Listeria and Food Poisoning

Listeria and Food Poisoning

One of the most important issues to consider as a food manager concerns listeria and food poisoning. It has a reputation as being a tricky bug to control and, for that reason, Listeria species are used as an important benchmark for the microbial quality of food by food examiners who will also look for an absence of the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria outbreaks were normally associated with meat products and unpasteurised cheeses; in fact one of the most deadly food poisoning outbreaks occurred in South Africa recently involving a processed meat product and was said to claim the lives of 216 people. More recently though, listeria has also been isolated in other foods such as frozen fruit and vegetables and pre-packed salads.

Listeria – Character and Control

Like many bacteria, thorough cooking will kill the organism and ensure food safety. It is, however, more difficult to control listeria in raw or ready-to-eat foods as the organism is able to grow at low temperatures during storage. Although, strict temperature controls will reduce microbial growth (processed products will tend to present less of an issue if they have a low pH and/or have a lower water activity). Foods that are not subject to heat treatment have the possibility of being contaminated. Contamination during preparation or after the cooking stage is likely to be one of the other reasons for listeria presence. It is therefore important that manufacturers have rigorous disinfection controls in place and ensure that personnel avoid food or environmental contamination. Minimising the shelf-life of food after processing will also minimise growth.

Raw foods should be separated from ready-to-eat foods, particularly meat and poultry. However, vegetables and fruit may also be contaminated as the bacterium is found in the environment and soil. All fruit and vegetables should be washed thoroughly and any visible physical contamination removed. Peeling root vegetables will help remove surface contamination prior to washing. Separation of tasks and proper cleaning and disinfection will help prevent cross-contamination. Once introduced to the food processing environment Listeria species can be very stubborn.

Listeriosis – Listeria and Food Poisoning

People usually contract listeriosis after having consumed food contaminated with the bacteria listeria monocytogenes. There is quite a long ranged incubation period of 7 to 70 days (the time it takes before symptoms start). Symptoms range from mild nausea, flu-like symptoms and diarrheoa to headaches, convulsions and loss of balance if the bacteria moves on from the gut.

Depending upon where you are in the world the fatality rate varies. In some countries the fatality rate is around 20% whereas others this may rise to 30% ; the variance depends upon factors such as quality of healthcare and speed of detection.

The very young, very old or immuno-compromised are most susceptible to fatality from listeriosis. Illness during pregnancy also carries a risk of miscarriage or stillbirth which is why pregnant women are warned to stay away from certain foods, such as unpasteurised cheeses, smoked fish and pates. They are also advised to stay away from farm animals, particularly during lambing season as close contact with animals does present a significant risk.

Diarrhoea, Vomiting and Food – When to Stop Working

Diarrhoea, Vomiting and Food – Are you Fit to Work?

Organisms such as bacteria and viruses can cause gastroenteritis; the symptoms of which include diarrhoea and vomiting. As the organisms multiply or are contained in the gut they can very easily be transferred to hands and surfaces (just the flushing of a toilet may cause aerosols to be transmitted). Some viruses such as norovirus can also be airborne; spread through the air from person to person. Diarrhoea, vomiting and food are not a good combination!

Even before someone becomes ill they may be infectious. In addition, after symptoms have stopped they may continue to be infectious for some time. Some organisms can live on in their host for a long time after they have appeared without them exhibiting any symptoms. ‘Typhoid Mary‘ was a cook who lived and worked in the U.S as a cook in the early part of the 20th century. During her time as a cook it is presumed that she infected 51 people with a type of salmonella commonly referred to as Typhoid. For decades she remained infectious by asymptomatic. Her case helped us understand more about how humans act as carriers of disease.

Diarrhoea, Vomiting and Food – Your Responsibilities

Most first world countries have rules relating to the fitness of personel who work drectly with food. In Europe, for example, regulations require that ‘no person suffering from, or being a carrier of a disease likely to be transmitted through food or afflicted, for example, with infected wounds, skin infections, sores or diarrhoea is to be permitted to handle food or enter any food-handling area [.]’. There are also requirements to report related illnesses or symptoms to a manager or supervisor in that business. In summary the duties are as follows:

  1. Workers
    Staff working in food handling establishments must report certain symptoms to their manager immediately.
  2. Managers
    Managers must ensure that staff exhibiting symptoms such as diarrhoea or vomiting are excluded from the working environment for an appropriate period (usually until 48 hours have passed since the last symptoms have occurred).

Food handlers will come into direct contact with food. However, it must also be recognised that anyone entering a food establishment has the potential to contaminate surfaces and equipment; which could, in turn, result in the spread of bacteria or viruses. This is why hand washing is such a priority.

In many countries screening results from blood and faecal tests are collated centrally. Any cases of serious foodborne illness are flagged up and health professionals will contact those affected to determine whether they should be excluded from work. Health care workers and food handlers are examples of people who can be stopped from working and who may be submitted to further tests to determine whether they are still carrying the organism.

Typhoid Mary was isolated by health officials for a long time as she refused to give up working as a cook. It is therefore important that workers are honest about their health so that similar events can be avoided. This can be difficult when staff are worried about a loss of pay.

Further advice on fitness to work can be found here.

E.coli O157 and Food Safety- What’s the Bug Deal?

E.coli O157 and Food Safety

You may have heard of the bug E.coli O157 but do you know why it is such a significant organism in relation to food safety? It has been implicated in a number of high profile food poisoning outbreaks involving the deaths of it’s victims; particularly vulnerable people such as the very young or elderly.

The incubation period (that is, the period it takes from consumption until the time you exhibit symptoms) can, typically be any time between one and 6 days (in some cases as long as two weeks). Not everyone exhibits serious symptoms though. Symptoms range from mild diarrhoea, fever and stomach cramps, to kidney failure and death.

E.coli is characterised by it’s low infective dose as it is possible to be infected by just a few bacteria. Other pathogens typically require hundreds or thousands of bacteria to be consumed in order to infect the consumer. For this reason it can also be transferred very easily from person to person via faecal-oral route; particularly in child-care situations.

Where does E.coli O157 it come from?

Coliforms are bacteria that are held in the gut of animals and humans. As a result, anything contaminated in faecal matter is likely to also be contaminated with coliforms. E.coli O157 is associated with farm animals, particularly, cattle. As farm animals don’t tend to be the cleanest of creatures they are likely to be contaminated with faecal matter; and there is a good chance that very small amounts of this can contaminate meat during the slaughter process.

They can also result in contamination of soil, water and dairy products. Hence water supplies have also been implicated in some outbreaks as have vegetables that have become contaminated on the farm.

Control of E.coli O157 and food safety

Controls at primary production are important; if levels of pathogens can be reduced on the farm they are less likely to be transferred to our plate. Similarly, good hygiene at the slaughter house and cutting plants will also reduce spread and further contamination. However, it is not possible to rely upon these controls and measures must be taken by manufacturers and caterers to prevent survival of E.coli O157 and any further spread by cross-contamination.

As infection is caused by consuming contaminated food or drink it is important that food be cooked thoroughly wherever possible. Any minced meat products or rolled joints must be cooked thoroughly to destroy the bacteria (including burgers). Whole cuts of read meat such as steaks or joints may be served ‘rare’ as long as the entire outer surface of the meat is cooked thoroughly. Special preparation methods (such as ‘sear and shave’ may be used in the case of steak tartare, carpaccio or other similar products).

Salads may be washed thoroughly before use; and any vegetables contaminated with soil must be peeled and rinsed where appropriate. Always avoid washing ready to eat foods such as salads in equipment that may have come into contact with raw foods.

Raw, unpasteurised, milk is a no-no. Unpasteurised dairy products and cheeses that have been processed appropriately carry a lower risk but should still be avoided (particularly if you are vulnerable or unwell).

Thorough hand washing and the prevention of cross-contamination are important; as is suitable chemical and thermal disinfection for equipment and exposed surfaces.

Usually, anyone working in a food establishment who has experienced mild gastroenteritis must not come back to work until 48 hours have expired since the last symptoms. However, it is important that workers who are known to be, or suspected to be close contacts of anyone suffering from, E.coli O157 are screened before returning to work.

Hand washing and Food Hygiene

Hand washing and Food Hygiene

Infectious Food Handlers

Poor personal hygiene (especially hand washing) is implicated as one of the most likely factors involving foodborne illnesses; above poor temperature controls and inadequate cooking controls. The problem is particularly significant when the person handling food is themselves infectious, norovirus being a particular concern. Norovirus is implicated in the largest proportion of foodborne illness cases. However, shigella and hepatitis A are also examples of organisms that infected food handlers bring to a business. The ‘faecal-oral route’ describes the course taken by the organism on its way to a host, although vomit can also present significant problems.

As a food handler may be contagious some time before and after symptoms are exhibited. it is important that a high degree of personal hygiene is maintained at all times, especially through regular and effective handwashing. However, excluding staff exhibiting symptoms, such as diarrhoea and vomitting, can help to reduce exposure.

Contaminated Food

There are also number of organisms that enter the establishment, not in the human but, in the food itself. Raw foods, particularly meat and poultry, are obvious examples. Campylobacter, salmonella and e.coli are examples of organisms that may be transferred from contaminated sources to other food and equipment by food handlers by what is commonly referred to as cross-contamination.

Again, hand washing must remain a priority at all times. Glove use can help reduce cross-contamination in certain circumstances but must be used correctly should not be relied upon.

Hand Washing

Soap and water remains the best way to reduce the spread of harmful organisms within the food business. Warm (hand-hot) running water will help shift grease and dirt and the correct washing techniques will help remove germs. Anti-bacterial hand soaps can help reduce risks. Sanitising gels or hand solutions should not be relied upon as a substitute for proper hand washing but may be effective as a secondary application.

Water flow may be initiated by sensor or knee/elbow/wrist operated taps. Where traditional hand operated taps are used it is iportant that the correct technique is used to switch off the tap (so that fingers are not re-contaminated); this is usually by disposable paper towel. Disposable paper towels are generally seen as the quickest and most hygienic method of drying hands.

If the wash hand basins are separted from other fixtures and fittings they will help prevent contaminants splashing over food or equipment.

Hand Contact Surfaces

Some hand contact surfaces present a higher risk of causing cross-contamination, for example: door handles/plates to kitchens and w/c’s, under/behind fridge handles and taps. Regular, daily, sanitising routines will help reduce the risks associated with hand-contact surfaces in all areas of the workplace (kitchens, bars and publicly accessible areas).

Toilets are a particularly high risk area. Ideally, staff should use separate facilities within an establishment in order to minimise exposure (you can, to some extent, control when staff are permitted into the establishment but have no control over members of the public and their level of personal hygiene). Toilet facilities should be well maintained and disinfected regularly. All cleaning materials and equipment used in these areas should be kept entirely separate from that used other areas of the premises (colour coding helps).

Food Safety Culture

A high percentage of food handlers do not wash their hands at appropriate times and, when they do, it is said that a third do not even use soap! Food safety training is an important first step for any business but good practice depend upon the fostering of a positive food safety culture.

  • If staff understand why they should be washing their hands frequently they are more likely to do it;
  • If staff are taught how to wash properly controls will be more effective;
  • Hand washing is easier if hand wash stations are easy to access;
  • If the organisation prioritises handwashing and places emphasis on it staff are more likely to follow suit;
  • Reminders, cues and signage can be provided to encourage hand washing; and
  • Everyone must be encouraged to prompt handwashing by others when appropriate.

Mould on Food

Mould on Food

You might appreciate the significance that bacteria or viruses have in relation to food poisoning but how much do you know about mould on food and how to avoid it?

The Significance of Moulds

Moulds can play a useful role in the production of food, take ‘blue’ cheeses as an example which if producd and handled correctly can be perfectly safe to eat. Moulds are also used to produce Quorn, a fungal protein, and some soya products.

Conversely, moulds also result in food spoilage and significant food safety risks. Some moulds can trigger allergic reactions, other moulds can produce toxins can cause food poisoning. Mycotoxins, for example, are common in cereals and nuts, and can cause a range of serious health effects.

Mould Growth

Moulds can grow on virtually any type of food and in a wide variety of conditions which is why you will find them inside very cold environments (like ice-machines) as well as in very low pH (acidic) foods such as orange juice or tinned tomatoes. Its not all fluffy and white though. Some moulds are slimy and others are shiny.

Due to the nature of moulds they spread easily and rapidly. The first sign you see might be a tiny raised green pimple of fur on the surface of a food. However, by this time it is likely that the entire surface of the food is affected and has probably penetrated well into the substance of the food. For that reason, it is never acceptable to remove or scrape off visible mould from food; any food that is contaminated with mould must be thrown away.

Preventing Mould on Food

Most moulds produce spores that are easily transported through (and are readily available in) the air but can also be transferred to food via contaminated equipment, water or ingredients. Moist foods, in particular, therefore need protection from contamination. Here are some other tips:

  • Employ a strict shelf-life control system.
  • Keep food covered or in food storage containers, where appropriate. Always remove food from cans or tins.
  • Reduce the ability for products to ‘sweat’ by removing moist air from cooking and cleaning activities (via suitable ventilation) and by keeping storage areas cool.
  • Clean premises and equipment regularly; particularly inside fridges and freezers and around seals.
  • Make sure cleaning materials and equipment is washed or replaced regularly.

The 3 day rule applying to prepared foods would usually be a sufficient limit for storing prepared/cooked foods after cooling or high risk food (that which is susceptible to spoilage) after packaging has been opened.

Flies and Food Safety

Flies and Food Safety – The Issues

The association between flies and food safety is basic stuff for all food managers. As you are no-doubt aware, houseflies and blowflies pose a particular problem for all caterers. Due to their nature, breeding patterns and habits they are able to transmit pathogenic bacteria directly via food or indirectly via contact with surfaces and equipment. You are also likely to know about their tendancy to regurgitate onto food and to deposit faecal matter. Traditionally the fruit fly has been seen as a mere nuisance. Common to bar areas, fruit flies can affect customer areas and spoil dining experiences. However, it is now recognised that they too are vectors for food poisoning organisms.

The life cycle of the fly involves the laying of multiple eggs (up to 150 at a time) which subsequently develop into larvae (maggots) before pupating in about a week or so. The pupal stage can aslt for a week or two before the adult fly emerges. The larva may hatch anything from 8 to 48 hours after laying; it is therefore important that food is not exposed to contamination by flies during preparation or storage. Food being cooled after cooking, for example, will typically be used within a maximum of a few days after preparation; this provides ample time for larvae to develop. In some cases larva can be layed directly in food as they may be held in the body of some females after hatching. However, regardless of the life cycle, the food will have become contaminated, potentially with harmful pathogens, at the point of first contact.

Flies and Food Safety – Control Measures

Physical control methods should be prioritised. Flies should be prevented from entering a building in the first instance. Double entry doors, self-closing mechanisms, closed windows and fly-screening may also help prevent ingress into catering facilties and kitchens. When staff use entrances or when deliveries are made it is important that doors be kept open for as little time as possible. Positive air pressure inside the building can also help prevent entry by pushing air out.

The outside of the building should be kept clean. Positioning of bin areas away from building entrances will help minimise access. Refuse storage areas should be kept clean and bins fitted with tightly fitting lids. Regular cleaning of hard-standing in refuse storage areas should take place.

Inside the building, all areas of the food business must be kept clean and spillages cleaned up. Non-absorbent surfaces are a must as is a well fitted structure. Drains and gullies should be cleaned out and any open waste piping removed or capped. Ultra-violet insect traps can also be used (positioned away from potential food contact) to help capture strays.

One last thing… don’t leave food out in the open – keep it covered.

When I inspect a food establishment the sight of a single fly will not lead to an infringement or penalty for the business. What I expect though is that the operator has taken sufficient preventative measures. A lack of control will lead to some form of action.

(This A to Z of pests is a nice little reference if you are interested in other pests.)

How to Start a Food Business

Starting a Food Business

Food businesses are a popular choice for budding entrepreneurs and business operators. Operating a food business from a fixed premises can be extremely hard work though; catering and hospitality involves long hours and hard work! Did you know that up to 50% of restaurants can fail in the first year of trading? Longevity is also a challenge; even famous and well established brands find it difficult to adapt to changing circumstances. Still want to start a food business?

If you are thinking of setting up a food business for the first time you probably have an idea of the type of business you want to operate and where you want to set it up. Novices to the industry generally have less of an idea of the costs involved in running a food business; the costs of a lease, business rates, taxes, employment costs and even pension contributions. They might also be a little stunned by the depth of regulation surrounding a typical high-street business.

Before you make any commitments, obtain investment funding or part with any money I highly recommend that you write a comprehensive business plan. When researching your business plan you’ll need to need to examine several key areas; including marketing, location and labour (staffing) issues.

Location of Your Food Business

The location of a business is important for a whole host of reasons. A boutique restaurant with a highly expensive menu located a residential area with a high level of deprivation wouldn’t survive for very long! A restaurant with large capacity seating (for a high number of covers) will probably need to be located in an area with a high foot-fall and not be tucked away in a quiet area off the main commercial area. Issues like car parking are also important and access to passing trade. Once you have taken the leap and signed the lease you are stuck there so it has to be the right decision from the start. Plenty of large and experienced operators get the location wrong.

Do your research. If you are dead set on the style of cuisine you wish to prepare then look at the demographic of the area; determine the average spend, whether they are likely to choose your style of cuisine and whether takeaway/delivery is a possibility (if applicable). Look at the competition already operating; are they successful and is there room for you?

Staffing in Food Businesses

Staff can be your biggest expense. A well-staffed business will have greater overheads. The amount of preparation work you undertake and extent of food created from scratch will affect the amount of resources required. So too will the number of covers.

Chefs move about in the industry frequently and it is not uncommon for a whole kitchen crew to move on at the same time (or be poached from one business to another!). What would you do if your head chef left? Could you still operate? There is not an abundance of experienced staff who are committed and trustworthy. Being situated close to labour providers can be useful. It may also be worth investing time and training on some staff who live locally.

Seasonal locations (e.g. a pub on the river relying on outdoor dining) and seasonal cuisine (e.g. an ice-cream parlour) will also determine the availability of long-term employees.

Marketing your Food Business

Once you have a business you can’t expect people to just turn up unless they know that you are there and what you offer. If you already have a good reputation in the industry that makes the job of marketing a little easier but there is still work to do. Your marketing strategy will differ according to the particulars of your business. However, a good brand identity is something that will benefit all businesses.

Social media, local press articles, leafleting, special offers and direct campaign marketing are all methods employed by businesses. Takeaways, for example, operate very well through a combination of well-known national online third party ordering websites and door-to-door leafleting within a short radius of the business.

The Building Itself

When looking for a suitable premises, refurbishing or designing a new food premises, it is important to ensure that it is designed appropriately from the start. Taking over an existing food premises may help if it was set-up correctly (although first ask yourself why it is no longer operating!). The correct planning/land use permissions may also be necessary for you to trade legally.

It should provide adequate space for the kitchen and work area. It may need to house a great deal of equipment and kitchen fixtures as well as provide sufficient space for cooking and food preparation.

Depending upon the type and scale of the operation you may require separate storage room or areas and somewhere to store chemicals away from food. It is likely that toilet facilities will need to be provided for customers if food is to be consumed on the premises. Ideally they should be separate from staff facilities and there should be enough for the capacity of the premises. Similarly, size permitting, you may need to provide a small rest area for staff and area for them to store clothes and personal items separate from the kitchen.

The premises should be designed so that staff and customers are able to escape in the event of a fire. Suitable fire precautions should also be provided. A fire risk assessment may be required for the workplace. Your local fire authority can provide details of how this should be carried out.

There should be somewhere, ideally outside, to store rubbish generated by the business and you will need a commercial waste contract with regular collections (another expense, so think about waste minimisation at the planning stage).

Kitchen Design

The design and layout of your kitchen is important for maintaining good hygiene and the health and safety of employees on site. Wall and floor surfaces should be smooth, non-absorbent and easy to clean. Slips and trips are one of the most common forms of accidents in the catering industry so it is also important that the floor surface should be of a non-slip variety. Preparation surfaces should be easy to clean and suitably constructed.

You will need sinks for washing food and equipment and a separate wash hand basin for maintaining personal hygiene – all with hot and cold running water. The wash hand basin should be positioned so that it can be accessed easily by food handling staff. Sufficient space will be necessary for cold storage in the form of fridges and refrigerators.

You will probably need some form of mechanical ventilation if you are involved in cooking activities. Ventilation systems usually comprise filtration to remove odours and ducting to channel heat and moisture away from the cooking range. Planning permission may be required for some units. Your premises should be designed to permit effective cleaning but you should also consider issues should as the work flow in order to prevent clean areas becoming contaminated and to prevent cross-contamination.

Regulatory Matters

Food Hygiene

Before you start to trade you will need to put in place a food safety management system based on HACCP principles. The law requires you to analyse your business, identify potential hazards and put in place controls to ensure that those hazards are controlled. You are also required to keep records. The complexity of the documentation depends upon the size and nature of your business. As well as the operator or manager of the premises being suitably trained food handling staff will need to be suitably trained or instructed in food hygiene for the tasks they carry out. Some level 2 food hygiene courses will provide this basic training. You will also need to instruct food handling staff in the parts of your food safety management system that they are expected to carry out.

Occupational Health and Safety

There are a number of health and safety responsibilities that apply to employers. You will need to take out employers’ liability Insurance for example and provide basic legal information to workers. You may need to document your health and safety policy. A health and safety policy sets out your objectives and the arrangements you have put in place for managing health and safety in your business. It provides basic information stating who does what, when and how. You may also have to document the findings of your risk assessments. A risk assessment is simply an examination of what, in your work, could cause harm to people. It means you can weigh up if you have taken enough precautions, or if you should do more to prevent harm. Once it has been completed you must act on the findings of your risk assessment, by putting sensible controls in place to prevent accidents and ill health and making sure they are followed. Concentrate on the areas that could pose the most risk or harm, for example:

  • Arrangements to prevent slips and trips
  • Preventing musculoskeletal issues
  • Safe use of equipment such as fryers or slicing machines
  • Electrical safety
  • Gas safety
  • The safe use of chemicals

Once you have conducted all of your risk assessments you must train staff in what is expected of them in order to ensure that they work safely and without risks to health. Despite all of your careful planning sometimes accidents can sometimes happen. Where they do you may be under a legal obligation to report them.

Food Standards

The descriptions, advertising and information you provide about the food you sell should be accurate. It is important not to mislead consumers as to the nature, quality or substance of any food you sell. You should also ensure that any of the suppliers you use are reputable. It is not recommended, for example, that you accept goods like meat or alcohol from cold-callers. You should always be able to provide proof of where any food came from and, if you supply to other food business, keep details of who you supplied, with what and how much (this is referred to as ‘traceability’). There are some requirements that relate to the size and weight of goods that you sell such as alcohol measures.

Underage sales

Rules apply to the sale of certain products, such as alcohol and tobacco as they are age restricted products. You should have an underage sales policy in place and ensure that staff are trained in its implementation. The sale of age restricted goods to under-age persons is taken very seriously and can lead to the revocation or suspension of licences as well as prosecution.

Street Trading

It is unlikely that you will be trading out on the street but if you do you may need a licence to do so. Licences are also sometimes needed if you occupy space on the highway outside your premises; particularly where you put out tables and chairs for customers or advertising boards. Best to check with the licensing authority first. Space is at a premium so this is something to consider carefully; although, if the view is lack lustre and the traffic fumes are dense you may wish to concentrate on luring diners inside.

Noise and Nuisances

Noise nuisance is an issue that can be considered at an early stage and complaints by neighbours can be avoided by considering appropriate controls at the planning stage. Sources of noise may include music, equipment, and customers (particularly outside). Nuisances can also be caused by excess cooking odours and rubbish. It is important to look after your neighbours carefully; particularly if a licence is needed to trade or sell alcohol (which can make up a considerable portion of the business income).

Summary

That was just a little taster of what is to come if you decide to embark on a journey into the world of catering and start a food business.

The Food Safety Training Requirements

Do I Need Food Safety Training?

In this article I outline advice relating to food safety training: what the law requires, who needs to do what and recommendations for good practice. There are different expectations according to what position you hold in the business, depending upon whether you are:

  • A food handler (most kitchen staff)
  • Front-of-house staff (serving and taking phone orders)
  • Managers and operators

Food Safety Training for Food Handlers

European law states that operators must ensure that food handlers working in food businesses are “supervised and instructed and/or trained in food hygiene matters commensurate with their work activity”.

In other words, anyone handling open food must either be sufficiently:

  • supervised and instructed; or
  • trained; or
  • both of the above.

There is no compulsion for operators to enrol all food handling staff on formal training courses as long as adequate instruction or training is provided in-house (e.g. by the operator, chef or manager). However, accredited food hygiene training courses are widely used and accepted as the industry standard.

Proving that your staff have received adequate instruction can be difficult without being able to produce a certificate for each member. Evidence of training also helps support a defence if things go wrong.

When a food safety inspector visits supervisors and food handlers may be asked questions to see whether staff are suitably instructed or trained, and whether operations are carried out safely and in accordance with planned arrangements. They are also likely to request to see training records or certificates if you have them. So be prepared!

The Level 2 Food Safety for Catering course is widely acknowledged as the industry standard for food handlers and will help towards demonstrating that you have taken steps to comply with legal requirements.

Where to Find Food Safety Training for Food Handlers

Level 2 courses taught in person are usually run over the course of a minimum of 6 hours contact with the tutor. They are followed by a short multiple choice exam which must be passed in order to be awarded a certificate.

However, many people now are opting for the speed, convenience and cost of online training. Online training can be accessed more than once and undertaken between shifts.

In-house Instruction or Training

Before food handlers start work they should be given some basic training to ensure that they are safe to carry out simple tasks. Suggested topics include:

  • personal hygiene and hand washing
  • fitness to work
  • temperature controls and monitoring
  • cross-contamination
  • cleaning and disinfection procedures
  • labelling and date-coding
  • control of allergens
  • other important safety instructions identified through the HACCP procedure

This may need to be complemented with instructions relating to pre-requisites such as waste disposal arrangements, food storage and pest control/awareness.

Anyone carrying out training or instruction on-site should be competent to carry out that task. Larger companies and multi-site businesses often have their own training programmes in place and will have formal arrangements and resources in place to assist in this process.

If you do carry out training yourself you will also need to structure your training appropriately. It is also a good idea to keep a record of when important aspects of your food hygiene instruction or training are completed. Our training resources help you deliver training in-house.

Remember that staff will still need to be given instruction in the parts of the food safety management system that they are responsible for carrying out.

Food Safety Training for Front-of House Staff

Staff who undertake limited roles or restricted food handling activities are not expected to undertake formal training (this includes front of house staff who serve or wait on customers or bar staff, for example). They will, however, need to have been given a certain amount of instruction to enable them to undertake their jobs safely and hygienically (e.g. they must understand the rules applying to personal hygiene or any cleaning tasks they carry out).

However, it is becoming more important that ALL staff are trained in matters relating to the control of allergens. Front-of-house staff have just as important a role in managing allergen issues as kitchen staff.

Food Safety Training for Supervisors, Managers and Owners

The responsibilities for food safety training don’t stop there. Whilst the Level 2 course is generally considered an acceptable level of training for food handlers, the Level 3 courses takes that knowledge further and has been developed specifically for those with supervisory or managerial responsibilities. Once trained to Level 3 standard supervisors may be able to instruct food handling staff more effectively.

The law also requires that “those responsible for the development and maintenance of the HACCP procedure have received adequate training in the application of the HACCP principles”.

In most small or independent this will often be the proprietor or owner of the business but can sometimes be the manager. The good thing is that Level 3 courses in food safety will include suitable content on HACCP and food safety management and will help satisfy this legal requirement.

In the classroom Level 3 courses are traditionally delivered over 3 days and, as a result, are more expensive and time consuming. The online Level 3 course provides several advantages over courses undertaken in person; not least in time and convenience.

In Summary

Food handling staff – Level 2 training in food safety for catering

Front-of-house staff – Allergen training

Supervisors, managers and owners – Level 3 training

HACCP and Food Safety Management Procedures

What is HACCP and What are Food Safety Management Procedures?

Did you know that food safety boils down to the use of a single acronym? Yes, the term ‘HACCP’ has been enshrined in European legislation for many years now. European law (based on international standards) requires food operators to put in place food safety management procedures based on HACCP principles and businesses who are involved in the preparation of open food are expected to have a grip on it.

The term HACCP stands for ‘Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point’ and is based on a theoretical and practical approach to food safety management. It sounds more complicated than it actually is; essentially it refers to the systematic approach taken by a business when they analyse what could go wrong and what measures need to be put in place to ensure that food remains safe.

What does HACCP involve?

The following steps outline the HACCP process:

  1. Identify potential hazards at each stage of the operation and develop measures to control them.
  2. Establish critical control points (CCPs are points in a process at which hazards can be controlled or eliminated).
  3. Determine critical limit(s) for each CCP (these are thresholds like temperature limits that must be met in order to maintain safety).
  4. Establish systems to monitor those controls.
  5. Formulate corrective actions (i.e. outline what must be done when things go wrong).
  6. Establish verification procedures for the whole HACCP system (check that it is working effectively).
  7. Document procedures related to the aforementioned principles.

It is also worth mentioning the hygiene pre-requisites. Once you have an awareness of the pre-requisites that are outlined in the law the HACCP process can be simplified. They comprise of a number of specific requirements standing outside of the HACCP process which must be complied with regardless of your analysis. These are known as the ‘pre-requisites’ and they constitute a baseline standard for food safety in catering establishments.

Many of the pre-requisite requirements relate to matters such as the structure of the premises, training and food contamination. It is these prerequisites which underpin a HACCP system. As a result, as long as these are being complied with separately, it may not be necessary to consider these requirements within your HACCP procedures. However, in the catering sector, both HACCP and pre-requisite elements are often included in food safety management systems in order to provide a more comprehensive approach to food safety.

Why do food safety procedures?

Food safety inspectors will identify the absence of a documented food safety management procedures as a contravention in many businesses. In some countries the absence of a suitable this will restrict your ability obtain a good hygiene rating. If you don’t comply with the law enforcement action can be taken; which may subsequently lead to a fine.

The systematic approach to food safety has improved the management of risk in food businesses and prevents people from getting food poisoning. As such it makes sense, that if you are serious about protecting public health, that you invest time and resources to the process. Financially, it also makes sense. The costs of a poor reputation, legal action or civil claims for food poisoning can easily put an end to any business.

What are your options for food safety procedures?

If you are in a situation where you need to document food safety management procedures (and every catering business must) you have three options:

a) Do some basic training or research and attempt it yourself;
b) Choose an ‘off-the shelf’ (or ‘ready-made’) package and implement it in your business;
c) Use or appoint a consultant to help you draw up your food safety management procedures.

The first option is a good option for those who run independent businesses and are confident in their abilities. Many managers and operators will have already undertaken a degree of training in this area (there are legal requirements for those responsible for this task to be suitably trained) and are able to use the knowledge that they have accrued to good use.

‘Off-the-shelf’ packs will make the task simpler and quicker. In the UK, for example, there is a system called ‘Safer Food Better Business’. The pack is designed for operators of catering establishments like pubs, restaurants, takeaways and cafes to complete themselves. You can find a ready-completed example here that makes the task even simpler. The third option is to turn to a food safety consultant for help.

(A further overview of HACCP can be found here).

Top 20 Tips for Success With Food Safety

My Top 20 Tips for Food Safety Success

One of the most common cause of failures at the food hygiene inspection will be in not documenting HACCP procedures (or food safety management procedures). Other frequently flagged issues involve a lack of temperature monitoring, a lack of food hygiene awareness (training), poor cleanliness and inadequate controls to prevent cross-contamination. Food safety success doesn’t come easily.

There are many areas where you can fall foul of the legislation and invite the disapproval of a food safety inspector. When I’m auditing a business I have about 100 different areas that I look into but let’s make it simple. Try using the following 20 questions as a quick compliance checklist to see how well you are doing. I’ve broken the questions down into three key subject areas; structural issues, hygiene and safety practices, and management issues.

Structural Issues

1. Is the internal structure in good repair and condition?
2. Are walls, floors and food surfaces made of materials that are easy to clean?
3. Is there a separate wash hand basin in use in food prep areas?
4. Do all sinks and basins have a hot water supply?
5. Is the premises free from pests?
6. Do you have separate storage for raw and ready to eat food?

Hygiene and Safety Practices

7. Are all areas, fixtures and equipment kept clean?
8. Do you have hand soap and paper towels at all wash hand basins?
9. Do you know why and when a food handler might need to be excluded?
10. Do staff understand the term ‘cross-contamination’ and know how to prevent it?
11. Are raw foods and ready-to-eat foods stored and prepared separately?
12. Is the shelf-life of food controlled (e.g. by date coding)?
13. Are staff clear about what to do if someone inquiries about an allergen?
14. Are disinfectants or sanitisers being used properly?

Management Issues

15. Do you have a documented food safety management system in place?
16. Do you have up to date records in place (e.g. temperature records)?
17. Have food handling staff received food hygiene training?
18. Do have sufficient knowledge of your food hygiene responsibilities?
19. Have you always completed previous requirements and recommendations?
20. Do you exhibit a positive attitude towards food hygiene?

HOW DID YOU SCORE?

If you answered “NO” to more than a few of the above questions you are unlikely to be managing food safety effectively. However, it does depend upon the degree of seriousness associated with each non-compliance.

(Find out more about starting a food business).