Why do officers from Environmental Health take samples?
The collection of samples from food businesses operating within the district is an essential part of food safety enforcement. In addition to ensuring compliance with legal requirements; samples may be taken for the purposes of surveillance, monitoring and providing advice to food business operators.
What kinds of samples are taken?
There are two different types of food samples - these are samples for microbiological examination, and samples for chemical analysis.
Microbiological samples are sent to the food examiner for the levels of different bacteria in the food to be scrutinized. Foods are tested for different organisms such as e.coli, staphylococcus aureus, clostridium perfringens, Listeria monocytogenes, bacillus cereus etc. This is to find out whether the food is safe to eat and for how long it will remain safe to eat if it is stored correctly. Microbiological samples will be taken from premises handling high risk foods (including approved premises, butchers, delicatessens, sandwich shops, takeaways etc) using a risk-based approach depending on the type of premises and their food hygiene risk rating.
Microbiological samples may be taken following inspections where food hygiene issues have been identified; or premises that are programmed to be inspected for food hygiene purposes will be targeted for sampling to allow results to be discussed at the said programmed visit. Samples are also taken as a result of food complaints, food alerts, food poisoning outbreaks and targeted food surveys as necessary.
Food samples for chemical analysis are sent to the public analyst to determine the composition of the food. This will provide details on fat content, nutrition, quantities of ingredients, presence of additives etc. The composition of the food can also be compared with the information that is given on the food label.
Chemical sampling tends to target the likes of imported food premises and manufacturers, with an emphasis upon food produced or manufactured within the district. The sampling is carried out on a basis that will accommodate product ranges of manufacturers and timing of surveillance programmes. Chemical samples may be obtained during programmed inspections or taken as a result of food complaints, food alerts or targeted food surveys.
How will I know if samples have been taken from my premises?
A large proportion of both the microbiological and chemical samples taken by Environmental Health are taken on an informal basis. Informal samples will be taken by officers anonymously and in these circumstances the owner/seller of the food shall only be made aware of the sample having been taken should the results prove to be unsatisfactory. This information shall be relayed to him/her in writing and, depending on the circumstances, discussed at the next programmed inspection of the premises or sooner if appropriate.
Formal sampling will be undertaken in circumstances where it is possible that prosecution may follow as a result of the samples failing to meet the required standards. Formal samples require to be obtained in accordance with the Food Safety (Sampling and Qualifications) Regulations 1990 and the Food Safety Act 1990 Code of Practice. The owner/seller of the food will be notified of any formal sampling activity.
Should I have my own sampling strategy for the foods I produce?
Food business operators who are responsible for the manufacture of products have a duty to ensure their product complies with legislation concerning food labelling and the microbiological criteria for foodstuffs. Therefore, manufactures are required to arrange for the sampling and analysis of their products at appropriate frequencies as part of their HACCP system.