What to expect from a food safety inspection

Your responsibilities for food safety

When you start up a food business, you must register with the environmental health service at your local council at least 28 days before opening. Registration is free of charge.

What types of food businesses need to register?

Most types of food business will need to register, including:

  • shops
  • catering businesses run from home , B&Bs, mobile catering and temporary businesses 
  • retailers, restaurants, cafés and takeaways
  • food stalls, food vans marquees and pop-up food businesses
  • nurseries, schools and care homes
  • food manufacturing businesses
  • food distributors

When you register your business with your local council, they will advise you on safety requirements and inspections. The Safe Catering Pack and safer food, better business outline help for small businesses. This includes food safety management procedures and food hygiene regulations.

Four Cs of food hygiene and safety

If you run a food business, it is your responsibility to ensure that your food is safe ie not harmful tohealth or unfit to eat. You must ensure that you keep food preparation areas  clean and handle  food in a hygienic way.

Important food hygiene and safety considerations can be remembered as the 'four Cs':

  • Cleaning - Make sure that you keep surfaces and utensils that come into contact with food  clean and disinfected where necessary. Ensure that staff wash their hands regularly.
  • Cooking - Make sure that you serve foods that hot and thoroughly cooked. In particular, you should not serve products such as sausages and burgers, and meats such as pork and chicken rare or pink in the middle and when pierced with a knife the any juices should run clear, not bloody. Once cooked food must be kept covered and kept hot (above 63°C) to prevent the growth of food poisoning bacteria.
  • Chilling - Do not put not food directly into the fridge or freezer, let it cool first. You should make sure food cools within two hours of cooking. Ensure that refrigerators and freezers can store foods at the right temperatures.
  • Cross-contamination - Keep raw foods separate from cooked and ready to eat foods at all times. Use separate chopping boards and utensils for raw and ready to eat foods. Wash hands after handling raw foods and before touching other foods and utensils.

Your food hygiene responsibilities

You are responsible for monitoring the hygiene and safety levels in your business, in areas including:

  • kitchen surfaces and equipment
  • refrigerators
  • dining areas
  • delivery vehicles
  • waste disposal
  • toilets
  • hand washing facilities

Staff and training

You should make sure that food handlers involved in your business receive training in food hygiene. Training should cover areas such as:

  • HACCP – Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points
  • cooking
  • temperature control
  • cross contamination
  • cleaning and disinfection
  • personal hygiene
  • pest control
  • allergy awareness

The level of training required will depend on the type of work being done. Staff should also be trained in any necessary emergency procedures resulting from food contamination accidents and incident reporting.

There is fitness to work guidance to help managers and staff prevent the spread of infection. The guidance advises which illnesses and symptoms staff should report. It explains what managers should do in response.

Supplier food hygiene

It is important to have suppliers that you can trust to handle food safely. You should find out if your suppliers:

  • are registered with their district council
  • have a food safety management system
  • supply detailed invoices
  • store, transport and pack their goods in a hygienic way. 

Make sure they give you accurate product information and specifications, particularly about allergenic ingredients 

Customer information

Under the Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 and European Regulations, you must make sure that you give customers accurate descriptions of your food. This includes menus, labelling and advertising. Information given to customers must not be misleading.


Keeping accurate records will help you comply with your legal requirements. The level of record keeping required will depend on the nature and extent of your food business. Guides such as the Safe Catering Pack will help you meet your legal duties.