What to expect from a food safety inspection

Your responsibilities for keeping food safe to eat

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 with 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 to human health or unfit for human consumption. You must ensure that food preparation areas are kept clean and that food is handled in a hygienic way.

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

  • Cleaning - Make sure that surfaces and utensils that come into contact with food are kept clean and disinfected where necessary, and that hands are washed regularly.
  • Cooking - Make sure that foods that are served hot are thoroughly cooked. In particular, products such as sausages and burgers, and meats such as pork and chicken should not be served 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 sufficiently first; but remember that cooling should be completed within one or two hours after cooking. Ensure that refrigerators and freezers are capable of storing foods at the required 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 adequate training in food hygiene matters commensurate with their work activity. 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 by advising which illnesses and symptoms staff should report and what managers should do in response.

Supplier food hygiene

It is important to have suppliers that you can trust to handle food safely. In order to ensure that you use reputable suppliers you should establish if your suppliers are registered with their district council, that they have a food safety management system, they supply detailed invoices and they store, transport and pack their goods in a hygienic way. When dealing with suppliers, you must make sure they give you accurate product information and specifications, particularly in relation to 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 in 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, safer food better business and industry guides will assist you to meeting your legal requirements.