EHO Inspection - How to Ace a Visit Every Time

No matter how prepared you are, there'll always be that ‘oh s**t’ moment when an EHO visits…
Joe Cripps
August 10, 2020
Man serving tables in a restaurant

Anywhere that serves food needs to comply with food safety law.

An EHO inspection will determine if you're doing this.

What is an EHO visit?

Starting with the basics; Environmental Health Officers monitor and enforce health & hygiene. This applies to all food businesses (restaurants, bars, pubs etc.) of any size.

EHOs will come and inspect the premises to ensure it's maintained to the correct standards and the food is safe to eat.

Whether you're a manager, supervisor or owner, you should be expecting a visit. Many see these as the ultimate test of whether their food business is up to scratch.

Explaining the EHO report

There are three strands to an inspection: safe food practices (e.g. separate chopping boards), premises & environment (e.g. tidy storage) and safety management (e.g. training levels).

So, an EHO will look at a range of things:

  1. How food is handled and how it's prepared/cooked
  2. Whether good practices are followed e.g. staff washing hands, pest control
  3. Food hygiene and safety
  4. Contamination prevention methods
  5. Cleaning techniques & schedules
  6. Temperature control
  7. Equipment/ appliances maintenance
  8. Overall premises: cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation etc.
  9. Whether you follow a food safety management system (e.g. HAACP)
  10. Confidence in management e.g. record keeping

In short: EHOs make sure you comply with the law. From food preparation to hygiene, they will leave no stone unturned in assessing whether your business is a risk to public health.

How often do EHOs visit?

Visits vary depending on the type of business.

When your next visit happens will depend on the previous one. Businesses are scored from A-E on the Food Law Code of Practice, determining whether they're considered low or high risk.

  • A = inspection at least every 6 months
  • B = inspection at least every 12 months
  • C = inspection at least every 18 months
  • D = inspection at least every 2 years
  • E = inspection at least every 3 years

When will they turn up?

An Environmental Health Officer can turn up at any reasonable time, on any day of the week. They don't need to book an appointment.

This is why it's so important to make sure you comply with food law at all times. Following a health and safety checklist will help you stay compliant and EHO-ready, even for impromptu visits.

team member using Trail in restaurant

EHO visit checklist

Getting (and staying) EHO-ready doesn't need to be painful.

Stay prepared with these simple steps:

  • Keep the outside of your premises tidy (EHOs will judge before even stepping foot in the door)
  • Prove the right actions have been taken with clear record keeping
  • Make sure your team maintains good personal hygiene
  • Train all employees

Here's what to do when an Officer shows up:

  • Make sure they show ID (if it checks out, don't try and block an inspection - this is a criminal offence)
  • Stay confident
  • Ensure the EHO provides feedback from an inspection
  • Listen to recommended improvements carefully
  • If you need to make changes, ensure you get these in writing

Advice from an Environmental Health Officer

Trail's Compliance Advisor James Sergeant is an ex-EHO. He shared his advice.

What are the first things an EHO looks for?

I could gauge how well a business was performing within the first 5 minutes of entering.

Whilst washing my hands I would instantly know whether they had the basics: hot water, soap and paper towels. I could see how people were handling and preparing food, the basic cleaning standards and unit conditions.

What else happens during the visit?

Next, I would physically inspect the area. Talk to the team, probe food for their temperatures and check their due diligence records. Gaps, overwritten or Tipp-Ex on any records would arouse suspicion.

What are some other red flags?

I would often see the manager run off to the back of the kitchen, grab their clipboard and furiously write things down. All this information immediately fed into my ‘confidence in management’ barometer.

An EHO would never penalise a business for things going wrong, but the critical thing we look out for is learning and responding with corrective action.

What happens at the end of a visit?

Scores on the doors food hygiene rating

You will be presented with a standardised score from 1 to 5, known as 'Scores on the Doors'. Gaining the EHO’s confidence and getting that 5 rating is critical.

In an era where customers have information at their fingertips, a bad rating could spell disaster for a business. It was once revealed 44% of people wouldn't enter a restaurant if it scored 3 or lower.

In Wales and Northern Island, it's required by law to quite literally display on the doors, so there's no hiding from it. This will likely become mandatory for England and Scotland too.

What happens if you don't meet the right standards?

Worst case scenario: an EHO can recommend prosecution if your business is severely below where it should be. They may also inform your local authority.

They could issue a hygiene improvement notice, which will clearly set out what you need to do to stay compliant. More severely, you could be hit with an emergency prohibition notice, which usually closes you down until further notice.

Even if you're not shut down, a bad reputation due to a poor rating can be extremely difficult to repair. Of course, the flip side is that if you get a good score, you can display it with pride.

Feel you've been unfairly assessed? You can appeal within 21 days of being notified of your rating to your local authority's Lead Officer for Food. If you don't appeal in this time period, your score will be published online.

Want an easy way to stay EHO-ready?

Build better working standards, day in day out.

Trail can't mop the floor, or keep food hot. But, it provides a simple way to stay compliant and meet consistently high standards.

At specific times throughout the day, Trail sets out key tasks, forming good working habits and providing accountability. This replaces paper-based systems that are unreliable and hard to keep track of.

You'll benefit from real-time insights, complete visibility and quality insights.

Teams know what they're doing, managers know it's done.

Book a demo to find out more.

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Start today and build a leaner, safer business.

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