Safe food handling

Related tags Food hygiene Food safety Food standards agency

Although figures show that pub caterers seem to be understanding the need for higher food hygiene standards, the Food Safety Agency says there is...

Although figures show that pub caterers seem to be understanding the need for higher food hygiene standards, the Food Safety Agency says there is still some work to be done.

Food safety remains high on consumers' lists of priorities. The problem for pubs is that issues such as BSE and this year's foot-and-mouth have kept the overall topic on people's minds. While local authorities can do little to address the broad issues of improving the integrity of the food chain, which falls within the government's remit, they need be seen to be actively protecting the public.

Backed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is launching a new campaign next month aimed at ensuring pubs and other catering establishments are following the food hygiene rules, local environmental health officers (EHOs) are more active than ever. The FSA has given them the task of tackling hygiene standards in catering after the latest official statistics on the enforcement of food safety laws revealed that half of the catering premises inspected are breaking some of the rules.

According to the FSA, in 2000 a total of 235,969 restaurants and catering establishments were inspected, of which 118,555 had broken some food safety rules. However, the same statistics also reveal that although over 12,000 more inspections were carried out by local authorities in 2000 compared with 1999, there has been a drop of 30 per cent in the numbers of prosecutions, down from 1,087 in 1999 to 753 in 2000.

This suggests that, overall, the food hygiene message is getting through to the trade, and that where there are problems uncovered, pubs and other caterers are taking the steps needed to put things right.

However, FSA chairman Sir John Krebs said the figures for breaches of the regulations are unacceptable.

"Although some breaches may be minor it does point to generally low standards. It is simply not acceptable," he said.

"We know that many caterers have very high standards but we want to ensure that standards are raised across the industry. We will be working with the industry to address this as part of a wide-ranging campaign to improve food hygiene standards.

"Local authorities play a pivotal role in checking that the rules are being followed. They have extensive powers to inspect premises, take samples and prosecute where necessary to make sure they are up to scratch."

The FSA has announced the benchmark against which it will measure the trend of foodborne illness in the UK over the next five years. The agency believes that the 65,209 laboratory-confirmed cases of food poisoning last year point to a much higher total figure of 4.5 million cases annually. The agency wants to see a 20 per cent cut in the number of cases over the next five years.

The agency's deputy chief executive, Dr Jon Bell, said: "Some people don't realise that they may have had food poisoning, so they don't report it - others may think they've got food poisoning and it turns out to be something else.

"Obviously we need a benchmark against which we can meaningfully measure the trend in food poisoning to see if it is heading in the right direction."


There is currently no legal obligation for staff to receive formal training under the existing food hygiene regulations. The law actually says that employees working in food businesses must be "supervised and instructed and/or trained in food hygiene".

This reflects the reality that newly-employed staff are often likely to be handling food and dealing with customers before they are given full training. The law, therefore, places a responsibility on employers from the beginning to ensure that employees are properly supervised.

It makes sense to provide formal training for new staff as soon as possible. The best-known entry-level qualification is the Basic Food Hygiene Certificate from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH).

This is widely available through colleges, local authorities and other training organisations, and aims to ensure that anyone working in a business handling food meets the training requirements of the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995, as well as being able to understand the practical procedures and methods of applying food hygiene in the workplace.

The CIEH has called on the government to clarify the situation regarding training by making it compulsory for anyone involved in the preparation of food to hold a certificate.

As well as general principles covered by recognised qualifications, staff training will need to include information on the HACCP procedures set up within the operation (see box below), and the role of the individual staff member in ensuring those procedures are followed in their particular area of responsibility.

The basics

An FSA food hygiene campaign is to target those who work in the catering industry, as well as consumers who cook at home. It will publicise basic standards of food hygiene, using this checklist:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food and after handling raw meat and poultry
  • Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods and prepare them separately to avoid cross-contamination
  • Always use separate utensils such as chopping boards and knives for raw meat and poultry and other foods
  • Cook all meat and meat products until they are piping hot throughout
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold until it is time to eat them - don't leave them standing around

Hazard analysis

HACCP, or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, is the requirement introduced under the 1995 legislation for pubs, in common with any other business preparing and serving food, to ensure that safe procedures are in place.

The law does not specify precisely how this should be done, which leaves it to the publican to set up a system which best meets the needs of the business.

Some general principles apply though. You will need to:

  • Analyse all the potential food hazards throughout the business
  • Identify the points where food hazards may occur
  • Decide which of the points identified are critical to food safety
  • Set up procedures to ensure the risk are minimised - while there is no legal requirement to document theseprocedures, it makes good sense and will be particularly helpful in trainingnew staff


A hazard is anything that may cause the food to be unsafe for consumption. Hazards to food safety may be:

  • chemical - eg contamination with cleaning chemicals
  • physical - eg contamination withforeign bodies such as glass or metal.

Critical Control Points

A critical control point is a point in the preparation of the food which has to be carried out correctly to ensure that a hazard is eliminated or reduced to a safe level. These include:

  • Receipt - checks (includingtemperature checks) of goods ondelivery
  • Storage - temperature control andcontamination avoidance during storage
  • Food preparation - avoid cross-contamination, good temperature control
  • Cooking - thorough cooking
  • Cooling - high-risk products cooledpromptly
  • Hot holding - food for hot holding to be stored above 63ºC
  • Reheating - reheating to achieve cook temperatures above 75ºC
  • Personal hygiene and health standards- avoid contamination of products
  • Cleaning procedures - effective cleaning of surfaces and equipment

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