Food hygiene and safety

Investigating food hygiene reports

The primary purpose for investigating food complaints is so that we can safeguard public health.

When a hygiene officer discovers that an offence has been committed action will be taken in accordance with policy and government guidance. This could be for example where a restaurant is selling unsatisfactory food.

If you wish to pursue a compensation claim you will need to take this up directly with the seller. You may be able to take civil action for compensation.

When you buy food, you enter into a contract with the seller; if the food is unsatisfactory the seller may therefore be in breach of contract.

For advice on taking civil action please contact the Citizens Advice Bureau (Harrow) or call them on their consumer helpline at 03454 04 05 06.

Investigating food complaints - examining the evidence

Where you have been taken ill due to a food product please visit your doctor as soon as possible to provide a stool sample. This will be used for evidential purposes. 

After receiving your report the authorised officer will examine this and any accompanying food evidence. The officer will then notify the following bodies, as appropriate, that we have received a complaint:

  • The premises where you bought the food, or their head office
  • The manufacturer or importer of the food
  • The local authority in whose area that manufacturer or importer is based

We will ask these organisations for information on the food and precautions that are taken to help prevent such food complaints arising.

The food and stool evidence is likely to be sent to a laboratory for analysis. These tests may result in the destruction of the evidence. 

You may be asked to provide a written statement detailing where you purchased the food and the circumstances of the discovery of the complaint; we are unable to take legal action on your behalf if this is not provided.

Investigating food complaints - due diligence

Investigating officers have a duty to consider any legal defences that may be available to the food business prior to taking legal action, including the ‘due diligence’ defence.

If the food business can demonstrate to the satisfaction of a court that it has taken all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence, then it will be able to rely on this legal defence, even if the food was unsatisfactory when it was sold to you.

In these circumstances, it would not be appropriate to take formal action. However, if the business is unable to demonstrate that it took reasonable precautions to prevent the complaint, legal action may result.

Investigating food complaints - conclusion and outcomes

We attempt to resolve food complaints within 120 days and will let you know if this period is likely to be exceeded.

Once all this evidence has been collected, it will become clear whether it is most appropriate to warn, caution or prosecute the offender or take no further action.

You will be informed of this decision as soon as possible.

The officer will also contact the retailer and the manufacturer/importer to inform them of the outcome. If legal action is recommended and your evidence is important, you will be consulted about attending court and giving evidence.

Where you have given your permission, we will disclose your name and address to the manufacturer or retailer at the conclusion of the investigation. This is so that they can contact you if they wish to for the purposes of good customer relations.

If you do not want us to disclose your name and address to the manufacturer and retailer, this may prevent any legal action being taken at a later stage.

Harrow community safety service

Address: Harrow Council
PO Box 18