Food safety and hygiene

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. The Pink Book contains general information about laws applicable to your business. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Read our full disclaimer.

Key facts

  • If you supply food to customers you must comply with the provisions of food safety and hygiene legislation. The word 'food' is defined as including drink.
  • You should not provide food that is unsafe (for example, injurious to health) or unfit for human consumption.
  • You must put in place and implement a food safety management system to ensure that the food you provide is safe to eat. These procedures must be based on the Food Standards Agency's Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles.
  • You must not keep foods at a temperature that might make them unsafe to eat. There are specified temperatures that different hot or chilled foods must be kept at.
  • Registration with the local authority is required for accommodation businesses that serve or supply food or drink of any description, including bed and breakfasts.

Food safety legislation

The most important food safety and hygiene legislation applying in the UK comprises:

Does food safety legislation apply to me?

Yes: if you supply food to customers, you must comply with the provisions of the legislation. The word 'food' is defined as including drink.

Main provisions of the legislation

The General Food Law Regulation (EC) No 178/2002    

The General Food Law Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 covers the placing of unsafe or unfit food on the market. You should not place food on the market (that is to sell or supply food, or hold it with intent to supply) which is:

  • Unsafe (that is, injurious to health).
  • Unfit for human consumption (for example, food that is rotten, 'gone off' or has been subject to considerable contamination).

The regulation also covers traceability. You should keep records of businesses which have supplied food to you and any businesses you supply food to. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) guidance says this should include:

  • Address of customer or supplier.
  • Nature and quantity of products.
  • Date of transaction and delivery.

This is to help when a food manufacturer needs to coordinate a withdrawal of unsafe food. There are offences for breaches of these provisions in the General Food Regulations 2004 (as amended).

Offences under the Food Safety Act 1990

  • Rendering food injurious to health. Not only is it an offence to place food on the market which is harmful to health, but it is also an offence to do anything which would make food harmful by adding something to it or removing something from it. This may apply even if you did not realise the effect of what you were doing at the time.

    Selling 'to the purchaser's prejudice' food which is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded. 'To the purchaser’s prejudice' means to his or her disadvantage. This includes things like supplying lemonade when low-calorie lemonade has been requested, or supplying a beef casserole when the customer has ordered lamb casserole.

    Falsely or misleading describing, advertising, or presenting food. This offence can be committed when statements or pictures concerning food are untrue. It can also cover statements that are strictly speaking correct but presented in such a way that the customer is led to the wrong conclusion. Bearing this in mind, you should take care with the descriptions of dishes on your menus. There is a similar provision about this in the General Food Law Regulation.

General food hygiene

Do the regulations apply to me?

Yes: if you supply food to customers, you must register with your local authority at least 28 days prior to trading and comply with the regulations. It does not matter if you are a small bed and breakfast, a five-star hotel or you provide meals in other circumstances. As a food business operator, the onus is on you to make sure you supply safe food.

If you are not sure whether you should register as a food business, you should speak to your local environmental health department for advice.

How do I comply?

Food safety management procedures

You must put in place and implement a food safety management system to ensure that the food you provide is safe to eat. These procedures must be based on the HACCP principles, although they can be proportionate to the nature and size of the business and should not be burdensome on small businesses. HACCP stands for:

  • Hazard;
  • Analysis;
  • Critical;
  • Control;
  • Point.

This means that you must:

  • Analyse all potential food hazards: a hazard is anything that might hurt the consumer.
  • Identify the points in operation where hazards might occur.
  • Decide which of the points identified are critical to ensuring food safety.
  • Identify and implement effective control and monitoring procedures at those critical points.
  • Determine what corrective actions must be taken if your procedures are not working.
  • Keep appropriate records to show your procedures are working.
  • Review all of the above periodically and whenever your food operations change.


The amount of paperwork you will need to keep as part of your safety procedures will also depend on the size and nature of your business. Larger businesses will need to maintain some documented procedures in addition to their records.

The Food Standards Agency offers a number of models to help you comply with the record-keeping part of the procedures (for more details, see the Safer food, better business for caterers section of the FSA website). You can also contact your local authority for advice.

Food premises

As a basic requirement, food premises must comply with the following:

  • They must be kept clean, be well maintained and designed to enable good hygiene practices to be adhered to.
  • They must have adequate hand-washing facilities available, with supplies of hot and cold water, and drying facilities suitably located and designated for cleaning hands. Toilets must not open directly into rooms where food is handled.
  • They must have adequate means of ventilation, lighting and drainage.

What is adequate in any situation will depend on the nature and size of the business. In addition, the following requirements apply to all rooms, except dining areas, in which food is prepared:

  • Surface finishes to walls, doors, floors and equipment should be easy to clean and, if necessary, to disinfect.
  • There must be adequate facilities for cleaning work tools and equipment and for washing food.

Slightly scaled-down, but broadly similar, requirements apply to premises that are only used occasionally for catering purposes.

The full list of requirements are detailed in the Safer food, better business for caterers section of the FSA website.

Domestic premises

Premises 'used primarily as a dwelling house but where foods are regularly prepared' (for example, this might include some bed and breakfasts) are subject to slightly different requirements with regard to the rooms where food is prepared (Regulation (EC) 852/2004, Annex II Chapter III). Speak to the environmental health department of your local authority for guidance.

Further requirements

Equipment: all equipment and other items which come into contact with food must be kept clean and well maintained and installed in such a way as to allow adequate cleaning of the surrounding area.

Food waste: waste must not be allowed to accumulate and, as a general rule, must be kept in closed containers which are easy to clean and disinfect. The waste must be eliminated in a hygienic and environmentally-friendly way and must not constitute a direct or indirect source of contamination.

Water supply: there must be an adequate supply of drinking water. Generally, this water supply should be used to make sure that food is not contaminated, and any ice should be made from it.

Cleaning agents: cleaning chemicals must not be stored in areas where food is handled.

Personal hygiene: everyone working with food must maintain a high level of personal cleanliness, including clean clothing. You must not allow anyone suffering from an illness which could contaminate food to work in a food handling area. Additionally, staff working in food handling areas are required to report such illnesses to you. You should also ensure that good hand washing routines are maintained.

Raw materials: you should not buy, or supply, any raw material that will not be fit for human consumption.

Protection against contamination: all food must be protected against any form of contamination, including pests, which would make it fail food safety requirements.

Training: all staff handling food must receive training commensurate or appropriate to the work they do. The Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice: Catering Guide (currently being updated) [HP1] [BN2] [EG3] [HL4] states that:

  • High-risk food handlers, such as those who prepare high-risk foods, should hold a basic or foundation certificate (Level 2).
  • A waiter/waitress would require hygiene awareness training (Level 1).
  • The person responsible for implementing the food hygiene management system must have received adequate training to enable them to do this.

The full list of requirements are detailed in the Safer food, better business for caterers section of the FSA website.

Food and temperature control

The temperature control rules are found in the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 (and equivalent legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Do the regulations apply to me?

Yes: if you offer food to customers, you must comply with the regulations. Just as with the hygiene regulations, it does not matter what type of premises you are – all food operators as defined need to comply with the temperature requirements.

What are the requirements?

You must not keep foods at a temperature that might make them unsafe to eat. Foods which need temperature control for safety must be held either:

  • Hot (at or above a minimum temperature of 63ºC).
  • Chilled (at or below a maximum temperature of 8ºC).

In addition to this, foods that are likely to support the growth of harmful bacteria or the formation of toxins should not be kept at temperatures which would result in a risk to health.


Some foods are exempt from the 8ºC limit, such as:

  • Bakery products which are to be used quickly;
  • Most unopened canned foods;
  • Dried foods;
  • Food which is ripening or maturing at room temperature (for example soft cheeses).

Serving and display of food

The regulations also have a degree of flexibility in the serving and display of food. For example, food that should normally be kept at or below 8ºC may be kept above that temperature for a single period of four hours to allow it to be served or displayed (for example, food on a buffet table or a cheese trolley). After this period it should either be thrown away or chilled back to 8ºC or below until used.

Likewise, food which will be served hot may be kept on display out of temperature control (63ºC and above) for a single period of two hours. If any food is left after this time, food should either be discarded, reheated to 63°C or above (in Scotland, food must be reheated to 82° or above), or cooled as quickly as possible to 8°C or below until final consumption. Guidance on temperature control legislation in the UK is available on the FSA website.

Handling ready-to-eat foods safely

It is important to handle ready-to-eat foods carefully as they could, if mishandled, lead to cases of food poisoning. They include sandwiches, salads, desserts, cold cooked meats and foods you have cooked in advance to serve cold. The following controls should prevent this from happening:

  • Check that the temperature of purchased frozen and chilled ready-to-eat foods is correct (under 8ºC for chilled foods, -18ºC for frozen foods).
  • Check products are within the date code and that the packaging is not damaged.
  • Do not use products after their 'use by' date.
  • Store ready-to-eat foods separately from raw foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs, etc. Store at the correct temperature and stock rotate.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on storage and preparation.
  • Wash and dry hands before the preparation of ready-to-eat foods.
  • Use clean knives, utensils, and separate boards for the preparation of ready-to-eat foods.
  • Sanitise boards, surfaces and utensils after use.
  • Keep ready-to-eat foods covered after preparation.
  • Once prepared, do not allow ready-to-eat foods to remain at room temperature for any longer than necessary.
  • Buy a thermometer to monitor temperatures.

Enforcement and food hygiene inspections

Local authorities are responsible for enforcing food hygiene laws and authorised enforcement officers have the right to enter and inspect food premises (registered or not) at any reasonable time without having to make an appointment – they will usually come without notice.

They carry out routine inspections and the frequency varies, depending on the degree of risk posed by the business and its previous record. Inspectors may also visit as a result of a complaint.

Inspectors (that is, 'authorised officers') will look at the way you operate your business to identify any potential hazards and to make sure that you are complying with the law. They will discuss problems with you and advise on possible solutions. They also have the following powers:

  • To take samples and photographs and to inspect your records.
  • To write to you informally, asking you to rectify any problems that they have found. If a breach of the law has been identified, they may serve you with a 'hygiene improvement notice'.
  • To detain or seize suspect foods.
  • To recommend a prosecution (although this is normally done only in serious cases).
  • To serve 'a hygiene emergency prohibition notice' which forbids the use of the premises or equipment if there is an imminent health risk to the public. Such a notice must be confirmed by the Courts (or a Sheriff in Scotland).

Read further guidance on food hygiene inspections on the FSA website.


A small percentage of the population is allergic to, or intolerant of, certain foods. In the UK, it is estimated that around 2% of the population suffer from food allergies and each year some people become seriously ill and even die from extreme reactions to foods such as peanuts, shellfish and eggs.

Under the Food Safety Act 1990 and the General Food Law (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 you are responsible for ensuring that the food customers eat is safe and the quality is what they expect. This means you should understand exactly which foods can cause problems.

The following is a list of the 14 most common allergens:

  • Cereals containing gluten, namely: wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan wheat), rye, barley, oats;
  • Crustaceans, for example: prawns, crabs, lobster, crayfish;
  • Eggs;
  • Fish;
  • Peanuts;
  • Soybeans;
  • Milk (including lactose);
  • Nuts, namely: almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, macadamia (or Queensland) nuts;
  • Celery (including celeriac);
  • Mustard;
  • Sesame;
  • Sulphur dioxide/sulphites, where added and at a level above 10mg/kg or 10mg/L in the finished product. This can be used as a preservative in dried fruit;
  • Lupin, which includes lupin seeds and flour and can be found in types of bread, pastries and pasta;
  • Molluscs, for example: mussels, whelks, oysters, snails and squid.

You must be aware of any use of these allergens in the food that you prepare, and communicate this use to your customers. From October 2021, the way food businesses must provide allergen labelling information for Prepacked for Direct Sale (PPDS) has changed. Foods must have a label with a full ingredients list with allergenic ingredients emphasised within it. See the Food labelling section for more information on your requirement to inform customers of any use of allergens in food you serve customers.

Food Hygiene Ratings - 'Scores on the Doors'

In 2010, the Food Standards Agency introduced a National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. This scheme ranks the cleanliness of premises that sell food between '0' (meaning urgent improvement is needed) and '5' (meaning very good and complies with all legal requirements).

The National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme covers all businesses that supply food directly to consumers, which includes hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, cafes, takeaways and attractions that provide a food offering.

It is not mandatory for you to display the score that you have received if your business is in England (it is a legal requirement to display the rating in Wales and Northern Ireland). However, even if you do not display your rating, it is available to the public on the FSA’s searchable online database.

If you believe that the food hygiene rating that you have been given is unfair, you have:

  • A right to appeal within 21 days of being notified about your food hygiene rating.
  • A ‘right to reply’ which allows you to publish an explanation of any actions you have taken to improve hygiene standards at your premises since your inspection, or to say if there were unusual circumstances at the time of the inspection that might have affected your rating, alongside your rating on the FSA’s public database.
  • An opportunity to request a re-visit when improvements have been made in order to be re-assessed for a new rating.

Note: Food Standards Scotland operates a different Food Hygiene rating scheme in Scotland, which comprises three ratings: Pass, Improvement Required and Exempt Premises.