Food safety for consumers
If you buy food from a shop or have a meal at a restaurant or cafe and find it contains something that should not be there, for example a hair or piece of plastic - this can be investigated as a food complaint.
We also investigate complaints about hygiene standards in food businesses. If you complain about a food business we might pay an unannounced visit to the premises. In many cases however we will write to the business giving them the opportunity of putting matters right, and check it the next time that the premises are inspected.
The aims of our investigations are:
- To protect public health.
- To identify any offences and to prevent them from recurring.
What we can deal with:
- Food that may have caused food poisoning or been contaminated
- Food containing foreign bodies, eg insects, metal, glass
- Moldy food
- Complaints about hygiene standards in food businesses
- False descriptions and/or inappropriate labelling of food and drink
- Food and drink that has been tampered with eg added water or fat
- Food that has expired its 'use by' date
What we won't deal with:
- Claims for compensation or refunds. This is a matter between the complainant and the retailer or manufacturer
- Complaints about, or due to, poor customer service
- Food that is beyond its 'best before' date
- We generally won't deal with complaints about food quality e.g. over-ripe fruit and vegetables
More information about the types of complaints we can deal with are listed below:
Foreign bodies in food
Foreign bodies are extraneous material in food which should not be there. This could include insects, or pieces of glass, plastic or metal. For more information see the link on right hand side - Common Food Complaints.
Food premises that are dirty or poor hygiene practices by staff
Although all food premises are regularly inspected, the public can act as extra eyes and ears for us.
Food that has "gone off" or is out of date
Food which appears to be 'off' can be submitted to the Public Health Laboratory for microbiological examination. For more information see the section on Durability Dates in the media article link "Common Food Complaints" on the right hand side.
If you have suffered, or are still suffering from food poisoning, the last meal you ate will not necessarily have been the one that has caused your illness. It is important that you visit your doctor as they will be able to arrange for a test to determine the actual nature of the problem. If the test is positive, Environmental Health will automatically be informed of the result, and an Environmental Health Officer will contact you to attempt to discover the likely source of the infection.
Most bacteria have an incubation time of approximately 12 to 72 hours after eating before causing symptoms, which means that the most likely cause of the food poisoning is food that was eaten the previous day, or, in some cases, as much as a week to ten days before. More information on Food Poisoning can be found by selecting the link on the right hand side.
Action we may take
The course of the investigation will depend on the type of complaint.
Our investigation may include the following:
- A visit the food premises concerned
- A letter to the premises
- Contact with the head office
- Contact with the manufacturer / importer / packager of the food
- Physical and / or microbiological examination
We will not divulge your name or details to the business concerned without your consent.
Formal action relating to food or hygiene complaints
If it is established that an offence has been committed, we will decide on appropriate action depending on:
- Previous history with this proprietor/manufacturer or if we have taken action before over the same offence
- If there is a continuing public health risk
- If the proprietor or manufacturer took every precaution they could to stop the offence from occurring (a 'due diligence defence')
- The seriousness of the offence and the level of fine likely on conviction
- If there is any public benefit to be derived from a prosecution
If it is established that no offence has occurred, then no further action will be taken and the case will be closed.
Please Note: Investigations take time. Samples sent to the analyst may take several weeks to be processed. If the food has been sent to a laboratory, we will not be able to return it to you, as testing is destructive in most cases. Not all investigations result in a prosecution of the proprietor or manufacturer, even if an offence has been committed. If a prosecution does take place, you should be prepared to make a statement and possibly attend court.
Who can I contact?
If you have a complaint about any food or drink you have bought, or the state of a food business you can complain to the council's Food Safety team, or directly to the seller.
If you return the product to the place of purchase you can discuss the matter with the proprietor. However, it can be very difficult if not impossible for the investigating authorities to deal with your complaint if you have returned the product or foreign body to the food business.
We can only carry out a formal investigation if there is reasonable evidence of a food safety offence.
You should therefore make a decision on what you expect from your complaint prior to complaining i.e. money back, replacement or any other compensation. Enforcement authorities cannot deal with any claims of compensation or refunds. This is a matter between the complainant and the retailer or manufacturer.
What if my complaint relates to food or premises outside of the borough?
Your complaint needs to be referred to the relevant enforcing authority for the food/premises. We can arrange to pass on the details of your complaint if you are unable to do this yourself.
What will happen to my complaint?
The investigating officer will need to know:
- where and when the food was bought (preferably supported by a receipt)
- how the problem was discovered, and by whom
- what ill effects the consumer has suffered. If food poisoning is suspected, it must be confirmed by your GP (see webpage on Food Poisoning)
- whether you are prepared to support us in taking legal action. This may involve providing a statement, and/or giving evidence in court.
- investigations can be prolonged if a food analysis has to be carried out
Once the investigating officer has collected the relevant information, the most appropriate action will be determined by national and local guidance on food safety.
Will my name and address be disclosed?
Some companies request the complainant's details, but these will not be disclosed without your consent. Please note that we cannot conceal the complainant's identity if legal proceedings are taken.
While we will have regard to anonymous complaints, they will generally be given less weight and lower priority than complaints from people who we can contact in order to verify their allegations. Some anonymous complaints may not be acted on at all.
Why do we investigate food complaints?
The purpose of investigating food complaints is to try to find the cause of the complaint and to identify what action is needed to ensure that it doesn't happen again. Where producers/manufacturers have failed in their duty to provide safe and wholesome food, this will also include appropriate enforcement action. Investigations do not seek compensation or redress from the producer/supplier. Items of food received or obtained during the investigation will not be returned.
Once you pass a food complaint to us, we will consider the complaint in the context of normal food production/sale and decide what course of action take. There are various options that we will discuss with you when the officer takes possession of the food and completes the food complaint form, but it is our decision what action to take.
How to complain about a food item
If you have bought an item of food that you believe is contaminated in some way, we can investigate your complaint.
Some examples of things that we investigate include:
- Foods containing foreign bodies (e.g., stones, glass, insects, hair, plasters, cigarette ends etc.)
- Food that is out of condition (e.g. moldy, rotten, off-smelling etc)
- Food that is out of date where it is suspected of making someone ill
Please save the food in its original container and keep the receipt for the food if you have one. If the item of food is one of a number of units (e.g. one carton of yogurt from a pack of four) it is useful to have these as well.
How do I handle items of food I want to complain about?
- Reseal the food and put it in a safe place - refrigerator or freezer as necessary
- Do not tamper with the food and leave all foreign bodies in the food for the food safety officer to examine
- Keep all packaging and other packs that are of the same type for the food safety officer to examine
- Avoid eating remaining products in the pack, e.g. a six pack or a four pack etc
- Make some notes that could be used in the form of a statement to include where and when you purchased the product, at what time etc. Details of handling the product from when it was purchased up to when the problem was discovered and following the discovery
- Keep any evidence of purchase e.g. receipt
If this advice does not answer your food complaint storage requirements, please contact us directly. We will ask you whether you are willing to give evidence in Court, this may be in person, or more likely via a Witness Statement. This is essential if we are going to take formal action.
How to complain about a food premises
We will only investigate complaints about food premises which relate to food safety. We will not investigate complaints about the price of food, or poor customer service.
Things that we will investigate include:
- people smoking in kitchens, store rooms or preparation rooms
- pets or animals in kitchens, store rooms or preparation rooms
- sightings of vermin or pests on food premises
- poor levels of cleanliness in kitchens, store rooms or preparation rooms
- poor food handling practices
If you would like to make a complaint about a food provider in London Borough of Bexley, contact the Food Safety team.
In certain circumstances, we may decide that it is not necessary to carry out a detailed investigation. We cannot get involved in issues relating to compensation.
'Scores on the Doors' - The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme
The Council has signed up to the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) national Food Hygiene Rating Scheme to help improve food hygiene standards in food businesses and to help raise customer awareness. All food businesses are now rated in accordance with this scheme as part of the inspection process, and, after a short delay for safeguarding purposes, their ratings are published on the FSA's national website. To look up the food hygiene ratings of food businesses within Bexley, use the link in the related links section on the right.
We know that not all of our eligible food businesses have been given ratings yet. This is because we have limited the extent to which we have relied on historical records in order to make sure that published ratings are as accurate as possible. Rest assured though that we will be working hard to extend the rating scheme to include these un-rated food businesses as quickly as we can.
More details about the scheme are available from the FSA's web pages. Use the link in the related media section on the right to see a short video that will give you an overview of the scheme. For more specific information, use the links to find out more about ratings or to look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) in the related links section on the right.
- Food Safety - Public Protection Full details for Food Safety - Public Protection