Food Inspections – What Happens
Food safety officers have the right to enter and inspect food premises at all reasonable hours. Usually inspections are unannounced.
Officers are allowed to take food samples, take photographs and inspect records. They are allowed to remove food which they suspect is unsafe. If an Officer feels they need to place a prohibition on a piece of equipment, a process used in the production of food, or even the use of the premises, they can. When this happens the Local Authority must obtain confirmation from a Magistrates’ court within three days.
The Officer will announce themselves, and advise whether the inspection is routine, or the result of a complaint. During the inspection, the Officer will look at the condition of all food rooms, as well as taking temperature recordings of equipment, and maybe samples of food for analysis. They may watch food being prepared, and speak to members of staff.
Receipts for food, temperature records and cleaning schedules will be inspected along with any risk assessments or hazard analysis. They may also wish to see that an establishment has contracts in place for refuse/recycling and pest control.
They will then discuss their findings with the establishment, answer any queries and make recommendations on any improvements. Usually a timescale will be discussed for any improvements, and the establishment will be re-inspected to check that any issues have been rectified.
Labels are there to give consumers the information they need on the contents of food. There are regulations in place that prevent a manufacturer from producing misleading information. Labels should include the ingredients, a best before or use by date, storage instructions, nutritional information and contact details.
The laws around labelling are quite strict – for example a burger can only be called a “beef burger” if the actual beef content is at least 65%. So if you just see ‘burger’ check how much beef you’re getting!
Use By or Best Before
There is a big difference in the terms ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’. A ‘Use by’ date should only appear on fresh produce that can deteriorate and maybe become unsafe over short time periods. This could be fresh fish, meat, milk and eggs. You’ll also find it on many pre-prepared fresh meals.
It goes without saying that the ‘Use by’ date is only a guide, products should be stored as per the instructions. A beef burger will stay fresh if packaged and cooled correctly. Left out on a kitchen counter it may only last a few hours.
Of course, if it’s suitable for freezing, you can extend the ‘Use by’ date accordingly.
Best before dates are largely seen on canned, frozen or dried products. These tend to refer to the quality of the product, and show how long the manufacturer expects it to stay at a reasonable quality. Of course you should follow the storage instructions. If tinned cans are dented or punctured their usability will deteriorate at a faster pace.
Then there’s the ‘Display until’ dates often seen in supermarkets. This is just for them, to help with stock control. It has no bearing on the ‘Use by’ date usually accompanied.
The manufacturer has to give nutritional information if a consumer asks for it, and also if the product makes an advertising claim, such as low fat, low salt, low sugar or high fibre. If the information is provided voluntarily, it must still meet certain standards.
Energy is measured in calories (Kcal). The guideline calorie intake for men is 2,500 per day, and 2,000 for ladies. Energy is also often measured in kilojoules (kj).
Protein is important for growth and body repair. It is found in higher concentrations in fish, meat and soy products.
Carbohydrates are found in things like potato, rice, pasta and bread. The carb is mostly sugars and starch. Labels will suggest the sugar concentration, the remainder is starch.
Starch is actually a good thing as this is where most of our energy comes from – not fats and sugars.
Sugars could refer to natural sugar such as fructose in fruit. Refined sugars such as sucrose and glucose are more harmful, especially to teeth.
Saturated Fat is the most harmful type of fat a human or animal can eat. They raise cholesterol levels significantly which can lead to heart disease. There is a lot of saturated fat in things like cheese, sausage and butter.
Monosaturated and polyunsatureated fat is where most people start to glaze over. But there is some vital information here – monounsaturates don’t affect cholesterol levels, and polyunsaturated fats even reduce cholesterol levels! The down side is that they are still fats and eating too much causes weight gain.
Dietary Fibre is found in things like wholemeal bread or baked beans. They are also in fruit and veg. Fibre can help reduce constipation.
Sodium largely comes from salt and can lead to high blood pressure.
“Good For You!”
If a label says something is low calorie, high in fibre, or otherwise beneficial to you, it must be justified in the nutritional information. Most importantly, when it is sold to the consumer it must be sealed.
Even if you’re in a pub or restaurant, alcoholic drinks with more than 1.2% alcohol should be labeled as such. This may be abbreviated to ‘Alc N%’.
Genetically Modified – GM Food
All food which contains GM foods, no matter how carefully they have been assessed for safety must be labelled as such. This is because the Food Standards Agency recognises that not everyone will be comfortable buying genetically modified foods.
Genetic modification is the process where genes in an orgarnism are altered to carry new information and instructions. This may enhance the storage life or nutritional value of a food, or make it resistent to pests and diseases.
Things which are organic must have been farmed using only organic ingredients. So organic sausages must come from pigs which are fed organically farmed food. Products must contain more than 95% organic material, but if the ingredients are over 70% they may be noted on the label.
Quite importantly, labels should show boldly and clearly that it contains ingredients which can be allergenic. Possible allergens include:
- Cereals containing gluten
- milk and dairy products (including lactose)
- nuts and nut products
- sesame seeds
- sulphite at concentration of at least 10mg/kg and products thereof
Registering A Food Business
Everyone who runs or owns a food business is required by law to register with their Local Authority. This also includes businesses which sell food over the Internet or via smartphone apps.
The minimum activity is classed as operating for five or more days in any five consecutive weeks. Whether you’re a restaurant, hotel, public house , market trader, warehouse or even a buffet car on a train (where available).
For the most up to date information on all food hazard warnings, see the Food Standards Agency.
For nutrition support, including online training, see the British Nutrition Foundation.
For food handling and environmental health queries, check with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.
The Health & Safety Executive may also have useful information on safe practices in the food industry.