Food hygiene standards for commercial food businesses and restaurants are extremely rigorous — and with good reason. If standards are allowed to fall, it can compromise the quality of your food and your reputation as a business, and in extreme cases, it can even put the health of your customers at risk. As a commercial food business, it’s essential to have a good understanding of your legal duties, and to follow the law to the letter as best as you can.

We’ve put together this guide to commercial food hygiene regulations, certification, and inspections, so you can work out exactly what you need to be doing, and when. We’re going to cover:

  • What is food hygiene?
  • Food hygiene: key regulations
  • What are your obligations as a commercial food business?
  • Qualifications and training: what food hygiene certificate do I need?
  • Food hygiene ratings and inspections

What is food hygiene?
‘Food hygiene’ is the general term given to the conditions and processes that are needed to ensure food is safe to eat. Food can become contaminated — that is, spoiled or made unsafe by bacteria or foodborne disease — at any stage of the supply chain, from production to consumption. With regards to commercial food businesses at the end of the supply chain serving to customers, food hygiene is mostly concerned with how food is stored, handled, prepared, cooked, and served.

When the proper measures are not followed, it can lead to an outbreak of foodborne diseases, which can make customers seriously ill — and your business will likely be held accountable. This is why it’s so important to follow food hygiene best practice. If you’re opening a restaurant, or any kind of commercial food business that is going to serve food to the public, you need introduce good food hygiene measures from the outset.

Food hygiene: key regulations
The Food Safety Act 1990 sets out the code of best practice for all commercial food businesses, and also outlines the legal responsibilities businesses have when it comes to ensuring the food they serve is safe and hygienic.

The Food Standards Agency is a non-ministerial government department of the Government of the United Kingdom. It is responsible for protecting public health in relation to food in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Following a later amendment — the Food Standards Act 1999 — the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for all food standards. It is the goal of the FSA to protect public health in relation to food at any point in the supply chain, always acting in the consumer’s interest. The purpose of this amendment was to establish the FSA as the central regulatory body for all matters relating to food safety, and to give them the powers to work effectively in the consumer’s interest.

What are your obligations as a commercial food business?
The Food Safety Act 1990 covers four key areas, which can broadly be summed up by the 4 Cs of food hygiene:

  • Cleaning
  • Cooking
  • Chilling
  • Cross-contamination

A thorough cleaning schedule is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a clean kitchen and food storage area. Obviously, in a busy food business, there’s quite a lot to remember, so take a look at our guide to commercial kitchen cleaning procedures to find all the information you need, including advice on creating a cleaning schedule and deep cleaning your kitchen facilities.

How you prepare, handle, and cook food is of the upmost importance, particularly for high-risk raw foods like meat and dairy. When working with such raw foods, ensure utensils are thoroughly washed and cleaned, as well as any prep services used. We have plenty more information on best cooking practice in our guide to commercial food storage and safety advice guide.

It’s essential that raw foods are stored at the correct temperature in the fridge or freezer, as this will prevent spoiling and help avert contamination with bacteria that causes foodborne diseases. Additionally, it’s also important to ensure use-by dates are observed, preferably by using the FIFO (First In, First Out) system. To learn more about these, take a look at our commercial food storage and safety advice guide.

Cross-contamination is what happens when bacteria or microorganisms are allowed to transfer from one foodstuff to another. It can happen if raw food (like eggs, meat and dairy) makes contact with ready-to-eat food. It can also happen if equipment, utensils and surfaces are not properly sanitised between tasks, or when kitchen staff aren’t vigilant about washing their hands thoroughly. Cross-contamination can lead to very serious foodborne illnesses, so read our commercial food storage and safety advice guide to brush up on the measures you need to take to avoid this occurring.

It’s not enough to follow the code of best practice set out by the 4 Cs: you also need to keep thorough records of what you’re doing to keep your food safe and hygienic. To do this, you need to have a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP). This is a plan for managing food safety hazards and ensuring that your protocols and procedures are appropriate for your business. It also involves keeping in-depth records to show they are working properly.

The HACCP works somewhat like a risk assessment: it identifies what the risks are, and then lays out an action plan for how best to avoid them. It will also involve keeping a diary or log of some sort, to show what you’re doing and when, and to keep a record of any issues or complaints.

The Environmental Health Officer who carries out your food hygiene inspection will want to see evidence of your policies and procedures, so it’s important you have a well-organised, accessible record of them. The business owner or restaurant manager is usually in charge of this. You can find more guidance on introducing a food safety management system on the FSA website.

Qualifications and training: what food hygiene certificate do I need?
Under EU law, anyone who works with food that is served or sold to the public must have received the appropriate training. Exactly what sort of training they need, and how much, is dependent on their role and type of food that they are handling.

Training can be formal, such as a qualification, or it may be informal, such as shadowing a senior employee. Generally speaking, the most effective training will involve a combination of the two. We’ll discuss formal qualifications in more detail in the next section.

By far the best-known and most popular type of formal qualifications are the Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 Food Hygiene certificates. These are accredited by a number of different courses and colleges, but nearly all of them are accepted by most local authorities and governing bodies. Most are fairly quick to complete, relatively affordable, and can be done online, which means they tend to be an enduringly popular choice for restauranteurs.

The three certificates all provide varying levels of knowledge. In this section, we’ll explain what each course covers in a bit more depth, so you can work out which food hygiene certificate is best for you and your staff.

What food hygiene certificate is right for you?
The Level 1 certificate is the most basic of the three qualifications. The course will help staff to learn the basic principle of the food hygiene, including topics such as temperature control, food poisoning, personal hygiene, cross-contamination, food storage, disposing of waste safely, and pest control. It’s most suitable for supervised front-of-house or bar staff, and any other employees who don’t directly prepare or handle any food.

The Level 2 food hygiene certificate is designed to train staff who handle, prepare or serve food. It teaches them all of the topics covered in Level 1, but in more detail, as well as controlling food safety hazards and premises cleaning, so they understand how to protect their dishes from contamination. It also provides learners with an understanding of their legal responsibilities. If you’re the business owner, you should have at least a Level 2 Food Hygiene certificate.

A more advanced qualification for those in managerial or supervisory positions, the Level 3 certificate is most advanced and in-depth of the three courses. When completed successfully, the learner should be able to take responsibility for food safety and monitoring procedures and will have a strong understanding of exactly what is needed to get a 5-star hygiene rating.

Please note: It’s recommended there’s at least one member of staff who is trained to a Level 3 standard on the premises at all times. It’s also strongly recommended that anyone who is responsible for training other staff members has at least a Level 3 certificate.

How long does a food hygiene certificate last?
There is no set expiration date for a food hygiene certificate. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not still a good idea to refresh your training every so often. Some large employers will require staff to retake their training at least once a year, while most catering businesses and restaurants will ask employees to renew their certificates once every three years. This ensures everyone stays on top of any legislative changes, and also ensures their skills and knowledge are still relevant.

Food standards agency inspections
A food hygiene rating is a score given to commercial food businesses by the local authority. It’s assessed during an inspection of your premises, which is carried out by an Environmental Health Inspector. You should note the rating is an assessment of the safety and hygiene of your business, it’s not a reflection of things like food quality, or service.

There are six food hygiene ratings:

0: Urgent improvement necessary.
1: Major improvement necessary.
2: Improvement necessary.
3: Generally satisfactory.
4: Good.
5: Very good.

What happens during an inspection?
During a hygiene inspection, the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) will take a close look at your facilities and watch staff as they work. The EHO will look at:

  • Food handling: How food is prepared, cooked, handled, and stored. Your food storage areas — including larders, fridges, and freezers — will also be checked.
  • Physical condition of the premises: The inspector will look at your facilities, taking things like the layout, lighting, ventilation, pest control, and general cleanliness into account.
  • Food safety management records: The inspector will want to see evidence that you’re taking the appropriate precautions to maintain food hygiene. This might mean handing over your HAACP, records of staff training, and other policy documents.

Every breach of the hygiene regulations earns points: the less points you get, the higher your rating will be. Points are awarded for anything which breaches the regulations, and the most serious infractions will be worth more points. These could include failing to keep records of any safety systems, or serious food handling issues which could put members of the public at immediate risk.

The EHO will then compile a report and give your restaurant a final score. If improvements are needed, they will advise you on what is required to improve your score. Within 14 days of the inspection, your business will receive a formal written assessment explaining why that rating was awarded. You can then set about improving your food hygiene as needed.

When do they happen?
A hygiene inspection could take place at any time. There’s no set interval for when they need to happen, although you can usually expect to be inspected soon after your business first opens. The inspector usually will not give notice and can arrive at any reasonable hour when your restaurant is open for business.

Depending on your current food hygiene rating, the frequency of inspections could vary anywhere from every six months to every five years, depending on the level of risk your business is deemed to present. Businesses with lower scores will usually be inspected more frequently, while those with a great track record may only be inspected once every few years. Inspections can also be triggered by complaints from members of the public.

The unpredictability of this can be annoying, but naturally, this is the most effective way for inspectors to see the same standard of cleanliness and hygiene the public experiences. The simplest way to ensure you’re always ready for an inspection is maintain a consistently high level of food hygiene, just as you would if you knew the inspector was coming.

You can also request an inspection, which is something that many commercial food businesses decide to do if they have performed poorly in a former inspection and would like to improve their rating. However, you should bear in mind that you can’t ask for an exact time and date, so you won’t have any control over exactly when this happens.

Do in need to display my rating?
In Wales and Northern Ireland, it’s a legal requirement to display your food hygiene sticker in a prominent place where the public can clearly see it — even if it’s not a good rating. It’s not a legal requirement in England and Scotland, but that doesn’t mean potential customers can’t see your rating: the public can still check it out on the Food Standards Agency and Scores on the Doors. As we mentioned earlier, this can obviously have a negative impact when it comes to attracting new customers, so it’s essential to do your best to get your business up to scratch.

What happens if I fail?
If your business is found to be seriously at fault, and the inspector decides there’s a serious, immediate risk to the public, they can order you to close your business for a period of time until action is taken. Another inspection will usually need to take place before you can re-open.

If you get a 0 rating, it can have other knock on effects for your business, too. Delivery sites and apps are starting to get stricter about who they allow onto their books, with Just Eat recently announcing that they will no longer be accepting takeaways and restaurants with a 0 rating (BBC). So, you should make achieving a good rating a priority.

Can I appeal the rating?
If you think that the food hygiene rating your business has been given is unfair, you can appeal it in writing to the local authority. Before you do this, you should contact the EHO to make sure you understand why the rating was given. If you still think this score is unfair or wrong, you can go ahead and appeal by writing to the address given in the rating notification letter which was sent out to your business.

How to get a 5-star food hygiene rating: improving your score
It should be within the reach of all food businesses to get a top rating of 5. If you score lower than this, the health officer who carried out the inspection will provide feedback on what you can do to improve your score. Normally, this feedback falls into one of the following categories.

Improve your cleaning regime
All too often, a low rating is simply down to a sloppy or disorganised cleaning schedule. Take a look at our guide to commercial kitchen cleaning procedures to see what you need to do to get your business up to scratch.

Improve storage systems and avoid cross contamination
Improper food storage is one of the most common reasons for a catering business getting a low food hygiene rating. To avoid this, you need to make sure all food is stored in a way that minimises the risk of cross-contamination. This might include:

Be stricter about personal hygiene for your staff
Your staff may need additional training to ensure their personal hygiene standards make the grade. Staff uniforms can also be an important aspect of food hygiene, particularly for kitchen staff: take a look at our guide to wearing the correct uniform in hospitality to learn more about this.

The key thing to remember is while staff must take some responsibility for their own personal hygiene, the employer must ensure they have been properly trained and have all the necessary products and equipment they require.

Remember, the inspection could happen at any time, so you could be off premises when it occurs, so your staff should know how to maintain good hygiene standards in your absence.

Record keeping and paperwork
As part of the inspection, the EHO will want to see a well-organised food management system in place, along with a record of any complaints. So, be sure to keep meticulous records, and keep them well-organised. Remember not to keep this locked away — if your staff can’t access it on the day of the inspection, it could have a negative impact on your rating.

Improve training
If your staff aren’t keeping on top of their duties, or there seems to be confusion about who should be doing what and when, the best solution is probably more training. You could boost your staff’s knowledge and understanding of food hygiene and safety by asking them to take further food hygiene certification courses. If you’ll be improving other aspects of your hygiene procedures as a response to a low rating, then you should always ensure that everyone receives plenty of training on these, too.

Here at Alliance Online, we offer a huge range of commercial catering equipment, including all the cleaning chemicals, janitorial equipment, and kitchen cleaning supplies you’ll need to keep your business up to standard. Remember, you can always visit our catering knowledge hub to find more industry updates, tips and advice.

Please note, that while the information in this guide is sourced from the Food Standards Agency and other official government bodies, it is not a comprehensive guide, and should not be relied upon exclusively for legal information. To learn more about food hygiene and safety, we would strongly recommend that you visit the FSA website.

What is food hygiene? Certificates, ratings and regulations
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What is food hygiene? Certificates, ratings and regulations
Food hygiene standards for commercial food businesses and restaurants are extremely rigorous — and with good reason. If standards are allowed to fall, it can compromise the quality of your food and your reputation as a business, and in extreme cases, it can even put the health of your customers at risk. As a commercial food business, it’s essential to have a good understanding of your legal duties, and to follow the law to the letter as best as you can. We’ve put together this guide to commercial food hygiene regulations, certification, and inspections, so you can work out exactly what you need to be doing, and when. We’re going to cover:
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Alliance Online
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