Indeed, a challenge posed by the new legion of at-home businesses is that even if a physical inspection is required, a 24-hour warning has to be given because it is a private address, so the surprise element is lost.
The Rise of The ‘New’ Small Business Owner in CoVid
Back in October? November we reported that the UK was looking towards a perfect storm, where people were being made redundant and setting up their own businesses. It seems attractive as because of lockdown restrictions, not having to have premises has made it ‘easier’ to do business. But with that comes a space that gets smaller and smaller with more and more competition.
In December 2020 over 13,000 new businesses had been registered compared to over 11,00 the previous year. 2,000 doesn’t seem a lot until you look at the data and see that at peek times in 2020, 18,000 businesses had been registered versus 11,000 the previous year.
So whilst we champion the rise of the small businesses in the UK, other small business owners need to begin to think more strategically about how they do business and as importantly, how not to cut corners. Many businesses won’t carry with them a health warning, but food and hospitality do carry consequences should people get ill, despite the best intentions of the new business owner.
Resources are Really ‘Stretched’
About 44% of new food businesses started since the first lockdown are home-based, according to a new centralised online registration system used by nearly 200 local authorities, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has revealed. The full picture will be clearer when all local authorities report their registration figures in the new financial year in April.
“The growth of at-home food businesses is a concern,” the FSA said. “Local authority resources are already stretched and many are finding it difficult to keep on top of the workload [these at-home food businesses] are generating,” says Michael Jackson, the FSA’s head of regulatory compliance.
Some people are starting food businesses from their home because they have lost work and need to generate income – including professional chefs who have been hit by the closure of restaurants.
Others are on furlough and have time to set up “side hustles”. Takeaway eating and the idea of cooking for neighbours in need has also become more common in lockdown.
As well as social media platforms, websites such as Olio and Cook My Grub also now allow this new army of at-home food entrepreneurs to find customers, selling everything from cakes to Sunday roasts.
The Rules Are There For Everyone
Every new food business must register before it starts selling food. Once registered with the local authority, an environmental health officer can visit in person and this eventually leads to an official food hygiene rating of 0-5 (or pass-fail in Scotland). The business can still trade prior to gaining its rating.
However, the rating is a vital tool for customers to gauge the safety of an establishment and can be a selling point.
Indeed, many new at-home food businesses that are well-run and take hygiene seriously are frustrated that they haven’t been able to secure a rating yet, due to the backlog.
“Our advice to people when ordering food online is to check that the business has a food hygiene rating and choose only those with a rating of 3 or above, this can be checked on our website,” says Mr Jackson of the FSA. “If a consumer has any doubts about a food seller or a food product, they should report them to the local authority,” he adds.
And here is a warning for the newest of small business owners thinking that this is a great way to make money in a lockdown, ”Where sellers do not follow the rules, they may be fined, imprisoned for up to two years, or both.”