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The Nationwide Caterers Association

Safe & Legal Checklist

14 things every food business needs to do to be safe and legal

Safe and Legal Checklist

Every catering business in the UK must adhere to a series of legal requirements in order to trade. Follow these steps and you'll make sure that your catering business gets off to a safe and legal start.

Make sure that you're operating under legal guidelines; follow this handy checklist!

1. Register with your Local Authority.
Register with your local authority

It's a legal requirement to register your business with the Environmental Health Department in your Local Authority prior to trading. It is good practice to do so and NCASS recommends that you register at least 28 days before you begin trading.

Within your first three months of trading, a representative from your Environmental Health Department will visit your premises and carry out an inspection to ensure that you are trading legally and safely. If you need to make any changes, they'll let you know. You'll find more information about what you need for an inspection here.

2. Register your business with HMRC.
Register as a business

You need to get the right legal and tax structure to make your business work properly. When you set up your new catering business, you should select a business structure which best suits your needs. Your options include:


  • Limited Company

  • Limited Liability Partnership

  • Partnership

  • Sole Trader

Just make sure that you opt for the best structure for your business and consider both the advantages and pitfalls of each one. Once you have decided on the option most relevant to your business, you must also register with HMRC and set up a kook keeping system. > Find out more about that here

3. Make sure you have all of your trading licences.

Whatever your business is offering, chances are you'll need a licence for it. Alcohol, entertainment, selling hot food and drink late at night and selling food on the street all require different licences. Make sure that you speak to your local authority about which licences your business requires and then apply as early as possible for any that you need.

4. Make sure your premises are compliant with all health and safety requirements.
Make sure your design and construction are complient

Your business premises must be well-maintained, minimise air-borne contamination, provide enough work space per person, protect against dirt, allow for good food hygiene practices and provide suitable food-handling conditions. Within your NCASS due diligence folder, you'll find a number of health and safety policies and risk assessments to carry out and maintain to help you make sure your premises are always compliant with the law.

5. Get ship shape with HMRC.

As well as registering your business with HMRC you'll need to register for self-assessment. It's really important that you keep records of all your business income and expenses; you'll regret it when you come to do your tax return if you don't. And if your business has a turnover of £83,000 or more, you'll need to register for VAT too.

6. Get insurance covers (and get it 100% right).

It is a legal requirement for caterers to have employers' liability insurance, if they employ one or more members of staff (including anybody working on a voluntary basis). Each day without cover can draw fines of up to £2,500. Employers' liability insurance protects business owners against the cost of compensation claims arising from employee illness or injury which have been sustained as a result of their work.

All caterers should also have public liability insurance which protects business owners should customers or members of the public suffer personal injury or damage to their property as the result of their business. Public liability insurance covers the cost of legal expenses and compensation claims too.

There are several other types of insurance that many caterers should have in place before they begin trading. If you're looking for honest, expert advice from a specialist insurer, look no further than our partners at NCASS Insurance. Give us a call on 0121 603 2524 and we'll talk you through everything you need to know about catering insurance, and make sure your business is protected in every situation.

7. Get the right catering equipment to suit your needs.

All items which come into contact with food must be comprised of safe materials, cleaned effectively, well-maintained and fitted with appropriate control devices (like thermocouples) wherever necessary.

All your gas equipment must be CE marked and have a flame failure advice to cut the flow of gas if a flame goes out. There's a lot to get your head around when it comes to choosing the right equipment for your restaurant. If you'd like help deciding what you need or would like to have a chat to someone who knows her griddles inside out and her bain maries like the back of her hand, give our resident equipment expert Penny a call on 0121 603 2524.

You'll also find lots of helpful information about individual products for sale at

8. Get a gas safety certificate from a registered Gas Safe engineer.

All gas equipment which is used for catering purposes must be installed, inspected and tested annually by a Gas Safe engineer. This is a legal requirement and applies to ALL caterers. Engineers will inspect your equipment and issue you with a certificate if your equipment is safe and legal to use.

Before you choose your engineer, you must use the Gas Safe register to make sure that they are qualified in the field and product that you need them to work on. For example, to sign off an LPG-fuelled expansion boiler the engineer needs to be qualified in “Commercial catering pressure/expansion boilers LPG”. Whereas, if the appliance is a range cooker inside a kitchen that runs on natural gas then the qualification would need to be “Commercial Catering Range Cookers NG”.

Fixed site caterers will generally be looking for the following qualifications:

  • Commercial catering fat & pressure fryers LPG
  • Commercial catering fat & pressure fryers NG
  • Commercial catering fish & chip rangers LPG
  • Commercial catering fish & chip rangers NG
  • Commercial catering forced draught burners LPG
  • Commercial catering forced draught burners NG
  • Commercial catering pressure/expansion boilers LPG
  • Commercial catering pressure/expansion boilers NG
  • Commercial catering range cookers LPG
  • Commercial catering range cookers NG
9. Get an electrical certificate.

Legislation dictates that all employers must provide safe business premises and equipment. NCASS therefore recommends that all catering premises undergo an electric safety check to verify the safety of all installed appliances.

Periodic inspections should also be carried out every 6 to 12 months in order to ensure continued safety. These can be provided by any NIC / IEC registered electrician, as can the PAT (Portable Appliance Test). The electric safety tests determine the safety of your electrical installation, while PAT testing is concerned with portable appliances.

10. Create and maintain a food risk assessment based on HACCP.
Create a food safety risk assessment

All food businesses in the European Union must have an appropriate food safety risk assessment based on HACCP (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points) principles. Doing this will help you to maintain and follow a food safety management system which will lead you to operate a safe and legal food business.

11. Operate a food safety management system/due diligence system.
Operate a food safety management system

A food safety management system is a vital tool for all caterers. Having one in place ensures that you have a record of the policies and procedures to which you must adhere in order to keep your staff and customers safe at all times. As a caterer, a food safety management system is likely your only line of defence in the unfortunate event of prosecution, so it is essential that your food safety management system is relevant to your business.

The NCASS Due Diligence System is a food safety management system that has been audited and assured by a Government department. It covers food safety, health and safety, COSSH (control of substances hazardous to health), fire safety and employment for caterers. Not only will this help you to understand and assess the risks associated with running your business, but it will also ensure that you have plans in place which are designed to minimise risks and liabilities in any eventuality.

> Find out more about the NCASS Due Diligence System here

12. Get appropriate food hygiene and safety training for you and your staff.

All staff members within your catering business must receive training that is appropriate for their position within the company.

This ensures that each staff member is operating safely, legally and effectively. If you're unsure as to whether you or your staff require further training, just take a look at our Training Area.

13. Sort out your human resources.

A happy workforce makes a happy workplace. And it makes your processes run smoothly too. For starters, you'll need to make sure you've got policies in place to cover all aspects of HR, including employment terms, sick pay and even maternity matters. You want to make sure you know how to act whatever situation should arise.

It's really important that you pay every member of staff at least the National Minimum Wage, keep records of employees' pay and pay VAT and National Insurance contributions on their behalf.

14. Get the right hand washing facilities.

By law, all food business must have separate hand and pot washing facilities. Staff failing to wash their hands regularly is a key cause of cross contamination and food poisoning. Subsequently, it is a legal requirement for all catering units to have appropriate hand washing facilities. Anti Bacterial Gel is not accepted by Environmental Health Officers as an appropriate method of cleaning hands. 

If you need a mobile hand-washing solution then take a look at our store pages.

Catering law matters

Compliance minimises risk to your customers and staff as well as to you and your business. With more than 30 years of experience under our belt, NCASS is well placed to help you run your food business legally and safely. Trade legally and you’re in the best position to trade safely.

All the information, tools, training and legislation updates you need to trade legally are waiting for you in your NCASS membership package. We go the extra mile to ensure that our members can trade legally whilst fulfilling their passion: cooking delicious food.

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