The Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order and Regulations made there under, aim to ensure that all food offered for sale to the public is safe to eat and is properly described. It is the responsibility of the Environmental Health Service to enforce this and other related food legislation.
Inspection of Food Premises
Environmental Health Officers have the power to enter and inspect food premises at all reasonable hours and they will usually come without advance notice. They carry out routine inspections and may also visit as the result of a complaint. How often routine inspections happen depends on the potential risk posed by the type of business and its previous record.
Officers will look at the way the business is operated, identify potential hazards and make sure it complies with food safety legislation. They will discuss any problems with the proprietor and advise on possible solutions.
In carrying out inspections officers may take samples of food, inspect records including secret manufacturing processes, take photographs and bring with them any other person they consider necessary. They can also detain or seize suspect food. They may write to the proprietor informally pointing out any problems which they have found and advise that they should be remedied. In some circumstances however they may serve an improvement notice stating the time period by which particular problems must be remedied. In more serious cases of poor hygiene standards they may decide to recommend a prosecution. If the prosecution is successful the Court may impose fines, prohibition on persons, premises or equipment and possibly imprisonment.
If there is an imminent risk to consumers, officers can serve an emergency prohibition notice which forbids the use of the premises or equipment. Such a notice must be confirmed by the Court.
Most food businesses must complete a registration form and return it to their local authority. New businesses should do so at least 28 days before they open to give compliance before trading commences.
Investigating Food Poisoning
When Environmental Health is notified of a case of food poisoning, an officer will carry out an investigation by interviewing the patient to find out the history of events and the foods eaten prior to their first symptoms. It is also necessary to find out if anyone else has been affected, or if there is anyone in the household or in contact with the patient who may work in a food related industry. This is to ensure that the food poisoning organism is not inadvertently passed on to other people through food.
Environmental Health Officers in conjunction with the Health and Social Services Boards are involved in the surveillance, investigation and control of food poisoning and other communicable diseases. These diseases are investigated
for a number of reasons:
- To trace the source of the infection.
- To take any necessary action to prevent further spread of any infectious disease.
- To trace any other persons who may have been infected or who may be at risk, family members, etc.
- To offer advice to affected people and those who may be at risk, e.g. on personal and food hygiene.
To investigate such incidents Environmental Health Officers must interview the affected person and all those people at risk including those who are known to be well, e.g. in a food poisoning case all those who ate the suspect meal. The Environmental Health Service will also inspect premises where appropriate and arrange for the collection of human and environmental samples.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if I think I am suffering from food poisoning?
Food poisoning is a common, usually mild, but sometimes deadly illness, which occurs when a person eats food or drink that is contaminated with bacteria. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and
diarrhoea, and sometimes fever.
If you suspect you have food poisoning you must initially contact your GP and submit a faecal or vomit sample.
If the sample is confirmed to contain food poisoning bacteria, an investigation will be conducted by the environmental health department. This investigation will include a face to face/telephone interview during which the following details will be required:
Occupation (e.g. food handler)
Date and time of onset of symptoms
Nature of symptoms
Contact with animals
If you have any remaining food matter which you believe may have caused your food poisoning, this should be provided at the time of making the complaint.
If you are unable to make contact with the Environmental Health Department, suspect food should be placed in an airtight container and stored in a freezer until contact is made.
I would like to open a food business - what should I do next?
If you intend to start up a new food business, or take over an existing one, you must register your business with the Council.
You need to complete the application form. Complete a Food Premises Registration Form or contact us and we will send the form to you:
The Environmental Health Manager
Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council,
Island Civic Centre
Telephone No: (028) 9244 7300
We suggest that you discuss your plans with a member of the food control unit, who will be happy visit your premises, talk through your proposals and advise on all aspects of food safety.
You will receive regular inspections from Environmental Health Officers.
What should I do if I have a food complaint?
If you have bought an item of food that has a foreign matter in it, has mould growth, an unusual odour or something in it that you did not expect, the Environmental Health Service will investigate your complaint.
The foreign object, food matter, its packaging and proof of purchase should all be retained and produced for the investigating officer. The complaint may be sent for analysis to identify the foreign object. The investigating officer will contact the retailer, supplier, manufacturer and the local authority in whose area the product was made.
The food complaint procedure may take several months to complete. Any subsequent action taken by the Environmental Health Service will relate to food safety issues and not to attaining compensation for the complainant. This is a matter that can be dealt with through your own solicitor.
Please note that if the food item was not bought in premises within the Council area, then you should contact the Council in which the food item was purchased and they will investigate the matter.