11 tips for a successful food hygiene inspection

Table of Contents

Achieving a food hygiene rating of 5 is what every food business should be aiming for. It lets your customers know that you serve safe food. I’m an EHO with over 10 years of experience working for local authorities. I now work as a business food safety advisor and trainer. I know how important food hygiene ratings are to businesses.

Keep reading to find out my do’s and don’ts when it comes to your food hygiene inspection.

1. Register your food business

Register your food business

Do not wait for the EHO to visit before registering your food business. This will lower your ‘confidence in management’ score impacting your rating.

Confidence in management is one of three criteria needed to get a good rating.

Failing to register looks like you are only interested in making money, not serving safe food.

As soon as you take over an existing business or set up a new one, by law you must register with your local authority. You need to do this at least 28 days before you open.

Once registered you will be on the list to receive a food hygiene inspection. The best news, it’s free to register your business and you can’t be refused!

You can register your business here.

2. Ask for advice


In my experience, EHOs want to help. I know I do!

A great first step is to contact your local authority and ask for some advice. Do this before you open!

Some local authorities will offer free advice visits or advice over the phone. Others may charge a fee for advice visits.

When I used to offer advice to a business before they opened it meant I could help them avoid mistakes. Fewer mistakes mean safer food and a better rating!

In my experience, I saw better results when a business had taken this step!

A common mistake new businesses make is not having a documented food safety management system. Without this, you cannot achieve a rating higher than 1 out of 5. So let us look a bit closer at this in tip 3!

3. Make sure you have a documented food safety management system


I’ll say it again, one of the three criteria needed to get a good rating is ‘confidence in management’.

EHOs want to see that your business is complying with the law and has documentation to prove the food you make is safe.

So this means;

  • You need a written food safety management system based on HACCP principles
  • Your paperwork must be complete and accurate
  • Your staff must be trained (see tip 5)

I know it sounds complicated, but there is good news!

For a small business, you can use the Safer Food Better Business (SFBB) pack, produced by the Food Standards Agency SFBB. It’s free to download here.

Remember, the SFBB pack must reflect what you do in your business. So don’t print it off and stop there! You need to complete all the parts relevant to your business. Then make sure your staff are trained to follow it!

For Larger businesses (or those carrying out more complex processes) SFBB is not enough. In this case, they will need a bespoke system based on HACCP principles.

This is what helps to fulfil the ‘confidence in management’ criteria.

This is important, so I will repeat it. Whatever system you use, make sure:

  1. You complete it
  2. You make it relevant to your business
  3. You follow it in practice

I’ve inspected thousands of businesses and this is by far the most common mistake. Let’s dive a bit deeper and look at the most common paperwork errors!

4. Temperature records

Temperature Records

Temperature records are important to show the food you make is safe. They are also a common error that I have found during inspections.

So what does good look like?

  • Daily opening and closing checks completed
  • All fridge and freezer temperature checks recorded at regular intervals
  • All cooking temperatures recorded
  • When unsafe temperatures occur, corrective actions are recorded.
  • Staff trained to check and record accurate temperatures

What are the common mistakes?

  • Staff cannot show how to check and record accurate temperatures
  • Opening and closing checks completed in the morning. Hint: the closing checks need to be at the end of the day!
  • The same fridge/freezer temperatures recorded for the entire day. Hint: the temperatures will vary during the day as the doors get opened and closed. As long as the temperatures are at safe levels this is normal!
  • Unsafe temperatures recorded but no corrective action taken
  • Incorrect temperatures recorded because that is what staff think the EHO wants to see. Hint: this is the last thing I or any EHO wants to see. Records need to be accurate! If you record a temperature that is out of the limits that is fine, as long as you take corrective action and record what you did about it!

The key thing to remember is that things do go wrong. But an EHO is unlikely to penalise you as long as:

  1. Your records are accurate and completed each day
  2. When something goes wrong, adequate corrective action gets taken and recorded
  3. Staff know how to check and record temperatures.

Often the reason temperature records are wrong comes down to training. So, what training do you and your staff need?

5. Food hygiene training


All staff that handle or prepare food need food hygiene training. The level of training depends on their role.

Level 2 is the most common and is suitable for most food handlers.

Upon completion of a food hygiene course, the learner will receive a certificate. This should have their name, course level and date of completion on it. A nice touch I have seen in quite a few businesses is to frame and display these certificates. This shows that the business takes pride in staff training and providing safe food. That’s the impression it gives me when I visit a food business as a customer too.

The certificates can prove to the EHO that you have trained your staff. Don’t forget, it’s recommended to renew training at least every 3 years. I’ve had some businesses show me certificates that are 10 or 20 years old, don’t make that mistake!

Beware that the certificate alone is not enough. The EHO needs to see that staff have retained this knowledge and are putting it to use.

A great method I have seen in a few businesses is for management to quiz the staff on food safety from time to time. This checks understanding and highlights if any staff members may need further training.

So you have your food safety management system, paperwork complete and staff training. Next, let’s cover the first impression an EHO gets when starting your inspection.

6. Hand-washing

Hand washing2 1

As an EHO, the first thing I do when walking into a kitchen is wash my hands!

On some occasions, I have found wash hand facilities in poor condition, such as:

  • Too dirty to use
  • No soap or there was only a dirty bar of soap!
  • No hot water
  • In some rare cases no water at all!

Do not make this mistake! With basic things like lacking hot water, a business is going to struggle to get more than a 1 out of 5 and could even face temporary closure!

Make sure your opening and closing checks include the checking hand washing facilities. This must include checking:

  1. Area is clean
  2. There is a hot and cold water supply
  3. Supply of antibacterial liquid hand soap
  4. No leaks
  5. Hygienic drying facilities (such as disposable paper towels)

During an inspection, I check that regular hand washing occurs among the staff. Also, that the proper technique is being used.
Don’t forget to remind your staff of the importance of regular hand washing.

7. Food storage and cross-contamination

Food Storage

Another common area for mistakes is chilled food storage.

When looking at food storage there are two common issues; cross-contamination and labelling.

Cross-contamination is when cooked or ready-to-eat foods come into contact with raw foods.

To avoid this when storing foods ensure the following:

  • Raw foods and ready-to-eat foods are never stored on the same shelf in the fridge (or freezer)
  • Store raw foods below ready-to-eat foods (this prevents any juices from dripping onto food).

Cross-contamination is not limited to food storage areas. You must ensure raw and ready-to-eat foods remain separate at all times.

This means:

  • Having separate surfaces for preparing raw and ready-to-eat foods. Where this isn’t possible, thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces between tasks.
  • Using different utensils and chopping boards for raw and ready-to-eat foods. For example;
    • Colour-coded chopping boards
    • Separate knives for ready-to-eat and raw foods
    • Separate utensils i.e. for raw and cooked burgers

Next, I look at labelling and use by dates. All food in storage must:

  • Be covered
  • Date labelled and in date
  • Stored at the correct temperature

Covering food serves a simple purpose, keep physical contaminants out. Would you like a hair in your sandwich? As a customer, I definitely don’t, and I won’t be coming back if I do find one. So keep your food covered and safe!

Date labelling is also important. You must know what the use by date of your food is, so before you store it, label it with a use by date!

If it is not used by this date, throw it away. You do not want an EHO finding out of date food during an inspection, it will affect your rating.

Food that is past its use by date is no longer safe to eat and could give your customers food poisoning. Poisoned customers are not repeat customers!

And finally, once you have covered it, labelled it and checked it is in date, make sure you store it correctly!

8. Cooking, cooling and reheating

Cooking Cooling

We have already talked about recording cooking temperatures. But what does the EHO actually expect to see?

Again this is simple, you need to cook food until the core temperature reaches at least 75°C for 30 seconds (or equivalent). You can find more info on cooking times and temperatures here.

You check the core temperature of food by inserting a clean temperature probe into the centre or thickest part of the food. The probe must display the required temperature for a specific amount of time. That’s it.

If you are reheating food, the same rules apply.

For food that is not going to be immediately served or hot held, you must cool it as quickly as possible (within 2 hours). As highlighted above you must then cover, date label and place it in the fridge or freezer.

Don’t forget, it’s good practice to record these temperatures!

9. Cleaning


Make sure your premises are clean and well-maintained.

It is important that you and your staff are familiar with the two-stage cleaning and disinfection process.

When it comes to cleaning chemicals you must ensure:

  • They are food safe
  • They meet one of these standards: BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697. Hint: this is often on the label – if you don’t check the EHO will!
  • You follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use
  • That your staff are familiar with these instructions

This is important as there are two common questions that EHO’s ask food handlers:

1. Does your sanitiser/ disinfectant need diluting? And if so, what are the concentrations of chemical to water? Hint: This is in the manufacturer’s instructions for how to dilute the product. If you don’t follow this it may either be too strong and taint the food or too weak so it will not work.

2. What is the contact time for your disinfectant/ sanitiser? Hint: you will find this on the label. You and your staff must know the answer to this question. The product will not work if it is not left on the surface for the correct amount of contact time.

If you need more information on cleaning your kitchen Nisbets has compiled the ultimate cleaning guide which you can view here.

So we have covered keeping your premises clean. But what happens if you don’t? Well other than a low rating, you may also find yourself with a pest infestation.

10. Pest control

Pest Control

A pest infestation is one of the main reasons a food business gets closed by the EHO. So if you discover a pest problem deal with it immediately and do not let it get out of control.

Proofing your premises against pests is an absolute must. If you are unsure how to do this then engage the services of a competent pest control company. They will survey your premises and tell you what you should do.

If you discover a pest issue make sure you contact a pest control company immediately.

11. Don’t make excuses or ignore the EHOs advice

dont follow Advice

One final note.

If things aren’t going too well during the inspection, don’t make excuses, but listen to the EHOs advice. EHOs have heard countless excuses such as why a business’s SFBB pack isn’t on site. The most common excuse I’ve heard is that “it’s with the accountant!?”. Or why the soap at the wash hand basin is empty (“it’s just run out”).

Avoid making excuses and listen to the EHOs advice and put it in place.

If you do not get the rating you hoped for, you can request a re-rating. But before you do make sure that you have followed the advice! The last thing you need is a frustrated EHO who is seeing their advice ignored!





“How to get your 5-star food hygiene rating.”

Written by Chartered Environmental Health Officer, Natalie Stanton.

Includes a 50-point inspection checklist!

Learn what the officer will be inspecting and achieve the top Food Hygiene Rating for your business.

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