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UPDATE 23/09/2022 at 16:50 Please be aware that we continue to be impacted by the regional ICT network disruption which may affect some of our online services. All telephone calls to Boston Borough Council are being diverted to South Holland District Council switchboard where queries will be dealt with as normal

Food Safety complaints

How to make a complaint about food safety

Making a complaint about food sold in the borough

An important part of our Food Safety Officers' work is investigating complaints about food and food premises. However, we only investigate food safety complaints when we consider there is a significant public health risk. We are unable to deal with anonymous complaints.

Generally, we would recommend that you start by complaining directly to the retailer who sold the food or the company that manufactured it - for example, if you are not satisfied with the product and you just want your money back. 

Most large companies have efficient complaints procedures to enable customers to return an unsatisfactory food item and obtain a refund. The business will log these complaints and refer them to their suppliers, who can then identify trends and take remedial action.

The council has a duty to investigate certain complaints about food where there is a public health risk.  However, before you report your concerns about food sold in the borough, please take some time to read the following information about the most common problems associated with food. This details the type of food complaints we are able to deal with, and advises you who to contact if we can't. 

Complaints we can deal with - food

  • Food that is not safe to eat or actually makes you ill.  If food poisoning is suspected, it must be confirmed by your GP, and you will need to provide a stool sample.
  • Food that is so contaminated that it could not reasonably be eaten (for example, food that was mouldy, decomposing at the time of purchase or contaminated with chemicals or toxins).
  • Under cooked high risk food (such as chicken and burgers).
  • Packaged food that contains a foreign object (such as insects, metal, glass).
  • Food and drink that has been tampered with.
  • Food which is sold or offered for sale with an expired 'use by' date.

Complaints we can deal with - hygiene of premises

  • Dirty food premises.
  • Poor hygiene practices.
  • Sightings of rats or mice inside a food business.

Complaints we cannot deal with

  • Where there is no public health risk.
  • Where the complaint is anonymous.
  • Poor food quality (for example, over-ripe or damaged fruit and vegetables).
  • Poor customer service.
  • Food that is beyond its 'best before' date.
  • Problems caused when you did not follow the manufacturer's instructions (such as using out of date food).
  • Claims for compensation or refunds.
  • Where you have returned a product before contacting us.
  • Where you have received a replacement, refund or compensation for the item.
  • Where there is undue delay between you discovering the fault and notifying us. This is because deterioration of the food over time may make it impossible for us to investigate. This is especially the case for complaints such as food that is mouldy or food that smells off.
  • Continuity of evidence is missing - i.e., is there sufficient evidence to show that the foreign body was in the food when it left the factory or restaurant kitchen.
  • The complaint is about the presence of considered to be naturally present in the food concerned or its surrounding environment (for example, cod worms, bakery char, insects on or in fruit and vegetables and bone in meat, fish and poultry products). There are a number of foreign bodies in food that can look alarming but are naturally occurring and are usually harmless. See 'common food complaints' for more information.

Complaints that should be referred to Trading Standards

  • Improper use of additives (such as food colouring).
  • Composition, quality and nature of food (for example, sausages containing less than the minimum percentage of meat, or pollock sold as cod).
  • Incorrect food labelling, misleading claims and false description of foods.
  • Inadequate allergen information in restaurants, takeaways and cafes.

Making a complaint

What you need to know 

If you're thinking of making a complaint about food you've bought, there are certain things we need to know before we can start an investigation. Most of the information we need will relate to the history of the food since you bought it at the shop.

  • Where did you buy the food?
  • Date, time and price paid
  • Was there anyone else with you (witness)?
  • Do you have a receipt?
  • What did you do after you bought it? Did you take it straight home or go somewhere else before going home?
  • Where did you store the food when you got home?
  • Did you open it, use some and then put it back in the cupboard, fridge or freezer?
  • Did you mix it with something else to cook or serve it?
  • When did you discover there was something wrong with the food? (Date, time and place)
  • Was there anyone with you when you found there was something wrong with the food?
  • Did you eat any of the food?

We will need this information to decide whether there is 'continuity of evidence'. This is a term used to decide whether there is enough evidence to prove that the foreign body was present in the food when it left the factory or the restaurant kitchen.

We're not accusing you of deliberately putting something in your food at home! What we need to show is that it couldn't have happened accidentally in your kitchen - for example, a packet of cereal that has been open in your cupboard for a few days and then you find an insect in it; we would not be able to investigate, as we would be unable to prove the insect was there when the product was manufactured.

Other examples where there is no continuity of evidence:

  • A fly in a cheese salad sandwich you have made at home. The fly could have been in the bread, the cheese, the salad, or in your kitchen when you were making the sandwich.
  • A dead spider in a glass that you haven't used for a while, and that you find after you pour juice into the glass.
  • A mouldy tortilla wrap from a packet you have opened, that is still well within its best-before date but that you have stored in a warm and humid kitchen.

What to do with the food:

  • Keep all food and wrapping or packaging.
  • Keep perishable food refrigerated or frozen, especially if your complaint involves decomposition or off smells and tastes.
  • Don't put the food in a place where further deterioration or contamination could take place (e.g. near other foods, in the bin).
  • Leave any 'foreign object' in the food and do not handle it.

Getting the food to us:

When we make contact with you we may ask you to bring the food to Boston Borough Council offices so we can examine it. We don't recommend posting it, and we will not normally collect food complaints.

What we will do:

While we acknowledge our duty to investigate complaints, we may not immediately investigate complaints that present a low public health risk.  However, we will use the information you provide to help us identify food businesses that require urgent attention. Less urgent matters will be addressed at the next routine inspection of the food business. This approach will enable us to target our resources where there is greatest risk to public health.

For the council to take formal legal action against a food business, there must be a public health risk. Any formal action must also comply with the council's enforcement policy. 

How to make a complaint

Please email the environmental health team for a food complaint form to make a complaint about food sold in the borough, or about a Boston-based food business.  You will need to  provide full contact details: name, address, telephone number, email and a full account of the complaint or issue you would like to bring to the council's attention. Your personal details will not be passed to any third parties without your consent.

If you have a complaint about the hygiene of the food business, rather than with the food itself, please ask for a premises hygiene complaint form. 

If you come into our reception, we will give you a paper copy of the form if required. Please note that it will not be possible for you to see an officer without a prior appointment.

We aim to contact you within five working days of receiving your complaint.