Food safety & food hygiene solicitors

Stephensons has a team of specialist regulatory lawyers who provide advice and representation to individuals and businesses facing food safety and food hygiene investigations and prosecutions. Our specialist regulatory lawyers understand the intense pressure on food business operators to ensure strict compliance with food safety and food hygiene laws. Breaches of these laws can lead to significant financial penalties and in the most serious of cases, custodial sentences as well as adverse publicity. It is therefore important to protect your business and reputation with advice from a specialist before you take any action. Defending you and your business is our primary concern. For a confidential, no obligation discussion regarding your case, please contact our specialist lawyers now on 0203 816 9274.

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How can we help you?

Our specialist team of lawyers act for food business operators nationwide in relation to the following:

  • Food safety and food hygiene investigations and prosecutions
  • Interviews under caution
  • Hygiene improvement notices
  • Hygiene prohibition notices
  • Hygiene emergency prohibition notices/orders
  • Detention notices
  • Food condemnation orders
  • Food hygiene rating appeals
  • HACCP
  • Food labelling and packaging.

If you require any food safety and food hygiene advice or support in relation to any of the above, you should seek specialist legal advice as soon as possible in order to protect your interests. For a confidential discussion with a member of our team, please contact us on 0203 816 9274 or complete our online enquiry form.

Frequently asked questions 

What is a food hygiene rating?

Environmental health officers (EHO) inspect food businesses to monitor whether food business operators and their premises are compliant with food safety law. Following the inspection, the EHO will award the food business operator with one of the following ratings:

0 – Urgent improvement necessary
1 – Major improvement necessary
2 – Improvement necessary
3 – Generally satisfactory
4 – Good
5 – Very good

Food hygiene ratings are based on a number of factors, including the condition of the premises, how the food is prepared, stored, cooked, re-heated and cooled, and how the food business operators manage and record the measures they take to ensure food safety.

Can I appeal a food hygiene rating?

If you believe your food rating is unfair or wrong, you can appeal against the rating. The appeal must usually be made in writing to your local authority within 21 days of receipt of your notification letter.

Can I refuse an environmental health officer entry to my food premises?

The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 stipulates that you must permit an environmental health officer to enter your food business premises to carry out an inspection provided it is carried out at a ‘reasonable’ hour. In most circumstances, this would usually be your normal operating business hours. Inspections are often unannounced, however, if you operate from a private dwelling, the environmental health officer must give you 24 hours’ notice of their visit.

It is a criminal offence to intentionally obstruct an environmental health officer from acting in the execution of the hygiene regulations or to fail to give them any assistance or information which they reasonably require for the performance of their functions under the regulations, without reasonable excuse.

Can an environmental health officer take food from my food premises?

Yes. An environmental health officer can seize food from your food premises without your permission if it appears that the food will be or has been placed on the market for human consumption, or is found by the officer in the premises during an inspection.

Why is a food business inspected?

There a number of reasons why food businesses are inspected. Your local council will carry out routine inspections to monitor your compliance with the food safety and food hygiene standards and legislation. They may also inspect your food business following a complaint about the food or the condition of your premises, or if there has been a report of food poisoning.

What are the HACCP principles?

A food business operator must have a food safety management system in place to keep food safe from biological, chemical and physical food safety hazards. This is something which an environmental health officer will look for and assess during an inspection. The system must be based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles:

  1. Any hazards must be avoided, removed or reduced
  2. Identify the critical control points which are critical to ensuring food safety
  3. Set limits for the critical control points
  4. Monitor the critical control points effectively
  5. Take action if there is an issue with a critical control point
  6. Make sure you review your HACCP system to check it is being followed correctly and is working
  7. Keep records to demonstrate your system working

What is the time limit for a food safety or food hygiene prosecution?

The prosecution of an offence under the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 must begin within three years from the commission of the offence or one year from its discovery by the prosecutor, whichever is the earlier.

For a confidential discussion with a member of our specialist food safety and food hygiene team, please contact us now on 0203 816 9274 or complete our online enquiry form.

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Food safety - case studies

Food condemnation - novel foods

Our specialist lawyers represented a business who had been issued with numerous Detention Notices and Food Condemnation Warning Notices by their local council for products that they sold online, namely Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs). The Food Condemnation Warning Notices confirmed that the council intended to make an application to a Justice of the Peace at their local magistrates court for an order that these products should be condemned.

The products had been tested by a public analyst and the council was applying for an order on the basis that the products were “unregistered novel foods” and as such, were in breach of The Novel Food (England) Regulation 2018, which enact and enforce Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 on novel foods.

The purpose of the condemnation hearing was to ensure that these products were removed from the market, thus preventing their sale for human consumption. Our specialist lawyers represented the business at the hearing in order to protect to their interests and liaised with the council to determine their intentions in respect of any further enforcement action.

At the hearing, the court found that the items seized were food supplements and as such, were to be considered and defined as novel foods. The products were therefore condemned and the business was ordered to pay the costs of the destruction and disposal of these products.

Additional products had also been seized and these were in the process of being tested at the time of the hearing. Following the hearing, and in order to avoid a further condemnation hearing in respect of those products, our specialist lawyers liaised with the council to agree an undertaking that these products would be destroyed to prevent them from being used for human consumption, and agreed reasonable costs for the destruction and disposal of all of the products.

Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Order & Prosecution

Our specialist lawyers acted for a takeaway business who had been issued with a Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Order following an inspection at the premises by their local council, which identified concerns in relation to the management and control of pests; maintenance; record keeping; and cleaning procedures. Our client immediately addressed the council’s concerns and were permitted to re-open shortly after.

However, our client was subsequently summonsed to appear at the Magistrates Court in respect of three offences contrary to Regulation 19 of the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013:

  1. Failing to keep food premises clean and maintained in good repair and condition;
  2. Failing to ensure that at all stages of production, processing and distribution, food was protected against any contamination likely to render food unfit for human consumption, injurious to health or so contaminated in such a way that it would be unreasonable to expect it to be consumed in that state; and
  3. Failing to ensure that adequate procedures were in place to control pests.

Our specialist lawyers were instructed to provide advice and representation to the company in this prosecution. At the hearing, the company pleaded guilty to all three offences.

Our specialist lawyers made successful submissions on behalf of the company to mitigate the financial penalty. The court agreed that the sentence would be imposed on the basis of one of the three offences and not separately for each offence, taking into account the totality principle. The court also accepted our submissions on the approach to be taken, namely to adjust the starting point of the fine downwards to take into account the size of the company; their personal mitigation; and the investment that the company had already made to rectify the issues.

The court therefore reduced the starting point of the fine from £1,200 down to £600. This was further reduced by one third to allow for credit for the company’s early guilty plea. The court ordered that the company pay a financial penalty of £1,357.17, which included a fine of £400 and costs of £957.17.

Prosecution

Our specialist lawyers represented the owner of an Italian restaurant who had received a summons to appear from the Magistrates Court in relation to a number of breaches of the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013. These breaches had been identified by the local council following several routine visits to the restaurant and a complaint from a member of the public. The restaurant was alleged to have committed 10 separate offences, including in relation to:

  1. A failure to put in place, implement and maintain permanent procedures based on HACCP principles;
  2. A failure to train, or provide training to staff;
  3. A failure to ensure that the kitchen was kept clean and maintained in good repair and condition;
  4. A failure to keep fittings and equipment with which food comes into contact, clean, and where necessary, disinfected; and
  5. A failure to undertaken any food hygiene training, or provide training for any member of staff.

At the hearing, our client pleaded guilty to seven of the offences and the remaining three offences were dismissed following discussions with the council. Our specialist lawyers thereafter put forward mitigation and made detailed submissions on sentence to the court.

The court ordered that our client pay a total financial penalty of £3,168, which included a fine of £1,575 plus costs of £1,593.

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