What is an Environmental Health Officer (EHO)?
An Environmental Health Officer is a degree-level trained professional. Their primary role is to protect the health and safety of the general public from any harmful exposures that they may encounter. Their job includes ensuring that peoples homes and workplaces are safe, hygienic and healthy.
In other words, EHO’s act as advisers, risk assessors, educators and in some instances enforcers.
What does an Environmental Health Officer do?
It’s a varied and interesting job, with no two days being the same!
Areas of specialism include food, health and safety, infectious disease control, health promotion, housing and environmental protection. Many EHO’s are generalist, and a ‘typical’ list of duties are as follows: –
- Inspecting businesses for health and safety and food hygiene standards
- Investigating complaints and outbreaks of food poisoning, infectious disease notifications and pest infestations
- Investigating accidents in the workplace
- Sampling in food premises
- Enforcing regulations and giving evidence in court
- Educating and advising all levels of staff and the community
What do EHO’s look for when they visit your premises?
EHO’s are responsible for inspecting all businesses that produce or store food. They do this to ensure that the company is operating hygienically and complying with current food safety legislation.
Typically, an EHO will look at a range of issues relating to the premises. For instance, the type of food prepared, the number and type of customers served, the equipment and processes used, the standards of structure and cleanliness and documentation maintained. In more depth, they will review:
- Personal hygiene practices – ensuring that staff members are following correct hand-washing procedures, and the use of appropriate protective clothing.
- How you label food – including the validity of the shelf life of any in-house prepared dishes and correct allergen labelling.
- Equipment and maintenance – including the cleanliness of appliances, fridge door handles and light switches, etc.
- Pest control methods and their effectiveness, plus staff knowledge of how to identify and report common pests.
- The methods used for preventing contamination – physical, chemical, allergenic and microbial.
- Cleaning and disinfection techniques and schedules – including the management of hazardous cleaning chemicals, the use of colour-coded equipment and the cleaning schedule. Type of sanitiser used and contact times.
- Temperature control – when storing, cooking, cooling, freezing and displaying food.
- The condition of the premises – including the layout, design, construction, cleanliness and size of both permanent and temporary food preparation areas and staff restrooms.
- The food safety management system – including ensuring that the business has an appropriate and documented system in place (such as HACCP or SFBB). Are they following its principles effectively and have all the staff been trained in food safety practices.
What sort of power does an Environmental Health Officer have?
Environmental Health Officer’s have a range of powers available to them, including providing advice and education, issuing notices, closure of business due to imminent risk to public health and prosecution where necessary. They have the power to visit a premise at any reasonable time.
Generally, an Environmental Health Officer will issue advice verbally, then follow up with written communication. After that, they will provide support and guidance if they feel there is room for improvement.
To aid an investigation, an Environmental Health Officer can also take samples and photographs. They can seize or detain any food suspected of being unfit for sale or consumption. Similarly, they can inspect records and documents held at the premises such as cleaning schedules and staff training records. If required, they can take statements from employees.
If further action is necessary, an Environmental Health Officer may issue the following: –
- Hygiene Improvement Notice (HIN) – a legal notice setting out what steps the business must take to comply with the law, and within what timescale.
- Remedial Action Notice (RAN) – issued at specific premises to prohibit them from carrying out certain activities.
- Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice (HEPN) – to close a business if there is an imminent risk to health. A magistrate then confirms this action.
- Prosecution – recommended where there has been a severe breach of legislation, as per the local authority’s enforcement policy. In other words, when a HEPN is issued, this action is likely.
Can an Environmental Health Officer remove food from your premises?
Yes, EHO’s have the power to seize food if they suspect that it is unfit for sale or human consumption. Occasionally food is removed for sampling purposes – which can be as part of an outbreak investigation or for routine sampling surveillance. When food removed, the Environmental Health Officer should issue a receipt.
When will an Environmental Health Officer visit?
The majority of routine inspections are unannounced. Therefore, when an officer arrives at a business, they will present identification.
The frequency of visits will depend on the risk to public health. For instance, issues that impact upon this include: –
- New businesses &/or a dramatic change in operations
- Number of customers served/size of the distribution
- Equipment and processes utilised
- If serving a vulnerable group
- Previous compliance record
- Structure, hygiene and cleanliness
- If the Local Authority receives a complaint/outbreak notification
A high-risk business will be visited every six months. The Environmental Health Officer will work closely with the business owner to reduce risk and therefore, the frequency of inspections. Other companies may only receive a visit every two years.
After an inspection, the EHO will issue the business with a Food Hygiene Rating, which ranges from 0-5 levels. A 5-star score is what all food businesses should be aiming for, as this represents the highest standards of food safety.
What are the alternatives?
Whilst becoming an Environmental Health Officer might sound like the job for you, it’s imperative that you know the qualifications required. To qualify to become an Environmental Health Officer, you first must have studied either a undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been approved by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). If university doesn’t sound like the right path for you, you could always take our Highfield Level 3 Award in Effective Auditing and Inspection course, and become an Auditor instead!
How to prepare for an EHO visit?
The best way to prepare for an Environmental Health Officer visit is always to be ready to receive a visit! That way, standards are maintained as routine.
Above all, always ensure that necessary documentation is kept at the premises, not at the home of the business owner!
Envesca offers the following managerial food safety courses, which offer advice and guidance on managing food safety. For instance: