Kent Food Safety

Kent Food Safety
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Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Food hygiene ratings: should displaying them be mandatory?

Should the display of Food Hygiene Ratings be mandatory?

It has been talked about increasingly that the display of food hygiene ratings will become mandatory. But should they? And will it make any difference?

It is a legal requirement in Wales and Northern Ireland that hygiene ratings are displayed, with ratings now required to be displayed on takeaway leaflets in Wales.

A lot is talked about how the display of hygiene ratings will improve hygiene in food premises. Overall I am inclined to agree but feel there is more to it than that.

What improves hygiene?

I recently graduated from my environmental health degree and my dissertation was looking at whether accredited food hygiene training affects hygiene in food premises. At least that was the plan. However from when I first started researching the subject it was clear that there was a lot more to it than just training. And I feel it this the same for food hygiene ratings. My initial research looked at not just training, but at various methods that are used for measuring food hygiene in food premises. Some countries have mandatory display of hygiene ratings, some release the report from the businesses hygiene inspection. Some countries have a requirement for some, or all food handlers to have a certain level of hygiene training, but with all of these options, the question still remains how do you assess the effectiveness of these schemes – I.e. How do we actually know what will increase food hygiene standards?

How to assess hygiene standards?

Is hygiene assessed by the lack of reported illness? But we know that food poisoning is vastly under-reported. Is hygiene standards assessed by the most recent food hygiene inspection? But this is only a snapshot of the hygiene standards in that businesses at one particular moment in time – maybe only assessed by an inspector spending a few hours in that premises.

Having a lot of experience as a chef, trainer and kitchen manager for large brands, I, like a lot of people, know exactly what is required to achieve a “5” hygiene rating. Does that mean because I may know how to play the system and get a “5” that I can run a particularly hygienic food premises?

Food hygiene ratings are based on more than just cleanliness. The FSA ratings are based on three sections;

-          hygiene practices (procedures to prevent cross-contamination, temperature control procedures etc)
-          structure, cleaning and pests
-          Confidence in management (your documented HACCP system, level of training of food handlers and track record)

Some businesses have been awarded a low rating, that on the face of it may seem to suggest unhygienic practices, because they do not have a documented food safety management system in place (HACCP).

Check out the ratings of your local food businesses at 

But the public are not always aware of what the rating is for. A good media headline may sell papers and “name and shame” premises with a low hygiene rating, but this does not always give the full picture.

I would personally prefer to eat at a business that has a few structural defects, doesn't have all of their paperwork in place, but has very good hygiene practices, rather than a business that has a fully documented HACCP system in place (a food safety management system) and no flaking paint – but doesn't have good hygiene practices.

"It`s easy to get a good hygiene rating....."

I have been auditing a business recently that, on first glance, has a fantastic set of documents that could be used to support a defence in the event of a food poisoning allegation and may help to achieve a better hygiene rating. However, dig a little deeper and you can see that their records are a sham. Cooling down records that allegedly demonstrate food was cooled down quickly. However when looking in more detail you have to question exactly how a large joint of meat can be cooled down in 30 minutes to below 5°C within 30 minutes?! And all without a blast chiller… Consider that with the fact there has been another recent food poisoning fatality in the media – caused by slow cooling at room temperature.

Will it improve hygiene?

I do believe that making premises display their hygiene ratings will contribute to better hygiene overall. But I don't think that it is the be all and end all that some media stories and reports on the matter would have you believe.

I found, during my research for my dissertation that having a mandatory level of training of all food handlers made very little difference to overall levels of food hygiene. However, in some states in Australia and the U.S., there is a requirement to have a trained “Food Safety Supervisor” or “Person in Charge”. In Dubai, there is a requirement that there is a person on site that has a person in charge qualification at all times.

Having a nominated person that has responsibility for food safety standards makes them accountable for food standards in that premises. And because they have a higher level of training than their food handlers that they are supervising, they are in a better position to actually supervise food safety.

As already mentioned it is incredibly hard to actually compare what scheme really has an effect on food hygiene ratings, but my overall impression from the research I carried out was that in countries or states whether there is a specific requirement for a supervisor or manager to have a set level of training, it does seem to drive food hygiene standards.

I am sure that having mandatory display of ratings will help to improve hygiene standards, but until the person in charge of the business is required to have a set food safety qualification as well, am not convinced that it will have a significant effect. It will make food hygiene more public though…

If you want help improving your food hygiene rating, check out our website; 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Food Hygiene training in West Sussex

Open food hygiene courses now being run in Sussex

Ford Training is now running Level 2 Award in Food Safety courses in Lancing, West Sussex. This one day course is accredited by CIEH, and is the equivalent of the "Basic Food Hygiene" certificate, or the "Foundation Food Hygiene". The course is suitable for food handlers that are handling, storing or preparing open or high-risk food.

Next courses:

Tuesday 20th January 2015         Book online now: click here to book
Tuesday 17th February 2015       Book online now: click here to book

Course location: Lancing, West Sussex. Within walking distance of Lancing train station, and with on-street parking available in the surrounding roads. Click here for a map of the venue

We are offering places on this one day course for just £60.00 per person + vat. The course fee is "all-inclusive"; it includes lunch, tea & coffee, "The food hygiene handbook", and the exam fee.  

After running in-house training on-site for the last 8 years, we are now offering open Level 2 Award in Food Safety courses in West Sussex! Check out our testimonials from previous clients and candidates: Ford Training: About Us. After repeated enquiries about local open courses being run, we are now running monthly food hygiene courses in Lancing, West Sussex.

There seems to be a lack of good quality, accessible open courses being run in the local area - which seems to link with the amount of people now switching to on-line training. However as mentioned in a previous blog, on-line training does not replace the need for interactive training, and there are, in my view, question marks over how effective on-line training may be. (see previous blog on on-line training)

However cheap it may appear in the short term (a "Level 2" food safety course on-line can be found for as low as £20 - surely not comparable with a one day food hygiene course that is made relevant to the candidates?), on-line training does not seem to give the same level of understanding as face to face training with the opportunity for discussion!

Our open courses offer a mix of behind the scenes video clips, pest samples, quizzes and card games, whilst covering the syllabus for the course in a fun and engaging way. Our philosophy is; why use a power-point slide of text for something that can be demonstrated / discussed / watched on a video!

Some of our visual aids from a Level 2 Award in Food Safety course
One of the exercises on our food hygiene courses

Our courses are run by trainers who are registered with the CIEH and HABC, who have a strong background in catering. My background is in kitchen management and so our courses are brought to life with real examples of good and bad practice.

We are still, of course, offering in-house training at your premises at a time to suit you. For a quote for an in-house course, please complete our booking enquiry form

For details of all the courses we offer, please check out our website at

Friday, 13 September 2013


I will be updating my blog soon, but in the meantime -

Ever wondered how Puffer fish is prepared safely? Find out here -  and check out the other clips on our playlists on our Youtube channel, including "The worlds biggest mice infestation!"

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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Should food handlers be paid for time off work, if they have diarrhoea and vomiting?

One of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of Norovirus is excluding ill food handlers. So why doesn't it happen? Is it anything to do with the fact food handlers do not always get paid whilst off sick??
      Since I was 14 I have worked for various catering businesses, from very small private, local restaurants, up to large national restaurant brands. Some have had written policies and procedures as long as your arm, some have had none! 

       Since 2005, I have running accredited food safety training for various food businesses, from international hotel chains, national restaurant brands, hotels and care homes, to small private restaurants, church groups and childcare settings. During near enough every food hygiene course I have run, the question comes up; " if I have to report diarrhoea and vomiting, do I get paid for the time off work?" 

  From my experiences in catering, and training, a lot of illness is not reported because either a) they don't know they have to, b) didn't think it was that serious, and even if they did, they would be told that they would have to come in anyway, c) their company has a bonus scheme based on attendance so they don't want to lose their bonus, or even face the threat of disciplinary action if they have time off work! d) can't afford to lose the money- they know that if they report that they are ill, they will have to have the next 48 hours off as well, usually unpaid, and they can't afford it! 

 In my personal view, based on several relatively recent experiences with several businesses, there are various food businesses that have; a) a sickness policy, b) a return to work form / health questionnaire, but very few that pay for time off work. Which, in some ways is fair enough because although this may ensure that people do report diarrhoea and vomiting, people do very quickly learn to play the system and suddenly develop "diarrhoea and vomiting from a dodgy takeaway", - normally on a saturday night/ sunday lunch/ maybe even the whole bank holiday weekend! , knowing that if they say it is d & v, they will need to have off that day, plus 48 hours after the symptoms have stopped. So three days off, paid, sounds very appealing. 

    This, I have found, is one of the main reasons that food businesses do not have a policy of paying food handlers for time off work. If they were to have a policy of paying for time off work, it could potentially become abused very quickly. 

However, by having a policy of not paying sick pay, this surely penalises the people that do genuinely have diarrhoea and/or vomiting, and do the right thing by reporting it, only to be told they will effectively lose 3 days pay that week. Not really an incentive to report illness! 

    Even if food handlers do report that they are suffering from diarrhoea and/or vomiting, it is not unheard of for them to be told "if you don't come in today, you will face a disciplinary!" I have, over the years, come across  a brand that has/had a bonus scheme based on attendance. If an employee was absent from work without giving adequate notice ( ie, have diarrhoea and/or vomiting overnight and so phone work the next morning ( as soon as they could), this is classed as unauthorised absence! 

In my jobs as a head chef, kitchen manager and chef trainer, part of my role has been to implement the company's sickness policy for food handlers. I have found in any kitchen I have run, that even though very few of the businesses have paid for time off, we have been able to reduce the abuse of the sickness procedure through improving the overall culture & morale in the workplace, and monitoring absences.

 Everyone was made aware that they needed to report illness, and were reassured that they would not be penalised in any way. Whilst we didn't want to discourage people reporting if they were ill, it is normally pretty easy to spot a pattern if someone is abusing the system. For example;

- It is possible, although pretty unlikely that the same person will have diarrhoea and/or vomiting every Saturday night shift that they are scheduled to work, 4 weeks in a row! 
- every bank holiday weekend or sunny day there is, the same person seems to have mysterious illnesses! 
- having diarrhoea / vomiting does not mean that you have a sore throat - it is incredible the amount of phone calls you get from people calling in sick with d & v, yet feel the need to put a "sick voice" on!

   The main thing I found, was over time, by creating a culture where hygiene is discussed informally at kitchen meetings, being made aware of recent cases of food poisoning - and all the costs associated, but also basic things like giving people adequate time off so they don't feel forced to "throw a sickie" - people did report illness, but we didn't get the abuse of the system as everyone knew that absence was monitored. Catering hours are antisocial, everyone has things now and again that they want to do, whether it is a weekend away with the missus, or a party on a wednesday night. I have found that if you try and accommodate peoples requests where possible, people are more likely to respect the system and only use the "sick card" when it is genuine. We used to use a diary for any time off requests, and everyone knew that whilst the hours you work in catering can be anti social, we would always try and accommodate them. And the rota was provided in advance to allow everyone time to plan around their work schedule. 

This, along with monitoring absences from work, over time meant that whilst most companies weren't paying sick pay, it did reduce the amount of abuse the sickness policy got. But, It would be very interesting to work out the cost of paying the relatively few genuine cases of food handlers who should be excluded from food handling. You can have  effective management of your current sickness procedure, to whittle out the abuse, but unless people are not penalised financially for complying with the law, there will always, in my view, be a significant problem with under-reporting of diarrhoea and/or vomiting. 

To put it in context, how much would one alleged food poisoning case cost the business, compared to  the cost of paying for genuine absence from work?

to see the food standards agency guidance on food handlers: fitness to work, please see: 

Monday, 1 July 2013

Recent Food Safety and Health & Safety legal action

For recent food safety and health & safety legal action and media cases, see Recent cases include Jamie Olivers "Ministry of Food" being closed due to "health and safety concerns"........

Friday, 28 June 2013

How effective is online food hygiene training / e-learning?

There has been an enormous increase in the amount of food businesses, big and small, who are turning to online food safety training as a cost effective method of training their team. Is it effective? I have a few examples for you....

   For those that don`t know, I have worked in catering since I was at school, 10 years of that was with a very professional national brand. In 2005, I set up Ford Training ( a food safety training business), but I still work on a part time / occasional basis, in kitchens. Some of this work has been with local businesses, some with some national chains. A couple of national brands that I have worked for (one with 100`s of sites nationwide, one with approx 50) now use an e-learning package which gives each employee an id number to log on to a website whenever they wish to complete their "mandatory training". This, on the face of it seems to be a very flexible learning solution, with several benefits; people can complete the training at their own pace / they can go back to it when they like / some versions can be translated etc etc. 

     But is it effective; do people take any of it on board or is it a tick-box exercise? I must admit that we do offer online training on our website - I personally think that in certain circumstances it can be a good option to use - night staff / people who cannot normally make it in for a training session etc. 

But using it as the only means of training food handlers? The training in two businesses consisted of; (bearing in mind that they may have not felt the need to give me a full induction seeing as I run a food safety training business and all!) 

-  an induction e-learning programme, that you have to complete before your first day, then 
-  the equivalent of a "Level 2 Food Safety" level course (once again, online, which you complete whenever is convenient - one big benefit of e-learning to businesses may be that they don`t feel that they need to pay their employees for the time they are doing their training, as it is not "in the workplace / on paid time"?!), 
- and finally there is an online refresher that you have to do every year, and the houses are checked against this to ensure that everyone has completed their refresher training on time - or no bonus!

    My personal view, based  on a few examples I`ll outline below (genuine examples, not embellished in any way!), is that online training can be useful in certain circumstances or as part of a mixed training programme, but on its own does not give people an understanding of food hygiene, is used mainly as an economical way of ticking the "legal" box, a record keeping exercise. 

A few reasons why;

In the kitchen of a large brand, on a sunday lunchtime, watching desserts being prepared:

Chef; "can you pass an apple crumble out of the fridge, please?"
Me; "yeah sure, oh, hang on, this one was out of date yesterday, it must have been missed during last nights closedown. Where is your wastage book and I`ll record it and thrown it away?"
Chef; "its alright - pass it here, they just forgot to change it! We go through the fridges in the afternoon and check that everything has the right date on it - anything with a sunday on we`ll change to a monday!"
Me; "so how come you have to put labels on the food then?"
Chef; "to tell us how fresh the food is"
Me"ummm, but they wont will they as you always peel them off?"
Chef; "dunno, it`s one of them things i got told when I started. one of them health and safety things we have to do!"

In the kitchen on a saturday night;

Me: "Where`s your wastage book for this left-over food?"
Sous Chef: "Why are you thowing it away - that was only made today! Chuck it in the walk in fridge and we`ll use it up tomorrow!"
Me: "Is that ok to do that - i think it`s all been in the bain marie since at least 6 pm, if not before"
Sous Chef: "fine mate, we`ll zap it in the microwave tomorrow anyway - that will kill everything!"

    A couple of genuine experiences I have had in places big, and small! Having worked for a large brand for a long time, and also worked for smaller private businesses, I know that each restaurant`s standards is a lot more reliant on having the right manager and a head chef who leads by example and checks his team's understanding whilst they are working, rather than having to have done a whole day in the classroom to get a certificate for the sake of it - particularly if there are other more cost effective methods available. 

          But face to face training does mean that your employees can ask questions (questions that you wouldn't ask a computer screen, but it would help your level of understanding greatly if you could relate the theory to different examples). And, more importantly, the tutor can be checking the level of understanding throughout the course, and engage the candidates in discussion about recent food poisoning cases / media cases to make the subject seem real and relevant. 

  Several flaws / shortcuts that you may have heard of when using e-learning style systems;

 - as soon as a few people have done it, they tell their colleagues the tricky parts / where to click on the screen, and it very quickly becomes an in house competition to see how quickly you can complete it! (Just out of interest I completed my "equivalent of a level 2" online food safety course for one food business i worked for - it took me 26 minutes!!)

 - in some businesses, apparently, a "supervisor" becomes a food safety expert (by expert I mean expert at completing the online course - the supervisors are given the log in codes of all new employees and they "quickly whizz through it so we`ve got a record in case the "eho" comes around")

   Every training method has its drawbacks, I was in a fish and chip shop recently who had a "Level 2 Award in Food Safety in Catering" certificate on the wall - it was completed in 2006! 

But i do think there is too much reliance on cheaper methods of "achieving legal compliance" (covering backs) without looking at whether the training has actually been understood and put in to practice. 

David Axtell
Ford Training

Monday, 24 June 2013

Food hygiene in catering? hmmmmm ............

Everyone has heard of poor hygiene in restaurants, from newspaper headlines to expose programmes (Whistle blower, rogue restaurants etc). After being in catering since school, working for various national brands, and private restaurants, i have seen varying standards of food hygiene, from brilliant to horrendous (think reusing out of date food, storing mouldy food, falsifying records, lack of training, no hand washing facilities, to name a few....!!)

    After working in catering for over 10 years before setting up a Food Safety training centre in 2005, i have dealt with various international catering, manufacturing and retail businesses so have come across different priorities in companies when looking at food hygiene, health and safety, food quality, profits etc.  

       As well as running my food safety training centre, i also work part time in catering as a chef to see what is really happening behind the scenes. Fairly recently i have had a couple of experiences with a couple of well known national brands, which shall remain nameless. One, known for value, focuses on portion control, labour and wastage, the other likes to be known for quality and focuses on weekly stock counts and mystery diner scores. Both had very different incentives for their managers and head chefs, neither were based around food safety. In both food safety policy statements, "Food Safety is our number one priority" !! 

     I`ll be updating this soon with a few examples of what really happened and where the priorities seemed to lie ...............!