With the country in lockdown and having more spare time than ever before, there has been a concerning rise in food businesses operating out of people’s homes and selling on social media. Many of these businesses have been set up by people who have lost their jobs or are on furlough, including professional chefs hit by the closure of restaurants. Instead of opening the next market stall or restaurant, they are using the power of Instagram and Facebook to try and succeed in the crowded market.

However, the food safety watchdog has issued an alert that Britons could be putting their health at serious risk as many of these ‘home-cookers’ are not registering as official food businesses, meaning that their food hygiene arrangements are not checked. They are operating under the radar and often you won’t find any trace of them outside of Instagram, not even a website. They simply post a picture of something freshly prepared and the rest of the conversations happens on a ‘DM’ to decide on the price and the location from where the order is to be picked up.

All food businesses must register with their local authority at least 28 days before opening. Even if you do not define yourself as a food business, if you are providing food on a “regular and organised” basis, then you need to register (whether the food is given away free or sold). Once registered, an environmental health officer would normally visit your home to conduct a food hygiene inspection. Due to the current restrictions, food hygiene inspections are currently being carried out via video call, but this is not as effective as you cannot spot things like out-of-date ingredients.

Those not following the rules may be fined, imprisoned for up to two years, or both. But even those who are registering are often not getting an inspection – despite new businesses usually being a priority – because local authority resources are already stretched due to the pandemic. This is allowing these food businesses to go unnoticed by the authorities and they could be endangering customers.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has branded home-cooked food sellers as “dangerous”. As a result, some have called for changes to the law so that food businesses cannot trade until they have been inspected. There have been no reported outbreaks of food poisoning connected to new home businesses so far. However, the FSA wants the public to be aware of the risks. When ordering food online, however delicious it looks under an Instagram filter, check that the business has a good food hygiene rating.