We take it for granted that the food we eat is wholesome, but it is the Environmental Health Officer who makes sure of the safety and cleanliness of our food supplies. This means that throughout the processing, distribution and preparation stages-until it is sold- the Environmental Health Officer is concerned that the food is fit to eat.
The Food Control work undertaken by the Environmental Health is done under a Service Contract between the HSE and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
The Environmental Health Officer routinely and regularly inspects places where the food is handled including food imports at the sea and airports. Sale and service of food in markets, shops, wholesalers, restaurants, public houses, crèches, nursing homes, hospitals and hotels are all covered by the EHO.
Food stalls and other food vehicles carrying food are also monitored. Not only does the Environmental Health Officer check the hygiene in these places but also that the food in them is not contaminated in any way. By law those operating the food business must ensure that they and their staff have received food safety training and maintain minimum food safety standards at all time.
Environmental Health Officers have the powers to enter any premises in order to carry out inspections. These inspections are carried out without any advance warning being given to be food business.
While EHOs are enforcement officers they are also educators and advisors and they work very closely with the owners of food business to build compliance with the law.
The EHO ensures that the owner/operator of the food business understands that there is a law, what their obligations are under that law and what the possible consequences are if they do not comply.
In cases where there are breaches of the law Environmental Health Officers have a range of sanctions open to them from a verbal warning through to a Closure Order being served.
In general most food businesses receive a written report from the Environmental Health Officer after every inspection outlining what needs to be improved upon and a timeframe within which they need to do it. In serious cases a Improvement Notice is served and if this is not complied with by the date given then the EHO can seek an Improvement Order in the District Court. This can be a costly business for the food business owner.
EHOs can also issue a Closure Order if in the opinion of the EHO there is non-compliance with food legislation, if an Improvement Order has not been complied with or where the food business is in the opinion of the EHO ‘likely to pose a grave and immediate danger to public health’
Closures Orders can refer to the immediate closure of all or part of the food premises, or all or some of its activities. The Orders may be lifted when the premises has improved to the satisfaction of the EHO.
There are also other enforcement actions open to the EHO including Prohibition Orders and Prosecutions.
Once an Improvement Order, Closure Order or Prohibition Order has been served on a food business it is listed on the Food Safety Authority of Ireland website where it remains listed for three months from the date that it was lifted.