How to Ace your next food hygiene inspection

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Are you wondering when your next food hygiene rating visit will take place?

Unfortunately the Covid epidemic has severely disrupted food hygiene inspections. Local Authorities have been following the Food Standards Agency advice and suspended routine food inspections, visiting only high risk or Category A businesses. Environmental health teams are now playing catch up, following the recent lift in Covid restrictions, to try and get through the back log.

What is the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme?

The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme runs in partnership between the Food Standards Agency and Local Authorities.  Food businesses including restaurants and cafes are inspected regularly based on a Code of Practice scoring.

The  highest scoring premises are  ‘A’ rated and the lowest are ‘E’ rated. This depends on the type of food you serve, the risk involved and your customers. Some businesses such as primary producers and manufacturers are exempt from the scheme. Whilst other low risk businesses are inspected using alternative enforcement such as a self assessment questionnaire.

The rating is made up of 3 scores and covers all aspects of your business:

  • Food safety and hygiene
  • Structural and cleanliness
  • Confidence in management that includes your food safety management system

Where can I find my rating?

Your most recent score is published on the Food Standards Agency website https://ratings.food.gov.uk/ A newly registered business, that has not yet been inspected, will be given an ‘AWAITING INSPECTION’ rating which can reassure customers that they are a legitimate food business.

You should display your sticker on the front of your premises although in England this is only a recommendation.

Food businesses are awarded ratings following the inspection from ‘0’ being urgent improvement required to ‘5’ Very Good. Improvement notices may be served if you get a very poor rating and you could be closed down by the Local Authority.

How are businesses inspected?

Usually an inspector will visit your premises unannounced and do the food inspection in person (pre-Covid). Inspectors can enter your business at any reasonable time when you are open and trading. However if you run a business from home you should be contacted 24 hours in advance of the inspection taking place.

Many local authorities are trialing virtual inspections as an alternative to in person visits by using camera and phone technology. Contact is made in advance to arrange a convenient date and time and a request to forward any relevant documentation before the inspection is done.

Ten top tips to make sure you are ready for your next inspection:

Tip 1: Review your Food Safety Management System (FSMS)

Make sure your Food Safety Management System is up to date and KEPT on SITE at all times. Add or delete any information relating to food safety hazards so it reflects what you are actually doing. In SFBB for Caterers this will mean looking at the safe methods, or if you have a bespoke system then check that the steps in food production and service still apply. Also whether you need to add in extra flow processes, controls or corrective action. See my previous blogs for more information on FSMS How to get your head around Food Safety Management Systems and Have you reviewed your Food Safety Management System Recently?

Tip 2: Check for structural issues

These can contribute to a third of the scoring marks. Check and repair or replace any broken or missing tiles, flaking paint, damaged flooring, walls or ceilings. If you have these issues in hand but they have not been done yet, make sure you can prove that they are scheduled via emails or quotations.

Tip 3: Do regular deep cleans

Remove any ingrained dirt or grease and pay particular attention to hard to reach areas. Check that any periodic cleaning is up to date eg. ventilation canopies. Review  cleaning schedules and do on-the-spot cleaning checks.

Tip 4: Do Management Spot Checks

Complete regular weekly spot checks on different days and at different times. Include all areas of the food business including external and staff rooms and follow up on any issues or problems. Use my template to help get you started Manager Spot Checks Form

Tip 5: Check date labels

Do this twice a day and follow manufacturers instructions on shelf life. Staff must follow your shelf life policy (usually 3-4 days) and supervisor’s should flag up any mistakes or out of date food. Having out of date food on your premises is a strict food safety offence Tesco fined for out of date food

Tip 6: Accurately record food temperatures

Monitor temperatures at critical control points to make sure the food you serve is safe. Record hot food temperatures, cooling, hot holding and storage of food preferably twice every day.

Tip 7: Calibrate probes

Do this periodically, preferably weekly, in boiling or iced water and record the temperatures. Uncalibrated probes may mean that all probed food temperatures are incorrect which could seriously compromise food safety. If you need to, send the probes back to the manufacturer for re-calibration or buy new probes.

Tip 8: Check Allergen controls

Staff must know about the allergens in the food you produce and how to prepare food for people with allergies. Store allergens separately so cross contamination does not happen and put a customer’s life at risk.

Tip 9: Ensure staff wash their hands thoroughly

Thorough handwashing is vital to food safety. Fully stock hand wash basins with soap, hot water and towels and check staff are washing their hands properly (also an important COVID control)

Tip 10: Store Food correctly

Keep raw food, particularly meat beneath cooked or high risk food to avoid cross contamination. If possible have a separate raw meat and fish fridge. Store high risk chilled food in a fridge below 8°C ideally at 5°C.

On the day of your inspection, do:

  • Be honest, if something is wrong or needs doing let the inspector know.
  • Don’t fudge records, if you haven’t done them or if they aren’t up to date, again be honest.
  • Ask questions if you need to
  • Follow the inspector’s advice on making changes or improvements
  • Challenge your rating if you don’t agree with it.
  • Consider paying for a re-rating inspection once the improvements are made if you get a low score.

As a practicing Environmental Health Practitioner I have inspected hundreds of food premises and have lots of valuable advice and tips to pass on. f you need some help with food safety or you would like me to do a food safety health check to see how you are doing, please Contact me.