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Food safety inspections

Food businesses in Westminster are subject to regular food safety inspections carried out by the council.

Published: 10 February 2021

Last updated: 26 February 2021

Westminster City Council’s role is to:

  • establish whether food is being handled and produced hygienically
  • establish whether food is, or will be, safe to eat 
  • look for areas of concern that suggest incidences of food poisoning or injury could be a possibility as a consequence of consumption of contaminated food
  • enforce the provisions of the Food Safety Act 1990, and other relevant food safety legislation in all commercial food premises located within our borough

Westminster City Council has the right to enter and inspect commercial food premises at all reasonable hours. Officers do not have to make an appointment and they will usually come without advance notice. Inspectors might come on a routine inspection, and the frequency of inspection will depend upon the type of business and its previous record. Those premises in the highest risk category can expect a visit at least every six months, medium risk businesses every 12 to 18 months and the lowest risk businesses may receive a partial inspection or another form of contact, such as a self-assessment questionnaire.

An inspection visit

The inspector will look at the general operation of the business, ensuring that potential food safety risks have been adequately identified and controlled in the business through an appropriate Food Safety Management System.

This will include checking the documentation/records, speaking to staff to confirm levels of food safety knowledge and checking that businesses are implementing effective food safety controls. Officers may also take readings of temperatures of delivered, stored and cooked food items. Photographs may be taken.

Officers may take food samples to check on the bacteriological condition of food or to identify any possible source of contamination. Further samples may be taken when unsatisfactory results are received. The officer may also take samples when investigating food complaints.

Westminster City Council knows that most businesses want to comply with the law and officers will provide advice and guidance to ensure food businesses meet their legal obligations without unnecessary expense.

Frequency of inspections

A new rating is given each time a business is inspected by a food safety officer. Each local authority plans a programme of inspections every year. The frequency of inspections depends on the potential risk to public health.

The assessment takes account of the following factors:

  • type of food that is handled
  • the number and type of customers, for example vulnerable groups
  • types of processes carried out before the food is sold or served
  • hygiene standards seen on the day of the last inspection

Businesses that pose a higher risk are inspected more often than businesses that pose a lower risk, for example a small retailer selling a range of prepacked foods that only need to be refrigerated. The time between inspections varies from six months for the highest risk businesses to two years for lower risk businesses. For some very low risk businesses, the interval between inspections may be longer than two years, however there may be some exceptions to this.

In between inspections, local authorities may also monitor businesses in other ways to ensure they are maintaining hygiene standards. If these checks reveal anything that might indicate that hygiene standards have deteriorated, the officer will carry out an inspection and the business will get a new rating.

If the local authority receives a complaint or new information about a business that they are not due to inspect, and this suggests hygiene standards are not being maintained, the local authority will investigate and may inspect the business and give it a new hygiene rating.

After the inspection

The hygiene standards found at the time of the inspection are rated on a scale. At the bottom of the scale is zero - this means urgent improvement is required. At the top of the scale is five - this means the hygiene standards are very good.

Depending on the seriousness of the contraventions identified at the inspection the Officer may take one of the following courses of action to ensure compliance and protect public safety:

  • provide verbal advice
  • send a report detailing advice or outlining the legal contraventions
  • serve a Hygiene Improvement Notice which is a legal notice requiring you to make changes within a certain timeframe
  • serve a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice (requiring you to prohibit the use of equipment, process or the premises itself)

The results

When you eat out or shop for food, you might see a sticker in the window or on the door, or a certificate on display, showing the hygiene rating for that business.

Businesses are encouraged to display these stickers and certificates at their premises in a place where they can easily be seen. If you're planning to eat out or buy food, you can search the Food Standards Agency website to find out scores for premises in your area.

What to do if you are not happy with your result

If you are unhappy with the food hygiene rating score placed on your premises, you can appeal by any of the two following options:

  • appeal
  • request a re-vist

Find out more information on how to appeal or request a re-visit

Enforcement action

Authorised officers can take enforcement action to protect the public. This can include:

  • seizing foods suspected to be unfit for human consumption
  • writing you a letter following an inspection or outlining issues with compliance and asking you to correct these within a set timeframe
  • serving a formal legal notice that sets out certain things you must do or forbidding you from using certain processes, premises or equipment
  • recommending a prosecution in serious cases

Authorised officers will allow you enough time to make changes unless there is an immediate risk to public health.

Read our Enforcement Policy:

Corporate Enforcement Policy PDF, 139.62 KB, 12 pages

This explains how we make decisions and apply enforcement to seek compliance.