How to Prepare For an EHO Food Safety Inspection

Whether you’re in charge of a bustling restaurant or a school canteen, food safety is no doubt a top priority in your kitchen. This safety is put to the test in the form of rigorous inspections carried out by Environmental Health Officers (EHOs), whose inspections are not only essential for maintaining public health standards but also for upholding the reputation and viability of your establishment. Whether you run a catering business, ghost kitchen, bakery, or any other type of food establishment, it’s always important to stay prepared.

But what exactly do EHOs look for, and how can you ensure your commercial kitchen is up to scratch with UK food safety regulations? In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of EHO food safety inspections, looking at what to know about these inspections and how to prepare, keeping the 4 Cs of food hygiene in mind.

What is an EHO food safety inspection?

An EHO food safety inspection is a systematic evaluation conducted by Environmental Health Officers to assess whether your business is complying with UK food safety regulations and hygiene standards. These inspections are designed to identify potential risks to public health arising from food handling, preparation, storage, and serving practices within food establishments.

What is involved in an EHO food safety inspection?

During an EHO food safety inspection, officers conduct a thorough assessment of various aspects of your business and give you a food hygiene rating based on these results. This includes looking at the environment of the premises, equipment, documentation, and operational procedures to ensure compliance with relevant regulations and best practices. Key areas of focus typically include safe food handling practices, cleanliness of facilities, safe food storage, and implementation of food safety management systems.

How to get a food hygiene rating

Following an EHO inspection, your establishment will be awarded a hygiene rating based on its compliance with food safety standards. This rating, which ranges from 0 to 5, is an indication of the level of hygiene and food safety observed within the establishment. It is prominently displayed to inform consumers and empower them to make informed choices about where to eat or purchase food. You do not request a visit from an Environmental Health Officer, nor do they book an appointment with you. They will come unannounced, so it’s important to always be prepared for an inspection.

How often do EHO officers visit?

The frequency of EHO visits largely depends on the current food hygiene rating of your business. High-risk establishments with low food hygiene ratings or those with a history of non-compliance may be subject to more frequent inspections, around every 6 months or so. Conversely, low-risk establishments with higher ratings may be inspected less frequently, typically once every 1-3 years, but sometimes you can go up to 5 years without an inspection. For newly opened businesses, you should expect an inspection within the first few months of operating.

What happens if you fail an EHO food safety inspection?

Failing an EHO food safety inspection can have serious repercussions for your food establishment. Depending on the severity of the infractions, enforcement actions may include issuing improvement notices, imposing fines, or even temporary closure of the premises. It is crucial for businesses to address any deficiencies promptly to not just reduce health and safety risks but also avoid legal consequences. On top of this, a failed EHO inspection will no doubt cause reputational damage, which can have long-term consequences for your business.

How long do you have to appeal a food hygiene rating?

If a food establishment disagrees with the hygiene rating awarded following an inspection, they have the right to appeal. The appeals process typically involves submitting additional evidence or documentation to support their case. You must appeal your food hygiene rating within 14 days of receiving it, including weekends and bank holidays.

Which factors do environmental health officers look for during an inspection?

Environmental Health Officers evaluate various factors of your kitchen during an inspection which collectively contribute to the overall hygiene and safety standards of your food establishment. Understanding these key factors is essential to effectively prepare and meet regulatory requirements. Here we’ll take a closer look at some of the main areas EHOs will review in an inspection.

The four Cs of food safety

The four Cs are four of the key areas of food hygiene which can prevent many of the most common food safety concerns, according to the Food Standards Agency. The four Cs of food safety for any kitchen worker to remember are:

  • Cleaning: The cornerstone of food hygiene, cleaning involves thorough sanitation of all surfaces, kitchenware, cookware, and appliances that come into contact with food. Regular cleaning routines should be established to remove dirt, grease, and any potential contaminants. Cleaning also covers personal hygiene, including washing hands frequently using hot, soapy water.
  • Cooking: Proper cooking is vital in destroying harmful bacteria to serve safe food. It's essential to cook food at the correct temperature for the appropriate duration to ensure thorough cooking. EHOs may review this by checking whether your chefs use food thermometers and testing staff on cooking guidelines.
  • Cross-contamination: Cross-contamination occurs when harmful bacteria are transferred from one surface or food to another, contaminating it in the process. EHOs will check your staff are mitigating cross-contamination risk by checking for food storage methods and keeping raw meats separate from ready-to-eat foods, as well as using separate chopping boards, knives, and utensils to prevent cross-contact and practising good hygiene habits.
  • Chilling: Maintaining the correct storage temperature and adhering to the UK’s food storage guidelines is crucial in preserving the freshness and safety of perishable foods. EHOs will check that refrigerators are set at 5°C or below to inhibit the growth of bacteria, and ensure that freezers are kept at -18°C or colder to prevent food spoilage. They will also keep an eye out for poor storage practices, such as leaving perishable foods at room temperature for extended periods.

Food handling

One of the primary areas of focus during an EHO inspection is safe food handling practices. Handling food safely is essential for preventing the spread of pathogens and ensuring the safety of the food served to customers. EHOs pay close attention to how food is handled, prepared, and served to minimise the risk of contamination. This includes following proper hygiene practices and preventing cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods.

EHOs also assess the personal hygiene of food handlers, including their handwashing practices and the use of protective clothing such as gloves and hairnets. While wearing these protective garments is not a legal requirement, it is essential to ensure the food being served isn’t contaminated by a foreign object, such as a hair, so it is highly recommended that those working in the kitchen wear gloves and hairnets.


The environment in which food is prepared plays a significant role in food safety. EHOs examine various aspects of the food establishment's environment to identify potential hazards and risks to public health. This includes assessing the cleanliness and hygiene of the premises, including the kitchen, storage areas, and dining areas.

EHOs also evaluate ventilation and pest control measures to ensure that food is prepared in a safe and sanitary environment. Adequate ventilation helps prevent the buildup of heat and moisture, which can contribute to the growth of bacteria, while effective pest control measures keep out rodents and insects, preventing contamination of food.

Food safety management

Effective food safety management is critical for ensuring that food businesses comply with regulations and maintain high standards of hygiene. EHOs assess the food safety management systems in place within a food establishment to identify areas for improvement and ensure ongoing compliance.

This includes reviewing documentation such as food safety policies, procedures, and records to ensure that they are up to date and accurately reflect the practices followed by the business. EHOs may also interview staff members to assess their knowledge of food safety procedures and their understanding of their roles and responsibilities.

Tips for preparing for an EHO food safety inspection 

Now you know which factors environmental health officers look for during an inspection, you can stay prepared at any time using the tips below. Remember, an EHO food safety inspection can occur without warning, so it’s important to always be ready for one.

Clean your commercial kitchen thoroughly

One of the most important aspects of preparing for an EHO food safety inspection is ensuring that your commercial kitchen is spotlessly clean. This involves thorough cleaning of all surfaces used in the food preparation area, as well as utensils and appliances, such as food processors, dehydrators, and stand mixers. Some of the commonly overlooked areas to clean in commercial kitchens include:

  • Food traps in catering equipment
  • Behind and underneath counters, appliances, sinks, fridges, and freezers
  • Fridge coils
  • Inside and behind storage solutions
  • Floor drains
  • Ice machines
  • Exhaust hoods and extractor fans
  • Light fixtures
  • Walls
  • Bins

You should develop a comprehensive cleaning schedule that outlines daily, weekly, and monthly tasks to maintain cleanliness consistently, so you can stay prepared for an EHO visit any time.

To make it as easy as possible to keep your commercial kitchen inspection-ready, invest in premium quality equipment which is designed with hygiene in mind. Take Bonzer can openers for example: these are a great hygienic option because it's easy to disassemble the blade to clean them thoroughly. EHO's often keep a close eye out for can openers as many don’t have this convenient feature, making it awkward for users to clean. Another good piece of kitchenware for commercial kitchens is the Bonzer portioner. This handy product is designed without food traps, meaning it’s easy to clean with no awkward nooks and crannies.

Check the quality of your equipment

Faulty or poorly maintained equipment can pose serious risks to food safety and lead to inspection failures. You should ensure you regularly conduct a thorough inspection of all kitchen equipment to check it is in good working condition. Areas to pay attention to include:

  • Temperature control: Check the accuracy of refrigeration units, freezers, and food storage areas to ensure they maintain proper temperatures for food safety. A commercial freezer temperature in UK law should be -18°C, while legal fridge temperature in the UK is between 0°C - 8°C, with 5°C as a target. Remember to calibrate thermometers regularly to ensure accuracy.
  • Functionality: Test all equipment, including cooking appliances, ovens, hobs, and dishwashers, to ensure they are functioning correctly. Repair appliances with spares or replace any malfunctioning equipment promptly.
  • Cleanliness: Keep equipment clean and free of grease, food residues, and debris. Regularly clean and sanitize equipment according to manufacturer's instructions.

Regular maintenance and upkeep of kitchen equipment are essential for preventing foodborne illnesses and ensuring compliance with food safety regulations.

Ensure safe food storage throughout your kitchen

Safe food storage is critical for maintaining food quality and preventing contamination. It’s crucial that your business follows UK food storage guidelines at all times, not just to ensure that you’re prepared for an EHO food safety inspection, but to keep your customers safe. Below are the main guidelines to follow to ensure safe food storage practices:

  • Temperature control: As mentioned above, temperature control is a key area Environmental Health Officers look for. Ensure you store perishable foods at the appropriate temperatures to prevent bacterial growth, which is recommended as anywhere between 0°C and 8°C.
  • Separation: Your commercial fridge layout can help you prioritise food safety, and this is something that will be picked up on in an EHO inspection too. You should store raw meats separately from ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination. Food items to be stored on the top shelf in a commercial refrigerator include ready-to-eat foods and bakery products, and always store raw meat below these items and fruits and vegetables.
  • Labelling: Clearly label all food items with their name, date of preparation, and expiration date. You should also implement a FIFO (first in, first out) system to ensure that older products are used before newer ones.
  • Appropriate storage solutions: Use food-grade containers and packaging to store food safely. Seal containers tightly to prevent air and moisture from entering, which can accelerate spoilage.
  • Ambient storage: Ambient foods can be stored at room temperature so these are relatively straightforward to store. Always ensure the packaging is intact before storing these items to ensure the food doesn’t spoil, and make sure to check the storage instructions once opened.

By understanding which methods of food storage are correct and maintaining strict adherence to food storage protocols, you can minimise the risk of foodborne illness and demonstrate your commitment to food safety during an EHO inspection.

Give all staff refresher training on handling food safely

Well-trained staff are your first line of defence against foodborne illnesses. Provide regular refresher training sessions to all kitchen staff on safe food handling and hygiene practices to help your team thrive and make sure you are always ready for an EHO food safety inspection. Do this by regularly training staff on the following topics:

  • Hand hygiene: Emphasise the importance of frequent handwashing with soap and warm water, especially before and after handling food, after using the toilet, when leaving and entering the kitchen, and after touching raw meat or poultry.
  • Cross-contamination prevention: Train staff to use separate utensils, cutting boards, and equipment for raw and cooked foods. You should also ensure staff understand the importance of the colour-coding system in the kitchen, using blue boards for raw fish, yellow boards for cooked meats, and so on. A kitchen colour code sign can act as a good reminder of this.
  • Allergen management: Ensure that staff are aware of common food allergens and the importance of preventing cross-contact. Implement procedures to handle allergenic ingredients safely and accurately label menu items with allergen information.
  • Temperature control: Educate staff on the importance of temperature monitoring and control during food preparation, cooking, and storage. Emphasize the danger zone (8°C to 60°C) and the importance of safe chilling and proper reheating.

You can find out more about providing your staff with appropriate training by checking out the online food safety training courses available on the Food Standards Agency website.

Regularly review your food management documents

Accurate and up-to-date documentation is essential for demonstrating compliance with food safety regulations, as well as keeping on top of things in your kitchen. Make some time every month, if possible, to review your food management documents and update them if necessary. Documents which may be asked for in an EHO food safety inspection include:

  • Food Safety Management System plan: Ensure that your Food Safety Management System (FSMS) plan is current and reflects the latest processes, procedures, guidelines, and potential hazards in your kitchen.
  • Cleaning schedule: Review your cleaning schedule and verify that it includes all necessary tasks and frequencies. Make any adjustments or additions as needed to address specific areas of concern.
  • Staff training records: Maintain detailed records of staff training sessions, including dates, topics covered, and attendees. Ensure that all staff members receive appropriate training on food safety practices.
  • Supplier information: Keep records of your food suppliers, including contact information, product specifications, and delivery dates. Verify that all suppliers meet food safety standards and provide traceable, high-quality products.

EHO food safety inspections can be overwhelming, but by adhering to the principles of the 4 Cs of food hygiene and implementing proactive measures above, you can not only pass your inspection but also uphold the trust and confidence of your customers. Remember that Environmental Health Officers can visit at any time, so it’s important to always be prepared.

Looking to upgrade your commercial kitchen set-up to get your business EHO inspection ready? We have a wide range of commercial catering equipment to browse here at Mitchell & Cooper. From commercial kitchen scales and stick blenders to salad spinners and gastronorm pans, we’ve got the catering essentials you need in this range.

For even more useful advice for food and drink businesses, make sure to check out our wider collection of blogs, guides, and knowledge pieces for guides on alcohol laws, creating a more sustainable food business, and more.