What type of complaints can we deal with?
The food team deal with complaints about food bought in East Staffordshire as well as complaints about premises in the borough. We do not deal with complaints about ingredients or labelling of food which are dealt with by Staffordshire County Council's Trading Standards department.
Making a complaint
Complaints about food premises or foreign bodies in food, mouldy food and unfit food should be reported through our online form.
What should I do with the food?
You will be asked to bring in any of the food you have left, packaging and/or receipt of purchase to the council and provide details to our duty officer.
If the food is perishable please refrigerate or freeze it if you can't get it to us quickly.
How will the complaint be investigated?
All the details of the food and purchase information will be taken along with any remaining food, packaging and or receipts.
You will be asked to sign a declaration stating that all the information is correct and that you agree for us to take the food. In some cases you may be asked to write a 'Witness Statement'. Asking you for a witness statement does not necessarily mean that we will prosecute, it merely helps us to collect information whilst it is fresh in your mind.
We will thoroughly and promptly investigate complaints in an attempt to establish the cause of the problem and to prevent a recurrence. The food may be sent to our laboratories for analysis and we may visit the premises where the food was prepared or sold.
These investigations can take several weeks and the officer dealing with your complaint should keep you informed of their progress.
We will not request compensation or a refund on your behalf. If you feel a claim is appropriate, you are recommended to seek legal advice as soon as possible.
If you suffer from food poisoning as a consequence of eating contaminated food, you are advised to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
What complaints about food premises do we investigate?
We will only investigate complaints about food premises, which relate to food safety. They include:
- 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
We do accept anonymous complaints but use our discretion to take or not to take action based on the information received. If you do leave your details we guarantee that they will be kept confidential. However, you may be asked to make a witness statement if your complaint results in legal action being taken against the premises.
Why do we investigate food complaints?
The food team will investigate complaints:
- to safeguard public health
- to try and prevent the problem recurring
- to ensure retailers, manufacturers and businesses are preparing and serving food as safely and hygienically as is practically possible.
What could the outcome be?
In most cases, the outcome of complaint investigations highlight the need for minor improvements in a business’ procedures. Invariably, these minor issues are acted upon by the business and the investigation is successful in improving standards so that the likelihood of the problem recurring in the future is reduced.
However, in a minority of cases if we are satisfied that an offence has been committed, further action will be taken in accordance with our enforcement policy. This may range from warning letters to a simple caution or a prosecution.
Food safety legislation contains a legal defence known as 'due diligence' where a business is able to show they have taken all reasonable precautions, they may be able to rely on this as a legal defence in any prosecution even though the food was sold to you in an unsatisfactory condition. In such circumstances we may decide not to prosecute.
Less serious complaints
No food producer or shop is perfect and if you have a minor complaint such as salt crystals in tinned fish or items past their best before date (but not use by date) we would recommend you take the food back to the retailer as soon as possible and draw it to their attention.
Instances where it is appropriate to contact the manufacturer are as follows:
- although you are not satisfied with the product, you are not unduly concerned about it and merely want your money back
- the complaint is not of a serious nature, e.g. a part of a pea pod in a can of peas, or a 'flat' carbonated drink
- you are not sure when and where you purchased the product, or you are not sure where and how you stored it
Some common complaints that do not pose a risk to health
Although it is unpleasant to find a strange object in your food, not all foreign objects found in foods pose a significant health risk. Below is a list of some commonly discovered foreign objects in food which do not cause harm to people. Manufacturers do what they can to prevent these items getting into your food, but inevitably there will be occasions when they do:
- Fruit flies and green flies in fruit and vegetables
- Grubs in tinned vegetables
- Small stones and soil in fruit and vegetables
- Struvite crystals in canned fish
- Sugar Crystals in sweet and chocolates
- Codworm in white fish
- Bakery char in bakery products
- Carbonised grease in bakery products
- Chocolate 'mould'