How Often are Food Hygiene Inspections Carried Out?

Food Hygiene inspections are never going to be something looked forwards to by business owners, and whilst the uncertainty of when your next inspection will be is purposely designed to keep hygiene standards high, there is information out there to give you an idea of the time scale you can expect.

The “Food Law Code of Practice” is the government guidance which local authorities use to operate the Food Hygiene Rating scheme.

The guidance states that “Each local authority plans a programme of inspections every year. The frequency of inspections depends on the potential risk to public health“

The four factors authorities use to decide how often a business is inspected are:

• The type of food that is handled at the location

• The number and type of customers, for example vulnerable groups

• The types of processes carried out before the food is sold or served

• The hygiene standards seen during the last inspection.

These factors are scored on a points based system and businesses with a higher points score are inspected more regularly.

All businesses should be inspected under the scheme between every six months for high risk businesses and two years for lower risk businesses. Extremely low risk sites may have even longer than two years between visits potentially up to three years. 

If however, a local authority or the Food Standards Agency receives a complaint or evidence that hygiene standards are not at the level concurrent with the sites current rating, then they will investigate which could involve a full inspection ahead of schedule which would result in a new rating. 

There is also the possibility of a central request to inspect certain premises, an example of this would be if a major nationwide food chain where found to be non-compliant in a large number of locations then the Local authority who discovered it or the FSA could write to all other authorities and recommend an immediate inspection of sites.

Likewise current staffing levels at the inspecting authority can result in lower risk sites being visited less often. In all cases they use all information available to ensure that high risk inspections take priority.

First Inspection

When setting up a new business you are responsible for registering with your local authority. Your first inspection should then happen within 28 days. You can request an “Awaiting Inspection” sticker to display until the inspection has happened. Again this is usually 28 days, if you are starting a low risk business and your authority has a large amount of high risk businesses this may come later. Your next inspection date will be derived in part from information taken on this first visit.

So now let us look at the scoring system which decides how often you are visited.

Scoring system

The chart below shows the total score from each of the four scoring categories.

Category Score Minimum Frequency of Visit
92 or Higher At least every six months
72 to 91 At least every twelve months
52 to 71 At least every eighteen months
31 to 51 At least every 24 months
0 to 30 Every three years

As you can see each business will be given a category code based on this scoring and can expect a visit and re-inspection at least as often as listed.

Factor 1: The type of food that is handled at the location

  • A score of 40 points is given to “Manufacturers of high-risk food, wholesalers and packers who re-wrap or re-pack high-risk foods. In this context, high-risk foods may be regarded as foods which support the growth of micro-organisms, and are ready to eat without further treatment that would destroy pathogenic microorganisms or their toxins.”
  • A score of 30 points is given to the “Preparation, cooking or handling of open high-risk foods by caterers and retailers, except caterers that prepare less than 20 meals on a single day.”
  • A score of 10 points is given if business involves “Preparation, cooking or handling by small caterers of open high-risk foods who serve less than 20 meals on a single day.” 
  • A score of 10 points is also given to “Any business handling pre-packed high-risk foods or who manufacture or pack foods not high-risk.  Establishments involved in the filleting, salting of fish for retail sale to final consumer and any other wholesalers and distributors not included above.”
  • • A score of 5 points is given to a business that involves the “Retail handling of foods other than high-risk, and other ambient shelf stable products. Any other businesses not included in the categories above.”

If your business meets more than one of these statements then the highest score is used. So if you manufacture high risk foods (40 points) and low risk foods (10 points) then you would gain a score of 40 points for this section.

Factor 2: The number and type of customers.

This factor is intended to reflect the number of customers likely to be at risk and the potential extent of any incident if there is a failure of food hygiene and safety procedures. 

  • A score of 15 points is given to “Food businesses involved in either the manufacture, distribution, packing or wrapping operations of food which is supplied nationally or internationally.”
  • A score of 10 points is given to “Businesses serving a substantial number of customers, including a significant proportion from outside the local area, e.g. superstore, hypermarket, airport caterer, motorway service area caterer; Manufacturers not included in the category above.”
  • A score of 5 points is given to “Businesses, most of whose customers are likely to be living, staying or working in the local area, e.g. high street or corner shop, high street supermarket, or high street restaurant.”
  • A score of 0 points is given to “Businesses typically supplying less than 20 consumers each day.”

There are also 22 additional points available if your business produces or serves food likely to be consumed by vulnerable groups larger than 20 people.  

In this context, vulnerable groups would include people who are likely to be more susceptible to illness’s that arise from poor food hygiene standards such as those children under 5 or over adult over 65 years of age, people who are sick or have a weakened immune system.

Factor 3: The types of processes carried out.

Any business that uses methods of processing that have the potential to increase the risk to health above the risk from standard cooking or storage, will be given a score of 20 points in this section. All other businesses receive zero points.

The guidelines provide a non-exhaustive list of processes that should be given the extra 20 points. The inspecting officer will make a judgement regarding additional processing types not listed below.

  • Canning or other aseptic packing of low-acid foods;
  • Vacuum and sous-vide packing;
  • Manufacture of cook/chill food, i.e. cooked and prepared meals or foods which may be eaten cold or after reheating. (The simple reheating of cook-chill meals is excluded from the scope of this paragraph.);
  • Fermentation of meats e.g. to produce salamis and other fermented sausages;
  • Air drying e.g. dried hams, biltong, jerky;
  • Freeze drying; 
  • Addition of salt and/ or other preserving agents;
  • The cooking and cooling of meat products prior to service e.g. production of hams by retailers, including butchers;
  • Establishments that manufacture, prepare, or serve high risk uncooked or lightly cooked ready to eat food of animal origin, whose nature poses a residual microbiological food safety hazard. This is intended to include caterers/manufacturers producing foods such as steak tartar and other raw meat dishes, fish and meat Carpaccio, types of sushi or sashimi, ceviche, and burgers intended to be eaten rare or undercooked through controlled procedures.

Factor 4: The hygiene standards seen during the last inspection.

The last Food Hygiene Rating that you received has an associated point score with it. This score is itself made up of three sections, Food Hygiene & Safety, Structural Compliance, and Confidence in Management. 

You can read about exactly how this point score is worked out in more detail here, however you can get an idea of what your score was from the chart below:

Total Score to FHRS Rating Matrix
0 - 15 20 25 - 30 35 - 40 45 - 50 50 +
5 10 10 15 20 -
5 4 3 2 1 0
Very Good Good Generally Satisfactory Improvement Necessary Major Improvement Necessary Urgent Improvement Necessary

Added to this is a possible 20 extra points if there is:

  • • “Significant risk of food being contaminated with Cl. botulinum, and the organism surviving any processing and multiplying; or”
  • • “Significant risk of ready-to-eat food being contaminated with microorganisms or their toxins that are pathogenic to humans. e.g. E. coli O157 or other VTEC, Salmonella sp.; Bacillus cereus.”

This additional 20 points is not something that is added across a blanket sector of businesses, it is purely on a case by case basis, examples of issues the inspector will consider which could trigger this are:

  • The potential for contamination or cross-contamination by the specified micro-organisms; 
  • The likelihood of survival and growth of the specified micro-organisms; 
  • The existence of procedures based on HACCP principles and confidence in their implementation, including documentation and records of monitoring of controls; 
  • The extent and relevance of training undertaken by managers, supervisors and food handlers; and 
  • Whether intervention by the Food Authority is necessary to reduce the probability of an incident occurring. 

Most of these are related to the Confidence in Management section of the Food Hygiene Rating System score, as such it is impossible to score well on that section and trigger these extra points.

If the risk is no longer present at the next inspection then these points will stop applying.

Tallying the Score

Category Score Minimum Frequency of Visit
92 or Higher At least every six months
72 to 91 At least every twelve months
52 to 71 At least every eighteen months
31 to 51 At least every 24 months
0 to 30 Every three years

So if we go back to our visit frequency chart we can see how the EHO use the information from previous visits go get total score from all of these factors. And how this sets your minimum frequency of your inspection. 


If you would like to read more about how the Food Hygiene Rating is calculated then check out the post here.

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