Food complaints

These complaints can be about:

  • The food itself, for example: string found in bread, food which is mouldy, undercooked food
  • Poor hygiene conditions and practices in food premises
  • People smoking in kitchens, store rooms or preparation rooms
  • Pets or animals in kitchens, store rooms or preparation rooms
  • Sightings of vermin or pests on food premises
  • Poor levels of cleanliness in kitchens, store rooms or preparation rooms
  • Poor food handling practices
  • Food that is out of condition (for example: mouldy, rotten, off-smelling)
  • Food that is out of date where it is suspected of making someone ill

Some complaints come from people who become ill after eating out and believe that they may have contracted food poisoning.

With such complaints we have to establish if a problem exists, and if it does, we take action to stop it happening again.

Our role is not to seek compensation and we cannot be involved in any financial aspect of the complaint.

Food poisoning is an illness, usually caused by eating or drinking food or water contaminated by bacteria (germs) or the poisons that they produce.

It can be caught from food eaten at home, at restaurants, abroad, etc.

The common symptoms associated with food poisoning include:

  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting
  • nausea and
  • stomach cramps

These usually occur within 2 to 36 hours of consumption of the food, although with some types of food poisoning, illness may not occur for days or even weeks.

The last thing eaten is not necessarily the cause of the food poisoning. The symptoms usually last between one and seven days, although this may be longer.

All the time you have the symptoms, and in some cases for some time after, you can transmit the infection to other people if you are not careful.

Food handlers suffering from food poisoning must report this matter to the Environmental Health Service or their employer, by law.

What should you do if you think you have got food poisoning? 

Food poisoning can only be confirmed by laboratory testing and so you should contact your local GP regarding providing a stool sample, which can be sent for analysis.

If the sample is positive for a food poisoning bacteria, Public Health England are informed, who in turn ask our Food and Safety Team to try to identify a source of infection.

We would then contact you to identify what foods you have eaten and from where they were purchased.

Please note that we are unable to carry out a formal investigation if you have not seen your GP and submitted a faecal specimen for analysis.

What is the role of our food and safety team?

Doctors have to notify our Food & Safety Team about cases of certain infectious diseases, including food poisoning, and we have a duty to investigate such cases.

We try to establish the cause of the food poisoning, and we follow this up where necessary by inspecting food premises to help prevent other people suffering from food poisoning.

We also provide advice on precautions which should be taken, especially to people in groups where there is a high risk of passing on the infection. This includes food handlers, young children and people who look after the very young, the elderly or the ill.

Even when the symptoms have cleared, you may still carry and excrete the bacteria for several weeks. Close contacts to the ill person may also carry and excrete the bacteria, even though they have had no symptoms.

With some types of food poisoning, people in the high risk groups, mentioned above, who are carrying the bacteria, must not return to work until they have been cleared by ourselves.

General precautions to prevent food poisoning

Personal hygiene
  • Wash hands thoroughly: before and after handling food, especially after handling raw meat and poultry; after using the toilet; after changing nappies and handling soiled clothing; after touching animals, especially before handling food.
  • Cover open cuts and sores which may come into contact with food with waterproof plasters.
  • If possible, do not prepare food for other people when suffering from food poisoning symptoms.

General hygiene

  • Maintain high standards of hygiene in the kitchen. Keep kitchen surfaces and equipment clean and use anti-bacterial cleaning materials where possible.
  • Keep cooked foods and uncooked foods, especially raw meat and poultry, separate. This will also include using separate chopping boards, plates and knives.
  • Keep pets out of the kitchen when preparing food, and keep them off work surfaces.
  • Use pasteurised or UHT milk and cream.
  • When travelling abroad, check beforehand that water and ice is safe to consume. If it is not, or if in doubt, make sure it is sterilised using chlorine tablets for example, or buy bottled water.
  • Additionally, avoid eating salads and raw fruit / vegetables that have been washed with non-sterilised water in countries where the water is not safe to consume.
  • If you are sick, elderly, pregnant or susceptible to infections, or are preparing food for such people, toddlers or babies: avoid raw / undercooked eggs; avoid soft cheeses; reheat cook-chill meals until piping hot.

Temperature control

  • Keep all perishable foods in a refrigerator.
  • Your fridge should operate at below 5C to prevent bacteria growing.
  • Store cooked or ready-to-eat foods above raw meat and vegetables.
  • Ensure frozen foods, especially meat and poultry, are fully thawed before cooking.
  • Ensure food is cooked thoroughly.
  • Cool food quickly and refrigerate as soon as possible after cooking.
  • If reheating food ensure that it is piping hot.

We will only investigate complaints about food premises which relate to food safety and are located in South Cambridgeshire. 

Common complaints about a food premises include: 

  • Poor hygiene standards within the kitchen
  • Foreign bodies in food
  • Poor personal hygiene of food handling staff
  • Pests

If you would like to make a complaint about a food provider in South Cambridgeshire, contact our Food & Safety Team using the details below.

We will not investigate complaints about the price of food or poor customer service.

If you have concerns about these types of issues, please contact Cambridgeshire County Council's Trading Standards Team.

If you would like to make a complaint about a food item you have purchased in South Cambridgeshire, contact us using the details below.

Please save the food in its original container and keep the receipt for the food if you have one. If the item of food is one of a number of units (for example, one carton of yogurt from a pack of four) it is useful to have all of the units as well.

Once a food complaint has been made, an officer will either contact you to arrange to collect the food or, if you are able to, bring it in to the Council.
We will ask you a number of questions relating to:

  • Where and when you bought the food
  • When you found the complaint in question
  • Effects of eating the food
  • How the food was stored

We will ask you whether you are willing to give evidence in Court, this may be in person, or more likely via a Witness Statement. This is essential if we are going to take formal action.

Advice on handling food complaints

  • Reseal food and put it in a safe place - refrigerator or freezer as necessary
  • Do not tamper with the food and leave all foreign bodies in the food for the EHO to examine
  • Keep all packaging and other packs that are of the same type for the EHO to examine
  • Avoid eating remaining products in the pack, for example: a six pack or a four pack
  • Make some notes that could be used in the form of a statement to include where and when you purchased the product, at what time, details of handling of the product at purchase up to when the problem was discovered and following the discovery
  • Keep your purchase receipt.

The purpose of investigating food complaints is to ensure they don't happen again. Where producers/ manufacturers have failed in their duty to provide safe and wholesome food, is to fulfil an enforcement duty.

Our investigation does not seek compensation or redress from the producer/ supplier. Food complaints will not be returned following any investigation. Once you pass a food complaint to us, we will consider the complaint in the context of normal food production/ sale and decide what course of action to take. There are various options that we will discuss with you when the officer calls to collect the food or complete the food complaint form. However it is our decision what action to take.

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