If you are running any kind of food business, from primary production of ingredients right up to serving it in a restaurant or shop, then you can expect to receive a Food hygiene Inspection at some point, indeed a new business opening is guaranteed to be visited in the first 28 days.
So how do you prepare for an inspection?
When preparing for any inspection you should ask yourself these three questions:
1. Am I being Hygienic?
2. Am I being Safe?
3. Do I have the evidence to prove this?
If you can answer yes to each of these questions then you are prepared.
The first of these we should discuss when it comes to your inspection is the evidence. It is important to remember that however good things are on the day of inspection you need to be able to prove you have a system in place to ensure they are always at that standard. Inspectors will not just take your word for it. This means that whenever you do something to meet your obligations to being hygienic and safe that you should have a method of recording it.
Have cleaning records, temperature check records, and date check records. Record how much you throw away and importantly keep these records somewhere everyone knows where to find them. Often inspectors will hear “We have the somewhere” or “The manager knows where they are but she’s finished for the day”. If they don’t see records then inspectors will assume they don’t exist.
This is also the main scoring factor in the Confidence in Management section of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. What you say and show on the day shows you have knowledge and are safe now, the paperwork is what convinces them you are always so.
You will need to show that you have all of the appropriate equipment and procedures in place to ensure that personal hygiene is of a high standard. This means covering the basic legal requirements such as enough hand wash basins, access to hot water, signage and toilets facilities as well as having staff wear the correct protective clothing to avoid cross contamination and training in place.
You will need to show that you have the correct facilities to hold and store food. This means fridges, freezers, hot hold units etc, as well as ambient storage for dry goods. You will need to show that these are kept clean and at the correct legal temperatures using your paperwork, and that your staff have a good knowledge of temperature controls and correct storage.
This also means stock rotation and use-by and best before dates need to be in order, and don’t forget any vehicles you use to transport food.
Your work surfaces, food preparation areas and equipment need to be shown to be in good working order. This means adopting a clean as you go approach and being able to document this. Work surfaces need to be well cleaned and looked after, it is not acceptable to the inspectors to have large knife marks in worktops as these can be breeding grounds for bacteria. You will need to have appropriate cleaning equipment and chemicals as well as the correct Personal Protective Equipment (known as PPE). Make sure these are being used, goggles kept as new in their wrapper are not protecting anyone.
Your equipment likewise needs to be clean, and well maintained. The safety aspect of an inspection should not be underestimated. Ensure any equipment is safe to use. This means any safety guards on items like meat slicers and mixers are in place, that they are in good working order and that staff are trained correctly to use them.
Temperature equipment should have documentation to show you have calibrated them as required. Records of a yearly kitchen service by a reputable company can also be a great asset here.
It is often said that the first impression a customer has of your business is formed as they approach the building, and this influences their whole experience from that point onwards. As humans we make snap decisions subconsciously based on our first impressions and the rest of our experiences are based on those first impressions. The same can be said for inspectors, they will form an impression of you, your business and its standards as the approach. If the building has peeling paintwork, an illuminated sign with half the bulbs broken and a litter problem on the pavement then this says a lot about the standards you hold.
This means you should keep external windows, doors and paths clean, paint looking fresh and the approach clean, even if this is not strictly your property. This is the reason companies like McDonalds have the staff pick litter outside their restaurants even when it’s not an area they own. If you have large paved areas or terraces on the approach, spending a couple of hundred pounds on a jet wash from Amazon will have an impact worth 10 times that if you use it regularly, not just in improved customer perception, but potentially in a better Food Hygiene score which can have a large impact on customer level.
You have a duty as an employer to ensure that all of your staff have had the correct training and the inspector may ask to see training records and ask members of staff simple questions to test their knowledge. In most cases the best option is to use an online training provider like Highspeed Training or Virtual College however if you are training a large amount of staff at once, such as for a new opening then it can prove cost effective to have an of site trainer come in to provide what is required. You will then be able to present the certificates provided by these external companies as proof.
Environmental Health Officers will be looking for any signs of pests, rodents and vermin around your site, not just in food preparation areas, although the severity of the issue if any found will be much higher if they are found in a food preparation area. This can be anything from mouse droppings to insect nests.
The important thing is to have a clear plan of prevention and action which you can demonstrate to the inspector, including regular checks for signs of infestation (you will need to be able to explain what these signs are). As always you must have documents to back up what you say you are doing. Whilst you can deal with this yourself, it is usually simpler to have a specialist pest control contractor to manage this for you. Being able to say you have a reputable company inspecting regularly and providing written reports is very reassuring to an inspector. There are large nationwide companies like Rentokil who can cover multiple sites easily, however you will find a large array of smaller local companies qualified to provide the service ranging from around £100 a month depending on area.
The inspector will look at your bin storage area and waste collections and ask is it clean? Is it in the correct place and is it adequate for the amount of rubbish your business creates.
Cleanliness comes from ensuring that all rubbish is in bins, ideally lockable which ensures they do not attract pests, any spillages from bags have been cleaned up etc., which again shows that you have standards that you hold the business too. Confidence in Management is a scoring criteria on the Food Hygiene Rating scheme and showing consistency throughout is a great way of demonstrating this to them.
Ensuring waste is stored in a suitable area is vitally important to stop contamination and pest issues. Waste should be stores in a dedicated area as far away as possible from food preparation areas. It should be easily to access from areas that produce waste, and ideally not involve carrying large amounts of waste through other food preparation or service areas.
You will need to show that your waste is disposed of correctly and legally. As the company that produces the waste you are legally responsible for it if it turns up dumped or disposed of illegally. All reputable waste collection companies must register as a waste carrier, and must provide you with a Duty of care waste transfer notice. If you use one of the large companies like Veolia or Biffa then just saying who you use is often enough as the bins they provide are branded and the inspector will know that they have a nationwide practice of providing transfer notices. However if you use a smaller company, especially one that is new or unknown to the inspector they may ask to see it so you should make sure you have a copy available.
You should have a process for cleaning reusable such as kitchen tea towels and other reusable items to ensure that cross contamination does not happen. This means storing them for cleaning away from food preparation areas and having a clear system to ensure that dirty and clean items are not mixed. Whilst larger locations often have a service take the items away for cleaning, it is not uncommon for small venues such as pubs to clean the laundry on site. This is allowed however if the washing machine is in a food preparation area then you should ensure it is only used whilst the kitchen is closed.
Some equipment needs specialist cleaning, if for example you have a charcoal or Josper grill leading into an extraction system then this extraction will need professionally cleaning else it will become a fire risk. You will need to be able to provide documentation to show this is happening. If you recruit an external company to do this for you they can provide a certificate and often a photographic report to prove this is completed.
You need to be able to prove everything with paperwork. The core of this will be your HACCP based food safety system. You will need to be able to talk the inspector through the whole system to give them the confidence that it is actually carried out rather than just sat in a folder untouched. You can read more about HACCP on the FSA website here. You need to prove that you have looked at every aspect of safety and taken appropriate action to reduce the risks. This means recording temperature checks of food at delivery and storage, recording holding times on hot food and temperature checks on all fridges and freezers, cleaning rotas and food probing temperatures to name a few. You can find the UK Governments guide to food safety systems “Safer food, better business” here which will help you develop the custom system you need for your location.
Environmental Health Officers do not just visit for Food Hygiene ratings, and even if this is the main purpose of their visit, they will also spot other issues which they will raise. They might check things like, Fire Safety systems and procedures, First aid kits, lighting or ventilation if they feel it is not adequate and allergen handling and knowledge.
If you can still answer these three questions after considering the above then yes you are ready for an inspection.
1. Am I being Hygienic?
2. Am I being Safe?
3. Do I have the evidence to prove this?
Remember, it is important to live these standards every day, no matter how clean and tidy the site is the day you are visited you need to be able to convincingly prove that you are consistent in those standards. Most inspections are unannounced so you will not be able to “fake it on the day”.
If you would like to know the scoring method used on the Food Hygiene Rating scheme then check out this article "How are Food Hygiene Ratings Calculated?"