Axtell Food Safety

Axtell Food Safety
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Friday, 24 July 2020

Setting up a catering business from home

There seems to be an increase in people setting up catering  home. Some people are brand new to the industry, branching out in to areas they haven’t previously ventured. A lot of people have either lost jobs or been on furlough over the last few months, People making cakes and selling them on Facebook during lockdown which has now become a business. Chefs thinking of setting up a catering business from home. In the event that you had a complaint, you would want to be able to prove you had taken all reasonable precautions. We have seen an increase in enquiries form people thinking of setting up a catering business from home. 
Previous blogs have covered food safety considerations regarding reopening, but I thought it would be useful to outline some of the considerations when setting up a new food business, or catering from home. This isn’t an exhaustive list but some key areas to consider, please get in touch if you have any specific questions. Other general considerations in all food premises will include having effective temperature control, cleaning procedures, and an effective date rotation system, all of which will be documented in your food safety management system. 

Registration of food premises 

If you are catering from home, or renting a kitchen space from another premises, you need to register as a food premises. This is free to do, and once done should result in an initial inspection. There is a link below to guidance from the FSA regarding registering a food premises, it can be done online. You also need to re-register when there is a change, such as change of owner, or change in your procedures (for example, if you started to do rare burgers) 

Structure and design of food prep area and facilities 

A lot of people would find it daunting to set up a food business from home. Most people from a catering background will be familiar with commercial kitchens often being stainless steel throughout. However the law requires that walls, for example, are cleanable and well maintained but it does not mention specific materials to use. There are requirements for floor coverings, walls, surfaces etc. In most cases a domestic kitchen can be adapted to suit food preparation, with simple, easy changes where necessary, and minimal cost. It’s always best to liaise with your local authority environmental health department from an early stage. 

The law that specifies the requirements in a food premises regarding the design of a food premises can be found at the following link,

Annex II ‘General requirements for all food business operators’

There are very useful ‘Industry Guides to Good Hygiene Practice’ which provide guidance on the law, but do get in touch if you need any help.

HACCP / Food Safety Management Systems 

Record keeping can be a daunting prospect for a small business if you have been familiar with keeping numerous food safety records in larger operations. The law requires that you have a food safety management system that is appropriate to the nature and size of the food business. A very simple, free solution is the Food Standards Agency’s Safer Food Better Business folder. This is an easy-to-use food safety management system (based on HACCP principles), although depending on your food business there may be other records that you incorporate in to it. You need to have a food safety management system that is appropriate for your business (not unduly complicated) and identifies and controls food safety hazards within your business. Your record keeping should be sufficient that you can demonstrate that food has been stored and handled safely. 

The FSA Safer Food Better Business pack is available to download here:

It is fairly straight forward, can be downloaded for free, and doesn’t take long to set up. However if you find you need some assistance, or need a more bespoke HACCP system, please get in touch to discuss your options. We offer coaching on the correct use and implementation of the SFBB pack. Get in touch if you have any queries regarding setting up a SFBB system, we are happy to talk it through over the phone, for no charge of course. 

Cross Contamination Guidance 

Another main guidance document that should be read in conjunction with the SFBB pack is the guidance on how to control cross contamination when preparing and storing food. This guidance is available from the FSA:

If you do need a more complex system, the FSA have a website, MyHACCP, which contains a lot of guidance on how to implement a HACCP system, with example documentation:


Allergens procedures 

As in any food business, allergens need to be controlled carefully and allergen information must be available. How you provide allergen information will depend on your food business; guidance for packaged foods, prepacked foods for direct sale, and loose/ open foods is available from the FSA. 

Allergen labelling and communicating allergens 

Allergens information needs to be available at the point of ordering ( are orders taken on Twitter, Facebook or online), but also at the time of delivery. 

There is guidance which, whilst aimed at existing catering business adapting during COVID, will be relevant regarding deliveries and orders for all catering premises, large and small, existing or new.

Changes to allergen labelling in 2021 - see the link attached for changes coming that affect food which is ‘prepacked for direct sale’

Gluten-free’ foods

There has been a growing increase in the number of people eating a gluten-free diet, so there is a temptation to offer a ‘gluten-free’ product (I happen to have seen a lot advertised on Facebook).  Foods can only be labelled as gluten-free if they contain 20 PPM or less gluten 

CoeliacUK provide very detailed guidance on how to safely prepare gluten free foods, and have details of the ‘Coeliac UK’ accreditation scheme which can demonstrate your commitment to your customers.

There is a very good guidance document: ‘gluten free guidance for caterers’ which can be downloaded as a pdf and outlines the gluten free legislation and what may be done to safely prepare gluten free foods.

They also have very good gluten free training which would be recommended to complete if considering offering gluten-free foods.

If you need any help developing you allergen management procedures, we are very experienced at helping food businesses review their allergens procedures and can provide allergens audits. Get in touch if you have any queries 

Allergens training 

The FSA provide really good, free online allergens training, which is ideal as an induction to food allergens and how to control them.

If you feel that you need more detailed training, we now offer the Level 2 Award in Food Allergen Awareness and Level 3 Award in Food Allergen Management on Zoom as an in-house course for a whole team, or just one person, get in touch for details 

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

How will coronavirus affect food hygiene training?

How will coronavirus affect food hygiene training?

Food hygiene has always been at the forefront of all businesses that handle food. Training has always been considered a basic requirement in food businesses. Whilst that is more important now than ever, we are in unprecedented times. Vast numbers of food handlers have been furloughed, or made redundant across the country. Numerous food businesses, from multi-national restaurant chains to the small village cafe have been closed for a number of months and will be desperate to start making money again. The businesses that have weathered the storm will be looking to save money where possible whilst keeping their employees and customers safe. So can you justify spending money on training your food handlers when things are tight? It could be tempting to go with the cheapest option. 
Investing in quality training is a cost to the business, one that may be harder to absorb in the current climate. Whislt the overwhelming majority of food premises are run to a good standard, what if you had a food poisoning allegation? Think of the costs of a food poisoning allegation to a food business, or a prosecution for food hygiene offences. The costs associated with poor hygiene practices would cost a significant amount more than the cost of the training. Just in the last month it was reported that a small food business was fined £2000 plus costs, with poor hygiene, lack of training and an ineffective HACCP system resulting in a prosecution.Training can also affect your food hygiene rating, affecting the score for the confidence in management element of your hygiene rating. 
As businesses re-open, with a mix of new and returning food handlers, training is going to be more important than ever.  
Food safey training legislation 
Regulation (EC) 852/2004 requires that all 'food handlers are supervised and instructed and/or trained in food hygiene matters commensurate with their work activities.' So, within the European Union there isn't a specific legal requirement to have a certificate, but there is a requirement that food handlers receive adequate training. Some supplier accreditation schemes may have a requirement to provide evidence of specific accredited training. In some sectors such as handling food at sea, there are specific requirements which specify the level and method of training required; a minimum Level 2 Award in Food Safety (RQF) is required for food handlers, online training is not recognized as meeting the learning outcomes required.
So if it isnt a legal requirement as such to have a food hygiene certificate for most businesses, why bother doing it? The law may not mention a specific certificate but it does say that food handlers need appropriate training. And as a food business, you would need to demonstrate that the appropriate food hygiene training has been carried out. Not forgetting moral and legal obligations to keep food safe and prevent food poisoning. Employees feel more valued if they are trained, the list of benefits is endless.  
There is industry guidance which specifies the minimum recommended level of training that food handlers should receive. Whilst there is no explicit legal requirement to have a food hygiene certificate, the guidance states that food hygiene training should be 'of sufficient duration to ensure understanding', and 'further training is appropriate for those who have a supervisory role and / or are food business operators'. It is recommended that food handlers are trained to Level 2 (or equivalent, typically a one day course), supervisors are recommended to be trained up to Level 3 food safety (three day course) and Level 4 food safety is aimed at managers, owners, head chefs and executive chefs (typically run over five days)
It is unclear how training will be affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. I find it hard to envisage a room of 15 - 20 chefs completing training anytime soon with social distancing requirements. We are starting to run face-to-face in-house training again, gradually, following workplace covid guidance of course, with small groups.  
All team will require some level of refresher training, however experienced, due to changes necessary regarding coronavirus (increased cleaning routines etc).  
Online training is being used more and more, and is a fantastic way for an employer to train a large number of people, very quickly and cheaply. But, is it effective? I definately feel online training can help supplement training, but it certainly isnt the 'tick in the box' it can be perceived to be by some. Whilst everyone passing an online course may receive a certificate, which you can show an enforcement officer, is the training understood? I have found that in a large number of businesses they will have the training records to 'prove' that food handlers have been trained. But, when questioned during an audit, the food handler who has a certificate doesnt know the dosage or contact time for the sanitizer he is using, or doesn't know what temperature food should be cooked to. Has this training added any value, and does it result in safe food? I personally am not sure of the benefit of allowing endless retakes of an exam until you get the correct answer, as is the case with some online courses. Whilst it is good to be able to go over things again, simply retaking the exam until you pass doesnt seem to be the most effective way of learning. Having said that, i have sat through a very boring PowerPoint presentation where the trainer read from the slides, every word on every slide, in a monotone voice, so all training methods can be ineffective. 
One thing to consider with online training is that if employees complete the training at home; have they completed it themselves, or did they get their 'brainy partner' to complete it for them quickly? Regulated qualifications are invigilated so give an employer or enforcement officer reassurance that it is a reputable qualification. 
Accreditation and Certification
Businesses do need to be aware of what they are purchasing when considering training. In the last few days i have seen, amongst others; a 'EHO approved, Level 2 Food Safety' course online for £10, which takes approximately one hour to complete. By comparison, a Level 2 Award in Food Safety is normally a one day course. And a 'Level 4 Food Safety' online course for £25 which takes three hours to complete! 
  Now anyone that has done their Level 4 Food Safety (Advanced Food Hygiene) knows that an accredited Level 4 course typically is five days of tuition and costs anywhere upwards of £500 per person. I do find it quite scary that people may genuinely sign up to what they believe is a Level 4 qualification, to actually be nothing higher than a non-accredited Level 1 qualification and not recognized externally. The Indsutry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice states that as a guide a Level 4 course will be between 24 and 40 hours in duration. There is no legal requirement to have a certificate but it demostrates that appropriate training has been carried out and can be used to contribute towards a due-diligence defence
Looking for 'RQF' qualifications (Regulatory Qualifications Framework) provides assurance that they are a comparable qualification. 
One way of ensuring the training you are getting is to the right standard is by checking if courses are RQF regulated and accredited by an awarding body such as Highfield Qualifications or RSPH. They are internationally recognized and accepted by all bodies, and provide reassurance that the training is to a set standard. This ensures that the exam is invigilated and completed in exam conditions, so you know that the person who sits the exam is in fact the named person. All training needs to be assessed in the workplace through constant monitoring and supervision; having passed an accredited exam doesnt mean that the food handler will practice those behaviors. 
Accreditation isnt always necessary. There are some very good, non accredited awareness courses which can be good for refresher training. We offer a non accredited ecoli cross-contamination course and allergens awareness training which prove popular but are not accredited or regulated. 
Online training may be effective if used as part of a blended learning approach, but i don't feel that in isolation it would provide sufficient understanding of the subject. Some people respond better with interaction, some do not like online training. The right training method is important in ensuring the training is understood, and more importantly implemented at work.  
To ensure that food hygiene training is implemented effectively, a lot of businesses are focusing their attention on adequate training of supervisors and managers. Whilst food hygiene training is important for all, if food handlers are not following the procedures, supervisors and managers should be adequately trained to monitor this. So it is recommended that people responsible for supervising food handlers have an appropriate level of training. The three-day Level 3 Award in Food Safety is now very popular as an in-house course for groups of chefs, supervisors and managers.   
Remote Accredited Food Safety Training 
To ensure there is still available face to face training whilst social distancing is required, we are now offering our training remotely on Zoom. For a lot of people, online training is the easiest, quickest, cheapest solution. But for people who still want the interaction of a group session, be able to ask questions during the session and discuss the course using relevant real-life examples, we have now developed remote training via Zoom. This will allow us to deliver as close to a face-to-face course as possible, whilst still social distancing. There is an interactive PowerPoint (no death by powerpoint), an interactive pdf workbook for each course, quizzes during the session, video clips, discussion, candidates can ask questions, sample exam questions during the course and you can complete the exam online using Highfields remote invigilation app. This ensures that, as a regulated qualification, the exam is completed fairly, even at home! One benefit of offering this on Zoom is that you can complete the training whether you are in Penzance or the Lake District, in the UK or abroad, you can be anywhere as long as you can connect to the internet. In-house group Zoom sessions are arranged at a time to suit you. 
This may be a solution which provides the convenience of online training, the benefit of experienced, real-life trainers who are qualified environmental health practitioners with experience in the food industry, an interactive, relevant course and a 'proper' regulated qualification, recognised globally, from the comfort of your own home. 
So now you can get a Highfield Qualifications Level 2 Award in Food Safety (RQF) or Highfield Qualifications Level 3 Award in Food Safety (RQF) certificate without even leaving the house. 
We are offering in-house group Zoom sessions and are running regular open remote Level 2 and Level 3 Food Safety courses, follow our facebook page or LinkedIn page for course details (website is currently whilst we fully transition to Axtell Food Safety)
If anyone needs to talk through there training plans, we are always happy to have a chat, no strings attached. Please do get in touch

British Hospitality Association (2016) 'Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice, Catering Guide'. Available at: (accessed 01 April 2020)

Council Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29th April 2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs

EHN (2020). 'Final straw as former landlord ignores repeated warnings over poor hygiene at pub'. Environmental Health News, 35 (5), p.21

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (2019). 'MIN 605 (M) Maritime Labour Convention, 2006: Food and
Catering: Recognised Qualifications in Food Hygiene or Food Safety in Catering for Ship's Cooks and

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Reopening food businesses after lockdown

Coronavirus and the effects on food businesses

With the majority of food businesses closed and ships not sailing, or offering severely restricted services, find out how Coronavirus is affecting food businesses, and what the future holds. 

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We are in unprecedented times, as we keep on being told. Ships have stopped sailing, restaurants and hotels closed.There have been big stories in the food industry in the past, think of Ecoli O157 outbreaks, Norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships, the Sudan 1 food dye recall, foot and mouth, BSE, the list goes on. But never something as big as this, which will transform the way we run food businesses and handle food for at least the foreseeable future, maybe permanently.

There will be a lot of food businesses that will not be able to survive this crisis, and those that do will need to make significant changes to their working practices. We are still currently in a state of unknown, with it not clear when restaurants will be able to reopen fully in the UK.

Risks in food preparation areas when re-opening 

Pest activity                                                                                                     

With galleys and kitchens being closed for a number of months, pests are likely to be the most significant issue to be aware of. Any food debris will attract pests, and any pest proofing will not have been identified over the last few months. Pests like dark environments, and prefer to be undisturbed, so there is significant potential for pest activity. Any food stored during the last few months will need checking for signs of gnawing damage or contamination with eggs, larvae, rodent urine, droppings etc. Underneath doors will need checking for potential access points, with the waste area needing to be checked. 
If food preparation areas were closed down quickly, there may be food debris underneath fridges and freezers that may have attracted rodents. 

Food contamination, Spoilage and expired food 

The lockdown will have caused significant food wastage in numerous food businesses. A lot of businesses donated food to charity or used it to produce food for vulnerable groups and / or the NHS. But there will have been some businesses which will have frozen as much food as possible to try and minimise waste. If it has been frozen and defrosted according to your food safety management procedures, there may not be a food safety concern, although quality may be affected. However, if foods havent been wrapped properly before freezing, were frozen with little shelf life remaining, or had been previously frozen and defrosted, there will be a more signicant food safety risk. Freezer burn and contamination with allergens or foreign bodies will be of concern as well. . 

Waste contracts                                                                                    

During the lockdown, waste oil, food waste, recycling and refuse bin collections will have been suspended. Waste may have ben left laying around in kitchens or onboard, which will attract pests. All contracts will need to be started again to ensure there doesnt become a build-up of food waste. 


Legionella is a health and safety concern with water left in pipes and cylinders at a temperature that may support bacterial growth. All taps and shower heads will need to be thoroughly flushed through before use, with normal legionella checks carried out. 


Employees will need training on any new additional procedures that you put in place. There may also be new team members you have taken on which will need to be adequately trained in food safety. 

Handwashing and materials 

Now more than ever it needs to be re-emphasized just how crucial hand-washing is. Not that it has ever been acceptable in the past to run out of handwashing facilities in food handling areas, but it is crucial when businesses are allowed to re-open that handwash facilities are available in all food handling and employee back of house areas. Customer toilets must have a supply of all handwash facilities. Alcohol gel has been introduced by a number of food businessses prior to the lockdown. Whilst the most effective way to control the risk is to effectively wash your hands with soap and water, alcohol gel is an additional precaution in public areas and in addition to handwash facilities. 

Allergens Information and training 

Suppliers may have changed since before the lockdown, there may be availability issues with certain products, or a simplified menu may have been brought in before the lockdown. All of these may affect your allergen information. Allergen information and supplier details should be checked prior to trading again, to make sure it is all accurate. 

Fitness to work 

It will need establishing if all employees are fit to return to work. For businesses that need it, the FSA (Food Standards Agency) have some good guidance: 'Food Handlers - Fitness to Work Guidance'. This guidance is not specific to coronavirus but the general principles apply. It does contain a fitness-to-work questionnaire that can be used for employees to complete. See link below. 

Cleaning and cleaning equipment

Prior to re-use for food preparation, all areas, equipment, food contact surfaces and hand-contact surfaces will need to be thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water to remove any build up of dirt. If there has been any pest activity withi your business during the lockdown, surfaces and equipment may be contaminated with faeces, urine and a variety of pathogens! Once all areas and surfaces have been thoroughly cleaned, any areas, equipment or surfaces that come in to contact with food or hands will need to be disinfected. The most effective way is to use a dishwasher which rinses above 82°C. For work surfaces, hand-contact surfaces and anything which will not fit inside the dishwasher will need to disinfected with a food-safe disnifectant or sanitizer prior to use. 

Equipment such as dishwashers and washing machines should be run on a hot wash prior to use. 

Possible risks to food from Coronavirus 

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said that there is very little risk of contracting coronavirus from food or packaging (see link below). However it is clear that restaurants, pubs and other premises serving food will need to make changes to their practices when planning for re-opening. This includes crew dining facilities, where the risk of transmission from touch points needs to be considered. 

Possible changes when businesses are allowed to re-open                                           

A lot of the precations needed to control coronavirus would have been in place in most food businesses anyway. Those working at sea will be used to very stringent disinfection routines to control Norovirus. But i`m sure we could all do with reviewing exisitng procedures and reflecting on they have been implemented previously. 'Door handles' may be listed on a cleaning schedule - but how often are they acutally sanitized? (if fridge door handles have a build up of a suspect brown sludge then they havent been sanitized nearly often enough. When i was a kitchen manager, fridge door handles, taps, microwave handles etc in the kitchen were sanitized multiple times a day and checked using cleaning schedules and various checklists. But there needs to be the same focus on hand-contact points not in the kitchen, such as door handles, hand rails and customer touch-screen terminals (there is an increase in the use of these to log your car reg number, but are they on a cleaning schedule?). Invariably there is more focus on disnifection of hand-contact points in food preparation areas rather than back of house areas and crew dining facilities. 

Contactless payments 

An increasing number of businesses are trying to switch to contactless forms of payment to reduce the risk of transmission through cash handling or from the 'chip and pin' machine.

Cleaning routines 

There will need to be a significant focus on cleaning practices to ensure a safe re-opening. An increased frequency of cleaning and disinfection of freqently touched areas will be needed. Fridge door handles and microwave handles in kitchens frequently have a build up of dirt. The cleaning products in use need to be effective against coronavirus. Products which are diluted by team members degrade over time (check manufacturers instructions for shelf life but some may only have a 24 hour life when diluted) so need to be freshly diluted. Employees will need reminding of the importance of the correct contact time and dosage of the products for them to be effective.

Contact surfaces 

A number of food businesses have been reviewing what possible contact surfaces there are on a table which could transit viruses. Menus, salt and pepper pots, sauce bottles etc on customer tables or crew dining areas may be touched by multiple people, and are invariably not considered on a cleaning schedule. Could these be removed, could single serve sachets be used? Can taps and soap dispensers be swapped for touch-free versions? Team members dining facilities often display open food with tongs and utensils used by mutliple people. Could this be avoided? 


There seems to be a growing number of people (the public when out shopping, peole working in shops) using gloves as a precaution to protect against coronavirus. Gloves have never been a legal requirement in food premises in the UK (some businessses may use them for specific tasks but these are used excusively for this task), handwashing is considered the best option. An example; our local corner shop has been open throughout the pandemic, and i greatly appreciate that. They have put social distancing measures in place, including a perspex screen at the counter. But the assistant has always slightly baffled me. He has been wearing disposable gloves throughout the crisis. I went in there today, and he was wearing gloves. He served the one other person in the shop, prior to me, and they paid in cash. He took the money, served me from behind the screen, and then took my payment. All while wearing the same disposable gloves, and then preceeeded to scratch his head, itch his nose and carried on restocking the shelves. All whilst wearing the same disposable gloves throughout. He had been scanning and packing my shopping throughout. 

I really struggle to see who this is protecting, or who it is aiming to protect? Surely if you put a procedure in place, it should be clear what it is intended for, and it should be effective. If the procedure is necessary, all employees need training on the procedure and adequate supplies need to be provided. But if, on reflection, the procedure you are putting in place will not actually control the risk, maybe its worth considering another way?

If gloves are to be used, there should be clearly defined rules regarding when they are used, how they are put on and taken off to reduce the risk of contamination, and handwashing requirements before and after use of gloves. 

Social distancing measures

There have been several articles highlighting how it would not be proftable for a lot of businesses to operate with effective social distancing (see the link below). But it does seem inevitable that as and when food businesses are allowed to reopen, there are going to be some changes necessary. Current UK guidance for social distancing is 2 metres, so it needs considering if and how this can be maintained within food premises. 

New chefs and crew

If new chefs, crew and other food handlers have been employed since the reopening or are returning to work after the lockdown, they will need training on your allergens procedures. If a new head chef has been recruited, have they changed the ingredients in certain dishes? Is sesame seed oil now used where peanut oil was used by the previous chef? Allergen information needs to be updated to reflect the current menu and ingredients used. Do your new food handlers know your procedures for controlling E.coli in food preparation areas? 

Takeaways and deliveries

If you are an existing food business that has started doing deliveries and takeaways, the FSA have provided guidance, see below. Have you considered how allergens orders will be taken, and communicated between the customer and food business?

Whilst there are a lot of uncertainties regarding timescales, hopefully being made clearer in the coming days, all businesses will need to adapt. There are several guidance documents that have been published below, including some guidance from the US regarding food premises reopening that may be worth considering.

We are offering business support with reopening after the lockdown. We can provide a remote / virtual audit of your premises before you reopen, to advise on what is required. We have Coronavirus reopening checklists and are happy to provide advice for free. 

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Coronavirus guidance

Below are some of the most recent guidance and articles available regarding coronavirus and food:

Evening standard article on possible changes to restaurants and pubs in light of the coronavirus outbreak:

Interesting article explaining some of Hilton's changes in their cleaning practices in relation to Coronavirus:

US Guidance for restaurants reopening after the lockdown:

FSA Guidance for consumers on coronavirus (COVID-19) and food:

WHO Q & A on coronaviruses (how long does coronavirus surface on surfaces?),with%20soap%20and%20water.

FSA Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus:

CIEH Food delivery and takeaway guidance

FSA Food handlers: Fitness to Work Guidance

Guidance for shipping and sea ports on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Ship Operators for the Protection of the Health of Seafarers


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!"

Follow us on Linkedin: If you follow us you will get regular food safety updates, our latest special offers and course information.

Like us on Facebook! . Get special offers, check out photo`s of our training and things we use to make our courses interactive and informative!

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: