If you buy food, and then find a problem with it, do you know what to do?

Food businesses have a legal duty to sell only food that is fit to eat, is of a satisfactory standard of quality and is labelled properly. If it isn't, then contact us and we will look into it. We will take action if the law has been broken.

It is not illegal to sell food after its 'best before' date. 'Best before' dates mean that the manufacturer guarantees that the food will be of best quality up to that date. After that date the quality may decline. 'Best before' dates are usually for longer life products. If the quality of the product is affected we may take this as a complaint. For more information on best before dates and use by dates visit the Food Standards Agency (FSA)website.

Does the council investigate all food complaints?

No. There are also some complaints that we will not investigate because there is no risk to public health or safety. If this is your kind of complaint we will let you know and we will tell you the reason why. How we investigate complaints will depend upon the type of complaint and if we have received similar complaints.

We will investigate high risk complaints and problems within 24 hours

  • Food poisoning outbreak with laboratory confirmation (affecting more than one person)
  • Typhoid notification from the Health Protection Unit
  • Allegation of pests infesting a food business (rats, mice and cockroaches only with physical sightings and/or other clear evidence e.g. mouse droppings)
  • Foreign body complaint where the contaminant has caused actual physical injury or where there is a high likelihood that it could cause physical injury (e.g. glass in food, small pieces of metal in food). If possible such items including all packaging and receipts to be delivered by complainant to the food team for investigation. 
  • Unfit food for sale
  • Any service demand received from an MP, Councillor, and Member of the London Assembly, the Food Standards Agency and DEFRA.

We will investigate medium risk complaints and problems within five working days

The type of issues are:

  • Food poisoning allegation where there is more than one victim identified and or in a risk group i.e. under five year olds, elderly, sick, immuno-compromised or the victim is an open food handler (as long as they are willing to see GP and submit faecal specimen)
  • A complaint concerning food sold past the "use-by" date (as long as food is identified)
  • Allegations of poor hygiene in a food business where there is a definite risk to public health. For example, where the allegation is of cross contamination, dirty condition of the business, undercooked food or poor personal hygiene by staff.

Low risk complaints and problems

These issues will be dealt with by a customer support officer usually through letters or guidance notes.

  • Complaints that food past the 'best before' date has been sold or is on display for sale
  • Food poisoning allegation where there is no laboratory confirmation and where the victim is not in a risk group
  • A food complaint where the customer no longer has the food in their possession
  • A food hygiene complaint where the risk to public health is low e.g. handling money and food, food handlers not wearing head-covering, etc.
  • A request for information from a new food business operator regarding design, etc., of a catering operation
  • Where the complaint relates to food sold by responsible traders, such as most major supermarkets, catering chains and national manufacturers, the complaint will be categorised as low risk unless it falls within the high or medium criteria. The complainant in low risk cases will be recommended to return the goods to the retailer. This permits resources to be focused where greatest local improvement can be made.

What we cannot do?

We cannot carry out an investigation without the food to examine. We must have the packaging, so we can check the batch codes, dates and the company who made the product. We cannot get you a refund for your food or get involved in compensation. You can then decide if you want to us to deal with it or return to the store for a refund, etc. They may be willing to refund you your money and then carry out their own investigation.

What we can do?

We can investigate the problem, if you bring the food to us with all the packaging information. Please let us know when you are going to visit. If you cannot bring the complaint into our office, then we can arrange to pick up the food from your home.

When we receive a complaint, we will ask you about the purchase and the discovery of the complaint. A statement may be taken. This statement provides the council with a record of what you saw, and will help us collect information whilst it is fresh in your mind.

We will contact all the people involved in making and selling the food. If we believe the business has been careless, or has overlooked a problem, we may consider formal action. Most complaints are dealt with informally; most manufacturers are concerned about both food safety and their public image and will offer their apologies. An investigation can take up to six weeks, in some cases it might be longer.

At the end of the investigation, we will tell you our findings and if we will take any further action. At the same time, we will notify the other parties involved of our decision such as the businesses involved.

What do I do if I find a foreign object in my food?

If you have found a foreign object in your food or meal, have reason to believe that it has been contaminated in some way or is showing signs of spoilage such as mould growth or decomposition, you should:

  • Not consume the food
  • Keep the foreign object safe by storing it in a fridge or freezer in a clear plastic container 
  • Take a photo of the foreign object and where it was found in your food or meal 
  • Keep the wrapper or container that the food came in
  • Gather the name and address of the restaurant where you ate or purchased the food from and the date and time of your meal  as well as any proof of purchase such as receipts or delivery documents.
  • Secure medical and dental records that show that the injuries caused by the foreign object were not present before eating the food or meal.

Can I take private action against the company?

Your statutory rights are not affected should we take formal action. You may wish to consider withdrawing the complaint from the council and undertaking private legal action. Alternatively, you may take private action upon completion of our investigation (if appropriate).

The Law

To view a copy of the regulations go to legislation.gov.uk.


The Food and Safety team


Food and Safety team, 6th Floor, Zone A, Bernard Weatherill House, 8 Mint Walk, Croydon CR0 1EA , United Kingdom