How to make a food complaint
If you have a complaint concerning food that you have purchased within South Oxfordshire, please contact the environmental health team.
Trading Standards at Oxfordshire County Council investigate complaints relating to food quality, and inaccurate descriptions.
Food complaint investigations
From time to time food products purchased within South Oxfordshire may not be of an acceptable standard. This may be due to a number of different factors, for instance: poor pest control procedures, inadequate cleaning, and contamination during storage or even malicious tampering.
Our policy is to investigate food complaints for which we are the responsible authority. The level of investigation will depend upon the nature of the complaint, the officer-s opinion and previous knowledge of similar complaints.
By asking the council to investigate your food complaint we cannot get you a refund for your food. You can decide whether to pursue the food complaint through us or to return it to the store so they can carry out an investigation.
An investigation may range from visual identification of a foreign object to in-depth analysis of the food. Sometimes what initially seems to be something unhygienic e.g. mouse droppings in white bread, turns out to be something quite safe e.g. a small amount of granary bread dough baked into the white loaf. On these occasions no further investigation will be carried out.
When a complaint is received, we will obtain as much information as possible from you about the circumstances of purchase and the discovery of the complaint. Often a 'Witness Statement' will be taken. This is a formal account taken in accordance with the 'rules of evidence' so that if needed we can present it to a court of law. Asking you for a witness statement does not mean we will prosecute, it merely helps us collect information whilst it is fresh in your mind.
When a complaint is first received, it is examined. Sometimes complaints, which initially seem to be totally unacceptable, are found to be things which are not at all harmful e.g. what appeared to be a pest in a curry was in fact whole spices. While this clearly indicated that the food was not quite what was expected, no food safety offence was committed and no legal action was taken.
If the problem appears to have occurred during manufacture of the food one of our first actions will be to contact the manufacturer so that we can establish whether there are other similar complaints and if there is a serious manufacturing problem.
If the product is manufactured in the UK, we may also contact the local authority that enforces food hygiene at the premises so that we can have an independent opinion of their standards.
If the product is manufactured outside the UK contact is made with the relevant country's food safety enforcement service through the UK Single Liaison Body.
Food safety offences are 'strict liability' offences in that we do not have to prove that there was an intention to break the law. However this is offset by allowing the food company a 'due diligence' defence. This defence allows the offender to be found 'not guilty' if they can prove that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the offence occurring. This means that we have to investigate what steps have been taken to ensure the safety of the food and whether more could have been done. Most of the large manufacturers have looked at all parts of their manufacturing processes and have thought of all possible risks. This means that there is often little chance of a successful prosecution.
Most complaints are dealt with informally, because the evidence we have is not sufficient to satisfy a court of law 'beyond all reasonable doubt', because the offender has a good 'due diligence' defence or because the complaint is deemed too trivial to be in the public interest to prosecute.
We are not in a position to obtain compensation for you from the companies involved, nor are we able to pursue claims for personal injury. If you feel a claim is appropriate, you are recommended to seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Action the council can take
Action we take ranges from providing a business with written advice or guidance to prosecution.
It is not always possible for us to identify how a food product became contaminated and so it may not be appropriate to take any action.
In circumstances where we feel an informal approach is required, you may wish to take your own action. However, we will not become involved in civil actions or remuneration and compensation issues.
Our investigations may also reveal there is a specific problem with a food product and result in a food recall or withdrawal, which may result in the product being taken off sale.
Last reviewed: 27 - 11 - 2012