As a food business owner you need to know that a consumer has the right to report or complaint to the Local Environmental Health Officer if they think that they have been ill as a result of something they have eaten, or drunk. However, it is advisable that they should first contact their G.P. for medical advice.
They will be asked a few questions relating to their symptoms, the foods, they have eaten, and where they have purchased them. This will enable Environmental Health Officer to identify if other are at risk, and whether a particular food, or premises is implicated, so that appropriate action can be taken.
What is meant by contaminated?
Food can be contaminated if it contains something that shouldn't be there, for example a piece of hair or stone, chemicals or bacteria (germs). In order to prevent contamination, open foods (that is, those which are not wrapped or in boxes or cans) should be provided with adequate protection.
How can you protect open food?
During delivery -
- Keep raw foods and cooked foods physically separated.
- Cover open trays, particularly when carrying them from the vehicle into the premises.
- Keep hair covered if the food is likely to come into close proximity to the head.
During Display and Storage –
- Provide screening to prevent persons coughing, sneezing or touching the open food. Any such screening should be easily cleanable, e.g. perspex.
- As raw food is frequently already contaminated with harmful bacteria, keep foods segregated at all stages of production, storage and sale. Ideally, for total separation use separate refrigerators for cooked food and raw food. If this is not possible then cooked food should always be stored above raw food in the refrigerator.
- Where separate refrigerated display units cannot be provided then segregate cooked food and raw food by means of a physical divider (e.g. perspex or stainless steel) up to a height, which will prevent raw food touching or falling onto cooked food.
- During Preparation and Serving –
- Use two slicing machines - one for cooked foods and one for raw food.
- Use separate knives, chopping boards, work surfaces, wiping cloths and scales for cooked and raw foods. Colour coding of equipment is an easy way to identify, which is for cooked food and which is for raw and this is highly recommended.
- Hands are a common source of harmful bacteria, therefore, reduce any touching or handling to a minimum - use separate tongs instead. This is particularly important in the case of "high risk" foods such as cooked meats. Use food wrapping when handling larger pieces of food such as joints of cooked meat.
- Whenever possible don't allow staff who handle cooked food to also handle raw food. Where this is not possible, staff should always thoroughly wash their hands before handling cooked food
FOOD POISONING FROM COOKED FOODS OFTEN OCCURS AS A RESULT OF CROSS-CONTAMINATION FROM RAW FOODS - that is when harmful bacteria, which may be naturally present on raw foods, are transferred to cooked food via, for example, a food handler's hands.
Can you prevent bacteria from growing on cooked food?
The growth of bacteria on cooked foods can be controlled by the use of proper temperature control measures. This is of particular importance when dealing with "high risk" foods such as cooked meats, meat products such as paté or pies with added gelatine or products containing cream, custard or gelatine. Current legislation generally requires foods to be kept either below 5º C or above 63º C. There are a number of exceptions relating to certain types of delivery vehicle and to products intended for consumption within a few hours of production and specific advice should be sought from this department.
Are there any other things you can do to keep the food safe?
To reduce the risks of food poisoning it is recommended that:-
- All high risk foods are stored at a temperature between 0º and 3º C
- All freezers should operate between -18º C and -21º C · suitable thermometers should be provided to enable refrigerator temperatures to be monitored
Refrigerator temperatures should be logged (at least daily) in order to Information on how to make a food complaint, what information is required from and how long the investigation may take.
Environmental Health Officer will investigate each complaint and the investigation will have two main aims:
- To identify and prevent risk to public health
- To investigate possible Food Safety offences
What happens first?
Environmental Health Officer will confirm the complaint details with the customer, they will then provide the customer with an initial assessment of their complaint and give the customer details of how to keep in touch with them. If the food was purchased outside the area where the customer lives, the customer will be asked to contact an Environmental Health Officer in that Local Authority, where the food was purchased. Environmental Health Officer can assist with contact details so that the customer can contact the Environmental Health Officer direct. If all else fails Environmental Health Officer can refer the complaint for the customer.
Information Environmental Health Officer needs from the customer
Where and when did the customer bought the food?
How did the customer discovered the cause for complaint?
How did the customer stored the food since he/she bought it?
How did the food was packaged when the customer bought it?
How did the complaint affected such customer? (For example, injured or ill, lose any money as a result?))
As the complaint could lead to prosecution, EHO may ask the customer and other witnesses to provide statements.
How do Environmental Health Officer investigate the customer’s complaint?
Often they send samples of food to a Council appointed Public Analyst who gives an expert opinion on what is wrong with it. The food is very often destroyed during analysis so we cannot usually return it to the customer later.
They will consider what precautions have been taken to prevent the customer’s complaint. If the complaint arose through circumstances, which could not have been foreseen or prevented, the law prevents the Council from taking action.
How long does an investigation take?
The time taken to investigate a complaint will vary, ranging from a few days to many months. Cases that result in a formal caution or prosecution can take over a year to complete.
What is the likely outcome of each complaint?
The complaint investigation will establish whether any offence has been committed. If there have been no offences and there is no continuing risk to health, the investigation will be closed.
If the Environmental Health Officers have sufficient evidence to prove that an offence has been committed, they will consider the following issues in deciding what action to take -
- The seriousness of the offence and the likely penalty
- Whether anyone has been negligent
- The likelihood of the offender re-offending
The customer will be told about the outcome of the investigation and the investigating officer will explain to hime/her the reasons behind the final decision in their case.
Environmental Health Officer will keep the customer’s identity strictly confidential. Sometimes a business may want to apologise, in these cases they will only reveal the customer identity if he/she gives their consent.
Will this investigation help the customer to claim compensation?
The Council's team of Environmental Health Officers can give the customer advice about their right to compensation. If the advice team cannot help, they will put the customer in touch with someone who can.