The role of environmental health officers (EHOs) in the inspection of food premises


According to McGee (2014), one of the essential element of human existence is food, which is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for the body. It contains essential nutrient such as fat, vitamin, protein, minerals and when assimilated by the organism’s cell provide energy, maintain life and stimulate growth.

World Health Organization (2010) stated that food should at all time be prepared, putting in place standard condition and measures necessary to ensure the safety of food from production to consumption. Stressing that food handler should be aware that food can become contaminated at any point during slaughtering or harvesting, processing, storage, distribution, transportation and preparation. Lack of adequate food hygiene can lead to food borne disease and death of the consumer.

Carpenter and Finley (2009) stated that to ensure adequate food hygiene and safety, food especially those meant for commercial purposes must be adequately inspected to ensure that they are wholesome and clean product which are free from unsafe microbes or chemical contamination, natural or added deleterious substances and decomposition during production, processing, packaging etc.

Oftentimes, food meant for sale and human consumption are displayed in open container, thereby exposing the food to contamination by dust, flies, bacteria’s and other micro-organism, while some food are under cooked. Similarly there have been increasing number of cases of food borne disease over the years as a result of low literacy level likely level, poor personal and environmental hygiene and I don’t care attitude possessed by food handlers as filthy environment creates a favorable environment for the spread of food borne disease.

According to Olojoba (2009), indiscriminate management of solid waste and waste water result in infestation of fly egg and larvae. Olojoba went further to explain that flies could perch on feces and also thrive on food and subsequently contaminate man’s food thus, transmitting diseases such as cholera, bacillary dysentery, amoeba dysentery, typhoid and paratyphoid fever, diarrhea etc.

Food premises inspection

Marion (2007) defined food premises inspection as an official visit carried out on a routine basis by an environmental health officer into any food establishment, food preserving premises in order to examine and determine the sanitary condition of food prepared and served to the public so as to ascertain the wholesome of the food.

Anne (2007) stated that Environmental Health Officer carry out inspections for food facilities, including restaurants, stating that food inspection occurs at the federal, states and local levels. Food control initiatives are aimed at preventing food borne disease through safe food management.

The facilities which should be inspected routinely include restaurants, hospitals, and care facilities, bakeries, stores, hotels including temporary event where food is sold.

The purpose of the inspection is to ensure that food is being handled properly from receiving through preparation to serving. The Environmental Health Officer, observe kitchens handlers and ensure that equipment is maintained in good operating condition (Smith, 2007).

Jain and Sunil (2011) stated that society can be healthy if people are taught and persuaded to understand and practice tips of healthy living rather than depending on medicine and visiting hospitals on falling ill due to poor living style.

Food poisoning

This term is used to describe an illness resulting from the ingestion of food that is inherently poisonous or has become contaminated with a toxic substance or has been contaminated with pathogenic bacteria (Aibor & Olorunda, 2007).

Mayo Clinic (2014) defined food poisoning as an illness caused by eating contaminated food. Stating that infections organism can contaminate food during processing or production. Contamination can also occur at home, if food is incorrectly handled or cooked.  Food poisoning symptoms which can start within hours of eating contaminated food include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

Type of food poisoning

  1. Natural food poisoning: Fungal toxins or mycotoxins are poisoning caused by the infestation of fungus contaminated food e.g fungus infected material, mould grains, seeds. It causes hemorrhage in many tissues.
  2. Bacteria food poisoning: Is a poisoning which is caused by the presence in food of harmful bacteria or poisonous substance produce by them. There bacterial get into food through man, domesticated animals, cockroach and rats etc.

There are different types of bacterial food poisoning. These are:

  • Staphylococcus
  • Clostridium botulinun
  • Bacillus cereus
  • Clostridium perfringes
  • Salmonella

3. Chemical food poisoning: Normally occur when food is contaminated with tin, zinc, copper lead or arsenic. Chemical poisoning is characterized generally by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, camps etc. The pause is weak, breathing is shallow and there may be convulsion and eventually coma.

4. Viral food poisoning: Certain virus which causes vomiting can be transmitted by water and food.

Reasons for non-compliance with law guiding food preparations and handling

The following are some of the reasons for non-compliance with laws guiding food preparation and handling:

Self neglect of food premises operation

According to Jacob (2012) self neglect is a behavioral condition in which an individual (food premises operator) fails to attend to their basic needs such as personal hygiene, appropriate clothing or tending appropriately to any medical condition they have. Self neglect is also the inability to maintain a socially accepted standard of cleanliness or self care. The characteristics and behavior of living in self neglect include unkempt personal appearance, living and working in unclean environment and unwillingness to take medications when ill.

Lack of knowledge of food premises operators

According to Hornby (2010), knowledge is the information, understanding and skill that you gain through education or experience. It is also defined as the state of knowing about a particular fact or situation.

Kim (2009) stated that lack of knowledge is when food premises operators do not have the information, understanding and skill about those basis and important hygiene practices that must be carried out to ensure that food meant for sale is free from contamination.  Lack of knowledge of good personal hygiene practice by food handlers will lead to food contamination thereby resulting to food borne disease or food poisoning.

Lack of resources

This is one of the causes of poor hygiene practice in food premises. Lack of resources to acquire the knowledge on good hygiene practice and also those things needed for the maintenance of their health will result to food premises becoming un-kept which may lead to food contamination.

Poor habits of food handlers

Tonder (2007) explains that there are various means whereby food can become contaminated by food handlers without them knowing. The following are means by which food can be contaminated by food handlers:

  1. Linking of fingers
  2. Spitting in and around food premises.
  3. Sneezing and coughing over food.
  4. Touching of body such as mount, nose or hair.
  5. Blowing or picking of nose etc.


Areas to be inspected during inspection

The general area inspected by food inspections officers as stated by city of Brownvile Public Health Department (BPOC) (2015) include:

  1. Food preparation area: Food handling procedure.
  2. What they use in washing their utensils.
  3. Food storage area.
  4. Food storage area
  5. Facilities
  6. Source of water supply etc.


Role of environmental health officers in inspection of food premises

According to Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria (2007), the following are functions or role of environment in inspection of food premises.

  1. Routine inspection of food premises prior to the commencement of operation.
  2. To abate nuisance in food preparation premises.
  3. Safe transportation of food, ensuring that the food vendors are medically and physically fit to handle food meant for public consumption.
  4. Inspection of registered food preparation premises in order to ensure that the required standard of food hygiene is attained and maintained thus removing all possible condition which may lead to the contamination of food during preparation, production, sales or consumption.
  5. The environmental health officers also play a vital role, ensuring that all opening in food premises is being screened to prevent flies and other vermins and all external doors shall be made self closing.


  1. In conclusion, proper inspection should be carried out on food and food premises by Environmental Health Officers.
  2. Food should be properly covered, to prevent flies and dust coming in contact with it.
  3. There should be sanitary latrine at least 30 m away from any food premises.
  4. Waste should be properly covered and dispose of at the end of the day activities.
  5. Perishable food should be properly covered and stored in the refrigerator to prevent flies infestation.
  6. Individuals suffering from infections disease should not handle food meant for human consumption and should seek for prompt medical attention.


Having viewed critically the role of Environmental Health Officers in the inspection of food premises, I thereby recommend the following.

  1. The government should employ adequate numbers of environmental health officers in order to reduce their work load.
  2. Every EHO’s should be aware of their responsibility and to ensure effective enforcement of the public health law.
  3. There should be periodic health education of food handlers on the importance of food hygiene by environmental health officers.
  4. Any food items found to be contaminated during the course of inspection should be seized condemned and disposes of sanitarily.
  5. The license of any environmental health officer found collecting bribe instead of doing his/her duty should be withdrawn.
  6. The government should enact laws to regulate the environmental health officers so as to know their effectiveness in the field.


Aibor, M. S. & Olorunda, J. O. (2007). Technical Handbook of Environmental Health in the 21st Century for Professionals and Students. Lagos: Divine Favour Publishing Company, pp 189-191.

Anne, J. (2007).  International Public Health: Disease, Programs, Systems, and Policies. London: Jones and Bartlett

Carpenter, R. A.  & Finley, C. E. (2009). Healthy Eating Every Day. New York: Human Kinetics

City of Brownsville Public Health Department (2015). Inspection Process: A Proceeding of Charro Day Workshop 2015. Retrieved on 5th October, 2015 from

Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria (2007). National Guidelines on Environmental Health Practices in Nigeria, established bt Act 11of 2002. pp 11-12

Hornby, A. S. (2010). Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. (8th ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jacob, M. (2012). Safe Food Handling: A Training Guide for Managers of Food Establishment. New York: Facts on File.

Jain, R. & Sunil, S. (2011). Industrial Safety Health and Environmental Management System (3rd ed). New Delhi: Romesh Chander Khana.

Kim, S. (2009), Food Safety: Introduction to Personal Hygiene, retrieved from on 8th October,  2015.

Marion, N. (2007). Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, California: University Press

Mayo Clinic (2014). Definition of Food Poisoning. Retrieves on 5th October, 2015 from

McGee, H. (2014). On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Simon and Schuster

Olojoba, A. O. (2009). Millennium Technology in Waste Management and Environmental Pollution Mitigation. Ughelli: Ama Ohoror, pp 44.

Smith, A.  (2007). “Food Inspection,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tonder B. (2007) the Personal and General Practices of Food Handlers in Delicatessen Sections of Retail Outlet in South Africa. Journal of Environment Health. 84 (3), 119-27.

WHO (2010). Food Hygiene, retrieved on 4th October, 2015 from

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