The Food Standards Agency and the environmental health departments of local authorities investigate the sale, preparation and storage of food. These agencies’ powers apply to all businesses in the food industry: from family-run corner shops to ‘household name’ retailers and manufacturing brands; from independent cafes to cordon bleu restaurants.
No matter how large or small, the prospect of environmental health or food safety investigation is a significant ordeal for any food-related business. Any firm or individual accused of breaking the rules at the very least risks bad publicity. At the worst it can cause the closure of an establishment or even criminal prosecution.
Most environmental health and food safety investigations start because a local authority receives a complaint from a customer or competitor. In the event of an outbreak of food poisoning there may also be contact from medical professionals who have raised concerns and cause investigations.
In addition, inspectors from environmental health departments can enter premises without notice and conduct inspections of food and equipment and have wide powers to take action. They can do so based on intelligence received, or at random.
Environmental health officers can take samples and seize items for testing. They can also issue improvement notices or apply to the Court for emergency prohibition orders as well as prosecuting firms and individuals for alleged breaches.
Improvement Notices require businesses to make specific changes (such as food storage or pest control procedures) within a defined time period (usually at least 14 days). Failure to comply can result in prosecution.
Emergency Prohibition Orders result in the closure of premises if there is an immediate risk of harm or injury to health and are imposed by the Magistrates Court (usually without notice). The premises remain closed until they are given permission to re-open.
The Food Safety Act 1990 and The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 created various criminal offences concerning the way that food is stored, prepared and handled. These offences can be used to prosecute businesses, owners and managers.
The consequences of even being investigated – never mind convicted – of any of these crimes can be devastating. Negotiation, taking measures voluntarily and demonstrating cooperation and compliance can stop or at least mitigate the effects of enforcement action including prosecution.
Hickman & Rose has significant experience of acting for individuals and businesses involved in the food industry and providing practical and commercially driven legal advice to assist in satisfactorily ending investigations or, if necessary, fighting cases in court.
Recent examples of success for clients include acting for:
The department is led by partner Andrew Katzen, who has a long track record in advising in environmental health and food safety cases. Regulatory law specialist Claire Wallace is a partner in the department.