What actually happens during a food hygiene inspection in a home-based business?

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Today, I’m going to share with you what happens during a food hygiene inspection in a home-based business.

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Hey! I’m Natalie Stanton and I’m a Chartered EHO. And I’m here to help you get confident with food safety in your business.

Before we dive in, I just want to say that Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are not here to scare you. They are entirely human and they genuinely want to work with you and help you.

A food safety officer who still works for a local authority recently said to me that home-based business owners are often nervous but most passionate about their product. To ease the tension, officers often ask questions about the business’ products, like what’s the most popular or the favourite product to make, hoping to bring some interesting conversations and to help the owner relax. The reason I wanted to share this is for you to know how most officers are thinking, that they do understand that inspections can be nerve-wracking to you and that they are willing to work alongside and support you.

Now, let’s move to the actual inspection. The officer rings your doorbell and steps into your kitchen. There are 3 areas they assess as part of the food hygiene inspection, these are:

1. Food Safety and Hygiene Procedures

temp check

This involves checking if the food is being handled hygienically. Is it being stored, prepared, cooked, cooled down, and reheated safely? Or whatever of those tasks you are doing in your business.

You’re probably not going to be preparing food at the time of your inspection, so this is why the officer may ask a few more questions to understand more about the things that you do in your business.

The officer may ask you or check the following:

  • How do you store the foods for your business in the fridge and at what temperature?
  • Are the ingredients within their use-by dates and correctly labeled?
  • How do you separate the ingredients of your products from your family’s food?
  • How do you prevent cross-contamination?
  • How do you clean and disinfect the surfaces before and after preparing the food?

2. Structure and Cleaning

natalie cleaning

This is  about the cleanliness and condition of the equipment and kitchen. In a home-based food business, the officer will not be looking at your whole house; the focus will be solely on your kitchen and any other areas where you store food, such as a garage where you may have a fridge or freezer, or perhaps a cupboard nearby where you store some dry goods.

Just to clear one thing up, officers are not expecting a commercial kitchen when they inspect a home-based food business. They understand that your kitchen is part of your family home and they are definitely not expecting stainless steel food preparation surfaces or clad walls. However, they do expect your kitchen to be in a good state of repair. This means that surfaces are easy to clean and in good condition i.e. so they won’t shed particles into food.

Sanitiser or Antibacterial Spray

Another thing to be checked during the inspection is your sanitiser or antibacterial spray. This is what you use to clean and disinfect food preparation surfaces and equipment. The officer will need to know if your sanitiser complies with British Standards, it is either BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697. You’ll often find this information on the product label, sometimes on the front or back in small writing. If you’re not sure, it’s worth checking with your supplier.

sanitiser

Some officers do not expect ‘low-risk’ businesses, like home bakers, to use a sanitiser that complies with these British Standards. But there can be some discrepancies among officers, so my advice is to be on the safe side and use one that meets the standard. They are often similarly priced to other options anyway.

What’s the deal with wash hand basins?

This is a question that EHOs get asked a lot. If your business is home-based, it is unlikely to have a separate wash hand basin. However, there are few options to consider:

  • If you have a double sink or a 1.5 sink, you can designate one part for handwashing. Set it up with soap and paper towels for use when preparing food for your business.
  • If you have a utility room with a sink and located right next to your kitchen, you could use one sink for handwashing and the other for washing your equipment.
  • You could set up a temporary wash hand basin station in your kitchen when preparing food for your business. Simply have a bowl of warm water, hand soap, and paper towels on the side. Just make sure to change the water after each time you use it.
wash hand basin

So, there are three potential options; please consider what works best for your business and then run it past your EHO before they come and do the inspection.

3. Confidence in Management and Control Procedures

SFBB

It’s time to ensure you have all the necessary paperwork the officer may want to see. Every food business should have a written food safety management system. The Food Standards Agency developed a documented food safety management system called “Safer Food Better Business” (SFBB) pack to help small businesses meet the legal requirement. You can freely download it here

These are the main things that the officer will be checking in your SFBB pack:

  • Have you completed all of the safe methods that are relevant to your business?
  • Are you (and your staff) implementing the safe methods in practice?
  • Have you completed the other parts of the pack? (safe method completion record, cleaning schedule, suppliers list and staff training record)
  • Are you completing the diary on each of the days that your business is operating?

If you do want more information about the pack, I have a blog on step-by-step how to complete the SFBB pack. You can read it here.

The officer will also want to see food hygiene training records and allergen information for your products. And depending on what your business is doing, they may also want to see additional records such as temperature records.

Calculating Your Food Hygiene Rating

calculation rating

With the inspection complete, it’s time to calculate your food hygiene rating. The scoring process is a bit complex and you don’t really need to know in detail how the EHO will calculate it, but here’s a key takeaway: the lower your score in the 3 assessed areas, the higher your food hygiene rating.

If you’re interested to know more information about the scoring process, you can check the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme section of Food Standards Agency website.

HOW TO GET YOUR

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

Written by Chartered Environmental Health Officer, Natalie Stanton.

Includes a 50-point inspection checklist!

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