiene score. The three criteria are:

1. Safe food practices, measuring:

  • How food is handled, prepared, reheated and stored.
  • Staff knowledge. Do they have adequate food hygiene training? Do they wear protective clothing when necessary?
  • The contamination prevention methods taken by a business.

2. The business premises, measuring:

  • Cleaning techniques and frequency over a period of time.
  • Equipment maintenance.
  • The steps taken to guarantee temperature control.
  • The cleanliness, layout, ventilation, and adequacy of the premises.

3. Safety management, measuring:

  • The businesses ability to follow a food safety management system (FSMS) which ensures food safety will be maintained after the inspection.
  • Food labelling improvements. How is raw foods stored? How does the business keep tabs of their stocks best before date? How are they ensuring their halal meat is real? (Even with the late officer Dr. Yunes Teinaz tackling fake halal meat, some businesses are still unknowingly selling it).
  • The overall control and confidence in management, their competence and understanding of food hygiene regulations.

Along with a visual inspection of the workplace, an EHO will: ask staff about quality control systems, request to see recipes, FSMS, temperature and staff records. They will also ask management about staff training, controlling hazards, and temperature control.

What Legal Power Do Environmental Health Officers Have?

EHO officers are not obligated to inform you about upcoming inspections, and you could have an impromptu visit at any time. They have a duty to protect public health and have a number of legal powers they can use during food hygiene inspections if things are unsafe.

But EHO officers aren’t monsters. They don’t want to close your business down, and will only take authority action in extreme circumstances. In most cases, when something’s not quite right, they will offer guidance and advice to help a business adjust its procedures to match food safety law.

If there is a problem, they might:

  • Give you a legal notice (such as a hygiene improvement notice) that outlines the findings of the EHO visit. If a breach of food safety law has been identified, the notice will reference the improvements that must be made.  If the issue is not adequately resolved, the EHO might escalate things further.
  • Serve an Emergency Prohibition Notice if there is an immediate risk to customers, which could stop the use of a premise, process or equipment.
  • Exclude a food handler from working if they are experiencing an illness.
  • Liaison with local authorities to start a prosecution process in court. This could result in fines, imprisonment, or a lifetime ban from running a hospitality business.

Therefore, alongside the bad publicity of not meeting food hygiene laws, failing to pass EHO inspections could have much worse consequences.

How to Prepare for an Upcoming EHO Visit

Now you have a better understanding of what inspectors look for, you can better prepare. As visits could take place at any time, it’s recommended that you adhere to food safety legislation and have at least one member of staff suitably trained in food safety management on-site at all times.

It’s also important you take steps to fulfil the criteria of all strands of the food safety code. If you can tick off the following, then you’re well on your way to achieving a 5-star rating.

1. Meet safe food practices by:

  • Ensuring your stock control procedure is accurate and up to date at all times.
  • Frequently monitoring your fridge and freezer temperature levels.
  • Putting cross-contamination prevention in place and accounting for allergens: separating chopping boards, separating preparation areas, colour coding your equipment.
  • Guaranteeing your team adheres to good personal hygiene practices.

2. Ensure your business premises is adequate by:

  • Frequently reviewing your cleaning process. Do you go behind all your equipment? Are dangerous and hazardous chemicals properly accounted for?
  • Taking precautions to prevent pests by implementing vermin control and ensuring waste is regularly emptied.
  • Ensuring your ventilation and lighting is adequate.
  • Regularly servicing equipment and electronics.

3. Guarantee satisfactory safety management by:

  • Ensuring you have a safer food business plan, outlining the steps your business takes to ensure food is safe.
  • Making sure everyone is sufficiently trained and abide by storage procedures: such as separating raw and cooked meat.
  • Maintaining a thorough cleaning schedule.
  • Ensuring every member of the team has the necessary food safety knowledge for their role.

By ticking off each of these steps, you are ensuring the food you serve to the public is safe. It’s also a way of guaranteeing a smooth visit from an EHO and a 5-star rating.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of your type of business, the consequences of failing an EHO visit are much worse than just the bad publicity that comes from a sub-par food hygiene rating. An inspector could shut down your business, serve you with a legal notice, and even prosecute you.

To avoid this, and to guarantee a smooth EHO visit, we recommend abiding by your obligations as outlined by food safety law. Do so by following the checklist outlined above.

This post was last modified on 29 April 2021

Nola Garavaglia-McGann

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