Food safety for businesses

Food safety for businesses

Here you will find information and resources on food safety and hygiene for businesses.

Advice for new & existing food businesses

This page gives you detailed food safety information for new and existing food businesses.

Starting or taking over a food business can be a daunting prospect. In order to help, our public protection service has developed guidance, access to training and resources.

Food business registration
Registration applies to most types of food business, including catering businesses run from home and mobile or temporary premises, such as stalls and vans.

Businesses have to register at least 28 days before opening and registration is free.

Registration is not only a legal requirement but gives you an opportunity to contact our commercial team and receive valuable advice and guidance.
  • See the next section below for details of how to register your business.
Food hygiene inspections
Environmental health officers and food safety officers routinely inspect food businesses to ensure compliance with relevant food safety legislation. They have the authority to enter food premises at all reasonable hours and usually without prior notice.

In the case of a routine inspection, the officer will identify themself (all Northumberland County Council employees carry photographic identification) and explain the reason for the visit.

The officer will wear a clean coat and head protection if appropriate.

Under the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations it is an offence to obstruct an officer in the course of their duties. Obstruction may be physical or it may be refusal to provide information or the giving of false information.

The officer will carry out a thorough inspection of the structure of the premises (including equipment used in food preparation) and discuss practices and procedures with the manager and food handlers.
Food hygiene rating scheme
The council operates the national food hygiene rating scheme, which provides the public with a way of finding out about the food hygiene standards of local food businesses. 

Businesses are given a rating based on how well they meet food hygiene criteria, with the results available on the internet. The better the standard, the higher the rating the business receives.

Most businesses inspected by the council’s officers are given a score on how well they perform in terms of hygiene, building structure and overall attitude towards complying with the law. The ratings range from “0” (very poor) to “5” (excellent).

You will want your business to receive an excellent rating at its first inspection, and therefore we have developed a pre-inspection checklist to help you to do this. You must address the checklist issues before the inspection in order to secure an excellent rating.
Food hygiene training
Everyone who works with food has a responsibility for safeguarding the health of consumers and ensuring the food they serve or sell is safe to eat.

Food safety regulations require all food handlers to be instructed and/or trained in food hygiene matters to a suitable level. This training is also an essential part of demonstrating due diligence. 

Staff handling open, high-risk foods should receive food hygiene training equivalent to level two, such as the level 2 award in food safety in catering, within three months of starting work.
Food safety management systems
It is a legal requirement all food businesses operate a documented food safety management system. This must be proportionate to the nature and size of your business.

The council’s commercial team recommends the Food Standards Agency pack known as Safer Food Better Business (SFBB). The pack helps you to develop a food safety management system suited to your own catering or retail operation.

There are a number of SFBB packs available, which are designed to meet the specific needs of different food businesses. There are packs for small catering businesses, small retail businesses, and restaurants and takeaways that serve different cuisines.

This pack is free to download from the Food Standards Agency website. The commercial team has a limited number of packs available for new businesses.
Prevent E.coli contamination
Downloadable documents have been made available which outline steps food businesses need to take to control the risk of contamination from the food bug E.coli O157: a bug attributed to cross-contamination from poor handling of food.

Although E.coli is the key focus of this guidance, the measures will also help in the control of other bacteria, such as campylobacter and salmonella.

Some of the key measures highlighted in the guidance to control E.coli are:
  • identification of separate work areas, surfaces and equipment for raw and ready-to-eat food
  • use of separate complex equipment, such as vacuum-packing machines, slicers, and mincers for raw and ready-to-eat food
  • hand washing being carried out using a recognised technique. Anti-bacterial gels must not be used instead of thorough hand washing.
  • disinfectants and sanitisers meeting officially recognised standards and being used as instructed by the manufacturer
The full guidance was developed following a public consultation and report into the 2005 E.coli outbreak, and can be found below, along with a factsheet for businesses.
Further information
A useful starting a food business booklet has been developed by the Food Standards Agency. This can be downloaded from the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) website.

Remember to get in touch with us to plan your business and access advice and resources. It could cost you more money if you don’t. It makes good business sense to serve food that is safe to eat. Good food hygiene helps prevent food poisoning and protects your reputation with customers.

Food business registration

This section gives you information about setting up and registering a food business.

Apply for food business registration

or please click here Food Business Registration Form to download a word version which can be printed off. 

About food business registration
The registration of businesses used for food operations, including market stalls, delivery vehicles and other moveable structures, is required by law.

It involves completing a simple form which asks the name, address, type of food business, name of the proprietor and address of head office or registered office.

It is an offence to give false or incomplete information. Article 6 of EC 852/2004 requires food business operators to notify local authorities of their business operations.

The purpose of the registration is to provide information for the local authority, which is responsible for enforcing food law, about the food businesses in its area so it can target inspection and education programmes effectively.

The obligation to register and notify changes to the local authority lies with the proprietor of the food business. The form businesses use to register their premises is part of the regulations.
Who needs to register a food business?
All food businesses have to register unless they are exempt. The proprietor must tell (or arrange for someone else to tell) the local authority about any premises used for storing, selling, distributing or preparing food.

Food premises includes restaurants, hotels, cafes, shops, supermarkets, staff canteens, kitchens in offices, warehouses, guest houses, delivery vehicles, buffet cars on trains, market and other stalls, hot dog and ice cream vans, etc.

If you use vehicles for your food business in connection with permanent premises such as a shop or warehouse, you only need to tell the local authority how many vehicles you have. You do not need to register each vehicle separately. If you have one or more vehicles, but no permanent premises, you must tell the authority where they are normally kept.

The majority of premises will have to be registered. However, certain premises are exempt from registration, e.g. some which are already registered for food law purposes, certain agricultural premises, motor cars, tents and marquees (but not stalls), some domestic premises and some village halls.

You should contact the public protection commercial team if you think you might be exempt.
Food business registration FAQs
When do I register?
Anyone starting a new food business must register with their local authority at least 28 days before opening.

Is there a charge?
There is no charge for registration and local authorities cannot refuse to register premises.

What happens once I've registered?
Once a registration form has been received, the premises and food handling activities will be inspected to ensure it does not present a health risk to the public and complies with food hygiene law.

Does it run out after a period of time?
Registration does not need periodic renewal. However, it is the responsibility of the proprietor to notify the local authority of any changes in the detail provided.

What happens to my information?
The local authority is required to keep a register, open to inspection by the public, containing the name and address of the food premises concerned and the type of business operated there. Apart from this, the remaining information on the form is confidential.  

You must inform us of any changes
Once you have registered, you must keep us informed of change of proprietor, if the nature of the business changes, or if there is a change of the address at which moveable premises are kept. The new proprietor will have to register with us.

Remember, as an employer or self-employed person, you must also comply with health and safety law, and products you sell will be subject to trading standards controls.

Approved premises for producing food

Here you will find information about approved premises for producing food and food products of animal origin.

Application for food premises approval

Product-specific establishments
Your food business may require approval if you intend to use ‘unprocessed products of animal origin', e.g. fresh meat, raw minced meat, raw milk and eggs, to produce any or a combination of the following (subject to approval under regulation (EC) no. 853/2004):
  • minced meat
  • meat preparations
  • mechanically separated meat
  • meat products
  • live bi-valve molluscs
  • fishery products
  • raw milk (other than raw cow’s milk)
  • dairy products
  • eggs (not primary production)
  • egg products
  • frogs' legs and snails
  • rendered animal fats and greaves 
  • treated stomachs, bladders and intestines
  • gelatine and collagen
  • certain cold stores
  • certain wholesale markets
There are a number of requirements which need to be followed and businesses cannot operate until their food operation has been approved by this authority.
Exemptions
If you are a retailer, or have a genuine retail element to your business (i.e. farm gate sales), and intend to supply other retailers or caterers, you could be exempt from approval if the supply of the food of animal origin is ‘marginal, localised and restricted'.

Marginal is interpreted as a small part of the establishment’s business, meaning up to a quarter of the business in terms of food or less than two tonnes in terms of meat.

Localised is interpreted as sales supplying establishments within our own county, plus the greater of either the neighbouring county or counties or 30 miles from the boundary of the supplying establishments county.

Restricted is interpreted as concerning only certain types of products being made or establishments being supplied.
Requirements
The approval process requires you put in place procedures to manage food safety, and these procedures are based on hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) principles.

The HACCP principles are:
  • to identify any hazards that must be prevented, eliminated or reduced to acceptable levels
  • to identify the critical control points (CCPs) at the step(s) at which control is essential to prevent or eliminate a hazard or to reduce it to acceptable levels
HACCP also establishes:
  • a critical limit at those CCPs which separate acceptability from unacceptability for the prevention, elimination or reduction of identified hazards
  • effective monitoring procedures at critical control points, which are also implemented
  • corrective actions when monitoring indicates a CCP is not under control
  • procedures to verify the above measures are working effectively
  • documents and records proportionate with the nature and size of the food business to ensure the above measures are effective 
Before implementing your system, a prerequisite programme should be in place. Consider aspects such as sanitation, training, waste management and pest control.
 
Once you have put these prerequisites in place, a process workflow for each of your products is advised. This requires you to think about where the raw materials will be stored and managed, stock control and rotation, avoiding raw materials coming into contact with processed products and where the finished product will be stored after production.
What do I do next?
If you think your proposed food business may need approval, please contact us to arrange a visit. There may need to be a planned programme in order to achieve approval and employees may need to gain further training proportionate to the size and nature of the business. There will be other information required to be sent with the completed form.

This will include the (proposed) arrangements for:
  • waste collection and disposal arrangements
  • water supply quality testing arrangements
  • arrangements for product testing (shelf life/microbiological/water)
  • pest control arrangements
  • arrangements for monitoring staff health and staff hygiene training
  • record keeping
  • applying the identification mark to product packaging or wrapping
You are also required to have received adequate training in the application of HACCP principles, and for you and your staff to have been instructed or trained in food hygiene matters. If you are unable to find where to receive this training, please contact us as we may be able to direct you to the appropriate trainer.

Once your business is approved, the council will issue your establishment with a unique approval number, which makes up part of the standard identification mark. This must be applied to your products and documentation.

Food hygiene inspections

The council undertakes hygiene inspections of food premises within the county.

In accordance with the food law code of practice, all food premises in the county are subject to routine inspections by food safety officers. The frequency of inspection is determined by 'risk', with higher risk premises being inspected more regularly.

The purpose of food hygiene inspections
Food hygiene inspections have three main purposes:
  • to identify contraventions of and ensure compliance with food safety legislation
  • to identify potential risks arising from the food business and ensure appropriate controls have been developed, and are being properly implemented
  • to offer advice about good food hygiene practices
The inspection
Environmental health officers and food safety officers have the authority to enter food premises at all reasonable hours and usually without prior notice.

In the case of a routine inspection, the officer will identify themselves and explain the reason for the visit. The officer will wear a clean coat and head protection if appropriate.

Under Food Hygiene (England) regulations it is an offence to obstruct an officer in the course of their duties. Obstruction may be physical, refusing to provide information or giving false information.

The officer will carry out a thorough inspection of the premises (including equipment used in food preparation) and discuss practices and procedures with the manager and food handlers.

The officer can also look at various records about training of staff, temperature control, cleaning schedules and pest control. These records will allow an officer to make an assessment as to the adequacy of systems already in place and to offer advice on improvements that may be required.

The hygiene regulations now require all food businesses to have a documented food safety management system, to ensure food is produced hygienically. Safer Food Better Business is a simple, jargon-free system developed by the Food Standards Agency and catering industry to assist smaller food businesses to meet requirements.
After the inspection
At completion of the inspection, the officer will write a report for the food business operator detailing any matters which were apparent at the time of the visit and which will require attention.

The report will specify and distinguish between those matters required by law and those representing good practice.

Depending on the nature of issues found, an officer may take the following courses of action to ensure compliance or protect public safety:
  • verbal advice
  • a letter or informal notice
  • a hygiene improvement notice
  • a hygiene prohibition order (which can close the premises)
  • a prosecution
  • suspect foodstuffs may also be seized or detained
The appropriate course of action will depend on the circumstances found and past history. Reference is also made to the service’s enforcement policy.
Food hygiene rating scheme
After an inspection has been carried out, the business may be given a food hygiene rating.

The rating ranges from '0' for the worst level of compliance, through to '5' for full compliance representing the very best standards of food safety management and hygiene.

These ratings are published on the Food Standards Agency food hygiene rating scheme website and a sticker is given to the food business operator for display if they wish.
Inspection frequency
The frequency of inspections of food premises is based on an assessment of their risk. Some food premises will present a higher risk to the public than others. This is dependent upon a number of factors such as the type of business, nature of the food, degree of food handling and number of customers that are at risk.

Those premises posing a higher risk to the consumer will be inspected more frequently than those with a lower risk. Food premises are inspected within a range of at least every six months to at least every three years. These are only guideline frequencies and can be varied where appropriate.

Food labelling & composition

The public protection service enforces legislation regarding the labelling, composition and quality of food.

Food labelling & composition - legal requirements
There are many legal requirements covering the composition and labelling of food, to which all caterers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers of food must be aware.

In December 2014, the general food labelling requirements previously featured in the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 were replaced by EU regulation and the Food Information Regulations 2014.
Food labelling & composition - allergens
Mandatory allergen labelling on pre-packed food has been introduced, and requirement for the provision of allergen information at restaurants and takeaways.

The Food Standards Agency has produced guidance for small businesses and a range of resources to assist businesses, as well as online training.

We have also produced allergen charts and example recipe charts to further assist food businesses.
Food labelling & composition - organic & nutrition claims
There are also a range of product specific regulations covering particular foods, as well as organic foods and specific regulations that govern nutrition and health claims that can be made in relation to food.

Furthermore, there are specific rules and restrictions governing food imports into the UK from outside the European Union.

A full range of detailed guidance on food labelling can be found by clicking here and our own guidance website here, which includes in-depth guides covering a variety of topics.
Food labelling & composition - contact us
  • If you have specific labelling queries regarding the food you manufacture or sell, please contact us.
If you require a detailed, definitive legal interpretation, we recommend you employ the services of a public analyst or similar food safety consultant.

Food sampling

In this section you will find information regarding food sampling carried out by the council.

We believe routine food sampling is an essential part of a well-balanced enforcement service. We help to provide the resources necessary to carry out a food sampling programme.

Food safety legislation provides a framework for food sampling, which is carried out for the purposes of monitoring and providing advice to food business operators – but can be with a view to pursuing legal action.

Types of food sampling
There are two main types of sampling:
  • informal sampling
  • formal sampling
The majority of sampling we carry out is informal sampling. This is mainly a surveillance exercise where samples are either purchased anonymously or by agreement with the proprietor.

Where informal sampling reveals a problem, this can be followed up either by giving advice to the proprietor and re-sampling informally or formally. Formal sampling can result in legal action being taken.
When do we take food samples?
The council participates in the following food sampling activities, in particular with locally produced high-risk products:
  • investigation of food contamination and food poisoning incidents
  • complaints (where sampling is considered necessary)
  • participation in the Public Health England (PHE) co-ordinated national sampling programmes
  • participation in North East regional food sampling initiatives
  • co-ordinated programmed surveillance in conjunction with the North East Food Liaison Group
  • participation in EU-co-ordinated control programmes
  • special investigations, e.g. as directed by the Food Standards Agency
  • sampling related to local events/initiatives
  • environmental sampling (swabbing) in connection with poor hygiene/sample results
  • sampling related to concerns identified during inspections
  • imported food sampling - approximately 50% of food offered for sale in the UK is imported. Local authorities are required to take steps to ensure it has been legally introduced and is safe.
Results of food sampling
Sampled food products are examined for organisms that could give rise to food poisoning. Other bacteria in ready-to-eat foods that are not hazardous, but can be indicative of poor practice, are also looked for.

Ready-to-eat foods which would be eaten by the consumer without preparation or cooking have featured prominently in our sampling programme because any contamination of the product will have a direct effect on the person consuming it.

Follow-up action will be taken when problems are identified with a product. This will generally be in the form of advice on production methods, practices, controls and staff training. Products can be withdrawn from sale or formal action can be taken.

Food safety training

Here you will find information regarding food safety training and courses.

Food hygiene courses
Food hygiene qualifications are set at four levels:
  • Level 1 is aimed at those who handle low risk or wrapped food only.
  • Level 2 is aimed at those who handle open high risk foods (previously the 'foundation' qualification).
  • Level 3 is aimed at food handlers who also have a supervisory role (previously 'intermediate').
  • Level 4 is aimed at food handlers who have a management role (previously 'advanced').
At the very least before staff begin work for the first time as a food handler, they should receive verbal or written instruction in the essentials of food hygiene.

For details of training providers, please contact the food safety team or the following organisations: Please note: inclusion in this list does not confer any recommendation by Northumberland County Council.
Training plan and records
It is recommended you provide a training plan to identify the training or experience needed for each member of staff. Afterwards, it is good practice to keep records of training completed by every member of staff to help demonstrate compliance with the training requirement.
Training review
The training needs of your staff should be reviewed on a regular basis and refresher or update training should be provided where necessary.

It is recommended that regular refresher training is undertaken at least every three or four years. If you are unable to make the time to attend a full course for your refresher training, there are online training services available.

Safer Food, Better Business

This section gives you information about the food safety management system, Safer Food, Better Business.

To help businesses comply with food safety law, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has developed Safer Food, Better Business (SFBB) packs. These are designed to make it easy to develop a food safety management system suited to your own catering or retail operation.
 
There are a number of SFBB packs available, designed to meet the specific needs of different food businesses. These include a supplement for care homes, designed to be used with the pack for caterers, and also a pack for childminders.

The council is able to offer SFBB coaching as part of its advisory and inspection visits.

Using the Safer Food, Better Business (SFBB) pack
The pack focuses on four key areas of food safety (known as the ‘four Cs’):
  • cross-contamination
  • cleaning
  • chilling
  • cooking
Each SFBB pack is split into five sections containing fact sheets called safe methods. Typical safe methods would include instructions on cooking food safely and reheating, for example.

The idea is to read through the pack and decide which safe methods apply to your business - and then implement them. There are about 20 methods covering aspects of the four Cs, but not all will apply to all businesses.

A simple diary is also provided for appropriate record keeping. This includes a four-weekly review to ensure the document remains up-to-date and allows common problems to be identified and addressed.
How do I get a Safer Food, Better Business (SFBB) pack?
Unfortunately printed versions are now no longer available, however they can all be downloaded from the Food Standard Agency website, including packs designed for caterers and retailers. In each case the chosen SFBB pack should be printed off, completed and the diary filled in on an ongoing bases.  Please ensure the pack is kept on site and available for the inspection when an officer visits your premises. 
 

Toilet provision in food premises

This guidance helps to ensure there is adequate provision of customer toilets in catering premises in Northumberland.

There is no national standard for the provision of toilet facilities in small-scale catering premises, but the council may require toilets to be offered.

This guidance contains standards to ensure there is consistency in toilet provision in premises where the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 applies.

Where existing toilet provisions are below standard, the operator of the premises will be expected to upgrade toilet provisions at the earliest opportunity, for example as part of planned refurbishment. 

Where no refurbishment is planned, an operator will be encouraged to apply for building regulation approval for additional facilities within 18 months of being informed of the deficiency and to meet the standard within a further 18 months.

In all cases, a lobby must be provided between toilet facilities and any room where open food is handled.

All newly established, converted or modernised catering premises
These premises must provide separate, sanitary accommodation, including hand washing facilities for both male and female customers, within the premises in accordance with BS6465.

In the case of premises with fewer than 50 seats for customers, the standard required is one WC with wash hand basin per gender.

Advice should be sought from the building control section regarding the provision of sanitary accommodation and the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Where the customers are not 50% male and 50% female, the number of facilities required may be varied accordingly.
In premises providing less than 25 seats for customers
Where there are less than 25 seats, and the physical dimensions are such that it would be impossible to house separate toilets for each sex, the minimum standard required is one unisex WC, plus hand wash basin, to be accessible to all customers, including disabled persons.
In very small premises providing less than 10 seats for customers
It is recognised that one unisex WC, plus hand basin, may not be possible in very small premises. The below are exceptional circumstances when it is acceptable for no toilet provision for customers to be made:
  • The physical dimensions make it difficult to house toilets and provide space for customers.
  • The main use of the premises is predominantly retail or takeaway, with the provision of ancillary seating e.g. a sandwich or coffee bar.
Relaxation of standards
Where the owner of the business can demonstrate the standards required cannot be met due to planning restrictions, e.g. in a listed building, then an application can be made to the public protection service for consideration of a relaxation of these standards.

Each case shall be considered on its own merits and assessed in relation to the long-term objectives of this operating guidance.
Staff toilets
Separate provision shall be made for staff for their exclusive use, unless fewer than 50 seats are provided for customers when separate provision is encouraged.
Enforcement
Toilet provision will be checked in the following ways:
  • in the course of routine food hygiene or other inspection of the premises
  • as a result of a complaint from a member of the public
  • as part of a specific monitoring exercise
Where current toilet provisions fall below the standard in this policy, the public protection service may serve a statutory notice requiring adequate provision to meet the standard in the timescale stated above. 

Failure to comply with a statutory notice will be dealt with in accordance with the council’s enforcement policy.
Access
All facilities must be accessible from within the business and be under the control of the management of the business. Public access through a kitchen or food preparation area is not acceptable. 

The provision of sanitary accommodation should take into account the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Where any alterations or new construction is proposed to a building, advice should be sought from the building control section of the public protection department.
The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976
The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 empowers local authorities to require sanitary facilities, including wash hand basins with hot and cold water, to be made available for the use of the public in ‘relevant places'.

‘Relevant places’ are defined in the act and include:
  • places used for entertainment, exhibitions or sporting events
  • places used for the sale of food or drink to members of the public for consumption at the place
  • a betting office
The standard of provision required can be determined by reference to the appropriate British Standard (BS6465, Part 1:1994) but this does not apply to catering premises providing fewer than 50 seats for customers.