Food Sampling

We take food samples from food businesses to help make sure that what we eat is safe and wholesome. We may take samples either

  • routinely
  • as part of an investigation into a complaint,
  • to monitor how effective a manufacturing process is,
  • following a food poisoning outbreak; or
  • as part of a national programme looking at a particular problem which is recognised across the country.

Microbiological examination of food allows us to compare the levels of different bacteria found against those we expect to find in similar types of product. This helps us to assess whether the food was handled hygienically, stored correctly or would be a risk to health if consumed.

Why is sampling carried out?

Sampling helps assess the safety of food produced or handled by a business and also the safety of the environment where food is produced/manufactured. 

The results provide information on whether food was handled hygienically, stored properly, or would be a risk to health if consumed.

Read our Food Sampling Policy Here.

Shellfish Harvesting Area Classification Sampling

South Hams area contains a number of commercial shellfish farms and offshore shellfisheries producing oysters, mussels and clams.  It is a valuable local industry.  The council is legally responsible for sampling shellfish from these locations in order to monitor for microbiological quality and presence of algal toxins. 

The areas are then classified by the Food Standards Agency into categories that reflect the water quality, based upon these shellfish sample results.

If results fail to meet the required standards we have the power to restrict the harvesting of shellfish. Further information can be found on the CEFAS Shellfisheries Water Quality website.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I always know if a sample has been taken?

No. Sampling visits are not usually booked, and not always announced - sometimes samples are purchased as normal customers would do.

What happens to the sample once the officer has visited?

The sample is submitted to the Public Health England laboratory for microbiological examination.

Will I be informed of the sampling result?

All food sampling results will be notified to the relevant business, in writing either by post or by email.

What happens if my results are unsatisfactory?

We are normally notified by telephone if the laboratory isolates high levels of indicator or pathogenic organisms (i.e. potentially harmful bacteria).

We would then work with the business to try to identify the source of the problem. We may take further formal food samples.

What do the sample results in my letter mean?

An explanatory leaflet should be enclosed with your letter. It tells you about your results and any action you need to take if your sample is considered borderline or unsatisfactory.