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The Control of Allergens: Your responsibility!

If you were to take a poll of 30 random people on the street, it is likely the percentage of them who have an allergy of some description would be fairly high.  We live in an age where, if we don’t have an allergy ourselves, we know several others who do.  Allergies and intolerances seem to be a modern day phenomenon and are on the rise. Whilst a lot of people suffer mildly, for some an allergic reaction can be absolutely fatal!

There are all sorts of allergies relating to different food groups and it is imperative that, as a business, you are aware of allergens, how to store them properly and how to avoid cross contamination.  Somebody with a severe allergy to nuts, for example, could go into anaphylactic shock just through ingesting something that has simply been through the same processer.  As a producer or supplier, this could mean that you would be at fault and, in the age in which we now live where litigation cases are at an all-time high, lengthy court proceedings could ensue, something you would wish to avoid at all costs.  In fact, just this week, two men have been in the news charged with the manslaughter of a teenage girl who died from a severe allergic reaction after consuming one of their takeaway meals which contained nuts.  They were charged with ‘failing to discharge general health and safety duty to a person other than an employee’.

Businesses need to be scrupulous in their handling of allergens and it is crucial that the relevant information about what products contain or could potentially contain is communicated clearly so that consumers are not left in any doubt. In fact, when a food allergy sufferer suffers an allergic reaction, it is commonly down to two things, namely, incorrect labelling of a product, or poor communication between staff and customers.

Storage and labelling of foods containing allergens

For those businesses in the catering line, food stuffs containing allergens should be kept in separate, waterproof containers and clearly labelled, preferably with a brightly coloured sticker or icon so that it is immediately apparent to your staff when they are sourcing ingredients for items they are producing.  It is advisable to store them away from other non-allergenic items and have a separate storage area so that you minimise any opportunity for cross contamination. Moreover, staff need to proactively look for and be made aware of hidden ingredients within a product. For example, if producing a shepherd’s pie, using  Worcestershire sauce, staff must communicate that it will contain fish, as anchovies are one of the main ingredients used in Worcestershire sauce.

For those businesses which are packaging and labelling products for sale, there are clear guidelines on alerting consumers to any potential allergens.  Those items which contain an allergen should be highlighted in bold in the ingredients list. For example, a mars bar would indicate that it contains milk chocolate.  This is required by law and is considered sufficient warning for the consumer.  There are 14 different allergen types about which you are required to notify consumers and it is vital that you are aware of them all.  You can find them listed on the Food Standards Agency website.

Cleaning of machinery/equipment/surfaces after using or packaging products containing allergens

Some food producers or packagers might have a dedicated allergen-free product line or area to avoid any cross contamination but this might not be possible for every company.  For most businesses, it will be a case of ensuring there are adequate cleaning processes in place.  Machinery and equipment should be taken apart where possible and all items thoroughly cleaned to remove all trace.  Every surface should also be cleaned as meticulously.  If this is not possible, the Food Standards Agency recommends evaluating the risk and using advisory labelling or notification to the consumer if necessary.

Remember, it isn’t just equipment and machinery that pose a risk.  Even clothing might be a hazard as allergens could be transferred this way.  You should ensure your staff wear correct clothing or protective covering where necessary.

And, of course, one of the most important and simplest processes is to make sure you and your staff wash your hands thoroughly after being in contact with any allergenic product to avoid cross contamination.

Ongoing training for staff

Your business needs to show that all your staff have received adequate instruction regarding allergens and there should be a clear audit trail of training records.  The more information your employees are given, the better equipped you will be to avoid any catastrophes.

We are able to offer training at your premises to assist you in ensuring you follow best practice and put in place procedures which will help you streamline this aspect of your business.  Please contact us if you would like to find out more or would like any help with training.

Alternatively, why not take our online Allergen Awareness Course. Sign up for a free trial today!

 

Is Food Safety an Optional Extra for food Businesses?

If you are a business owner or manager in the food industry, what would be top of your list for ensuring success and setting you apart from the rest?  The best menu, the best food or products, the newest techniques, the best décor, the best staff, the best location? Perhaps a combination of all of them or perhaps you really do lead the field in one or two and you’re a pioneering force within the industry.  But what about food safety?  Where does that feature in your list of priorities?

Food Business Operators have a legal, moral and commercial obligation to ensure the food they are producing is safe, and will not cause harm, injury or illness. With regulations and laws increasing and becoming ever tighter, good food safety procedures and training are imperative to the success of any business.  Whatever your field, inspections by your local authority are mandatory and your food safety processes will be subject to close scrutiny.

Most businesses providing food to the public will come under the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme whereby, based on the results of an inspection, you are given a hygiene rating of 0 to 5, with 5 being the highest and 0 being the lowest.  Although you might choose not to display the certificate in your window if you get a lower rating, all results are available on the Food Standards Agency website, so there is nowhere to hide.

Inspectors seek to ensure that you are creating food and food products that are safe to eat.  It won’t just be the end goods they’re looking at but the whole chain of events from its inception to the final product and all the equipment, processes, procedures, methods and systems in between.

Inspectors will also look at your advertising and product descriptions.  Are you labelling your food, your menus and products accurately or are you being deliberately ambiguous and hoodwinking customers?  Alternatively, you could be unaware that you are misleading customers and need guidance.

If you fall short in any area, inspectors will not be forgiving and enforcement officers have the power to take a number of different actions, depending on the severity of the problem.  A best case scenario would be a ‘hygiene improvement notice’ where you would have to ensure you changed certain procedures in order to meet with government standards and law.  A worst case scenario would be for them to recommend prosecution which could lead to a fine, being banned from the food industry or even imprisonment.

With such rigorous regulations, excellent food safety practices need to be in place and all staff should be trained, either to a basic or more advanced level, depending on their level of responsibility and involvement in the production process.  You can choose to improve your business by updating your décor, changing the tablecloths, updating your menu or hiring more staff but these are choices that you have the luxury of making or not making.  Food safety is not an optional extra like any of these might be, rather, it is an absolute essential to the success and safety of your business.

Remember however, that as important as compliance is, it is not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. (Otherwise it can end-up as a mere ‘box ticking’ exercise which in the end is counter-productive). Ultimately, the most important reason Food Business Operators must take food safety seriously, is for the safety and wellbeing of their customers. That should always be the starting point. This involves:

– Protecting food from all types of contamination

– Preventing harmful bacteria from multiplying in food

– Destroying any harmful bacteria through correct processing and thorough cooking

– Disposing of any contaminated, unfit and/or suspect food.

Finally, and very importantly, managers, supervisors and team leaders can massively help implement standards and maintain a good food safety culture if they lead by example and put into practice what they preach. Hypocrisy is a big turn-off. A manager who takes a ‘maverick approach’ to food safety, or is sloppy, will often find that their staff are too – and in reality, to a greater degree.

Here are just some of the many benefits in taking food safety seriously and promoting a good food safety culture

– Reduced risk of food poisoning

– Satisfied customers

– Good reputation

– Peace of mind

– Hygienic working conditions, which leads to increased staff morale

– Legal compliance.

On the other hand, here are some of the costs of poor food safety practices

– Food poisoning and/or food safety incidents

– Increased complaints

– Poor reputation

– Less profitability

– Low staff morale

– Legal action / fines

– Imprisonment

– Closure of the business.

 

Catersafe Consultants have a wide range of training available from eLearning to a trainer coming to your premises to train you and your staff.  We pride ourselves on thorough and comprehensive training, equipping you to put in place procedures which will ensure the highest standards; standards which are crucial to your business.  Get in touch – we’d love to help you achieve those standards and be a leader in your industry.

Check out our eLearning course on how to achieve a maximum Food Hygiene Rating for your food business! Sign up for a free trial today!

Why is Cooked Rice considered High Risk?

In response to various questions we have had over the years on the subject, we thought it would be worthwhile to dedicate this post to explain in very simple terms, why it is that cooked rice is a high risk product.

For most of us, eating a leftover takeaway for breakfast is not generally acceptable but for some others, it’s a positive treat.  A piece of pizza or the scraps of rice and bhuna from a left-over Indian meal are, to some, a delicious breakfast which will set them up for the day.  When it comes to rice however, it’s probably fair to say that most people tend to over order on their takeaways or overestimate when cooking and end up with huge volumes of the stuff (we never learn!), but is there a danger lurking in this staple of so many people’s diets?

Rice in its raw form often contains bacterial spores of a pathogen called Bacillus Cereus.  The spores are harmless all the while the rice is uncooked but, it is once the cooking process has been completed that the risk arises as the spores are activated by warmth.  Bacillus Cereus spores will often survive the cooking process. This is not an issue, so long as the rice is either consumed when cooked, hot-held above 63ºC, or cooled rapidly and chilled subsequent to cooking. The problem arises when the rice is left out post cooking and enters the temperature rage commonly referred to as the ‘danger zone’ (5ºC – 63ºC, but particularly 20ºC – 50ºC). Once the temperature is favourable, the spores will then begin to germinate, and will release exotoxins in the rice. It is these toxins which cause food poisoning.  The symptoms of Bacillus Cereus food poisoning are often vomiting and diarrhoea and in most cases generally last for about 24 hours; unpleasant and unwanted. It is also worth mentioning however, that there is a second type of Bacillus Cereus which produces an enterotoxin within the intestine. The incubation period for this is often slightly longer than the first type (12 – 24 hours), with the symptoms primarily being abdominal pain, diarrhoea and fever.

Control measures

Freshly and thoroughly cooked, steaming rice should be safe.  The problem comes when rice is left to cool slowly and the bacteria go into overdrive, specifically between the temperatures of 28ºC and 35ºC.  The longer the rice remains left out of temperature control once cooked and is not adequately cooled and refrigerated, the greater the risk.  Avoid rice that has been left out for too long, it really isn’t worth chancing it!

If you are not intending to eat the rice as part of a hot meal but want to eat it cold, we would strongly recommend cooling it quickly and placing it in the fridge within one hour, keeping it at a temperature of 4ºC or lower.  This should make the rice safe to eat when cold; after all, a nice rice salad is an essential part of any good buffet.

If you’ve overestimated on the amount of rice you’ve cooked or purchased and don’t like to see things go to waste but plan on having it the next day as part of another hot meal, the same cooling process should be followed.  Cool it and place it in the fridge within one hour.  When it comes to reheating, make sure you heat it thoroughly (> 75 ºC), so that the rice is steaming, piping hot throughout.  It is recommended that you reheat rice once only and within 24 hours.  If you still have some left over it is best to discard it.

At this point it is important to note that cooked rice, purchased as part of a takeaway meal, would probably have already been reheated. The initial cooking would normally take place at the ‘mise-en-place’ stage in the restaurant’s preparation.

Following these simple guidelines should help you to avoid any food poisoning incidents.  Some rice (not intended for immediate consumption) can be refreshed and cooled instantly under cold running water. However in the absence of a blast chiller and especially for rice dishes with other ingredients and flavours incorporated (such as the base of a risotto or rice salad) a helpful tip when cooling is to decant the rice into a number of separate, shallow  containers; thus spreading out the surface area, enabling  it to cool down faster so that it should be cool enough to place it in the fridge within the hour.

Perhaps we associate food poisoning mostly with undercooked or poorly reheated meat or poultry, but this simple food grain poses just as high a risk and we need to be just as careful.  With that in mind, it is worth thinking twice about that pile of leftover rice on the side, inviting though it seems, and discard it completely.  If you’ve got a food bin, you won’t have to worry about it going to waste as it’ll be taken away for recycling, leaving you to rest in the knowledge that it will be utilised safely and productively and nobody will suffer any ill effects: surely the preferable outcome!

Make sure your Summer al fresco celebration doesn’t end inside…with food poisoning!

Spring has had its day and we’ve passed the first official day of summer, the solstice of 21st June, and with that milestone comes the season for al fresco eating, so beloved by the British people. Picnic baskets will have been dusted off and plastic plates and mugs dug out from the back of the cupboard.

It is worth mentioning that cases of food poisoning in the UK rise significantly over the summer months! Most people love a good picnic but, away from our fridges and freezers and clean running water, it’s wise to be extra mindful of food safety risks and helpful to have some guidelines to follow to get the most out of your al fresco dining experience.

When you’re getting ready – the first steps:

• When preparing the food at home, make sure usual hygiene procedures are followed; wash your hands, keep cooked and raw meat separate to avoid cross contamination and pack the food up separately in airtight containers or keep individual items covered in foil or clingfilm

• If it’s the first time you’re venturing out this summer, give all those implements and containers that have been lurking in the dark corners of your cupboards a thorough clean

When you’re ready to pack up and go:

• Use a cool bag for cold items: a good cool bag lined with ice blocks or frozen gel packs will keep your food cool for a good 2-3 hours. Keeping the food at a low temperature, similar to that of your fridge at home (5°C), will prevent any bacteria from multiplying. It’s best to leave packing the cool bag until just before leaving home so that the food is stored straight from the fridge and is as cold as possible.

• Like you would when stacking your fridge at home, keep any raw meat that you might intend to cook completely separate from other food and place it at the bottom of the cool bag so that there is no danger of any leakage onto other foods.

• Make sure all items are separately contained or wrapped so that you avoid cross contamination.

• If you’re really pushing the boat out and taking hot food, the safest way to transport it is in a thermos box to ensure it retains its temperature. Hot food should be held above 63°C.

• Keep the cool bag in the coolest place possible when in transit, somewhere shady away from the glare of the sun.

When you’re ready to serve up and eat:

• Clean or wash your hands. If there’s a facility for washing, great, but if not, take some anti-bacterial gel with you to ensure you rid your hands of any bacteria you might have picked up running your hands through long grass or making sandcastles.

• Only serve up what you’re intending to eat. Keep the rest in the cool bag until you’re ready for it. In hot weather, food should not be left out for more than a maximum of one hour.

• Keep raw foods and cooked/ready to eat foods strictly separate.

• Make sure you cook any raw meat thoroughly, until the juices run clear and there is no pink left. Use a clean knife to cut into the meat to check the colour and juices if you need to.

• Keep any cooking utensils or implements used in preparing food separate and wrapped up to prevent any bugs or animals touching them and contaminating them.

• Avoid putting food onto unclean surfaces such as the ground, picnic tables etc. Bring plates or even a tablecloth from home if you can.

When you’re ready to come home:

• If the ice packs in the cool bag are still cold and there is leftover food, it should be fine to take home, refrigerate and re-use, – provided it has not been left out but the safest rule is; if in doubt, chuck it out!

Most of all, enjoy it while it lasts and make the most of the sunshine whenever you can because, in this country, you never know when you’ll see it again!

What is Acrylamide?

We’ve all done it. We’ve popped the bread in the toaster and gone away and forgotten about it. The next thing we know, the smoke alarm’s going off and our toast resembles a lump of charcoal. Some of us will consign it to the dustbin, but others adhere to the old adage, waste not want not, and continue to consume it, attempting to overcome the burnt flavour with lashings of their favoured topping.

For years, there have been rumours circulating that burnt toast is carcinogenic but, realistically, is there any evidence for this?

Studies have shown that a chemical called acrylamide is formed naturally when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures (anything above 120˚C). Food items that this applies to are potatoes in various forms, e.g. roast, chips, crisps etc., bread and some cereal products. The sugars in the foods react with naturally occurring amino acids when exposed to high temperatures to form acrylamide.

Scientists tested the impact of acrylamide on rodents and it was found that exposure to the chemical increased the risk of developing several types of cancer quite significantly. As a consequence of these results, food scientists are concerned that this evidence indicates there is a potential cancer risk to humans. There are a few caveats to this, however. It should be noted that the rodents were subjected to exceptionally large doses of the chemical, doses which would be far greater than any amount contained in your Sunday roast potatoes or a bag of crisps, for example. Studies in humans are still incomplete and are, at present, inconclusive. It is impossible to say that a chemical will affect animals and humans in exactly the same way so the results must be considered rationally and cautiously, but it is sensible to pay attention to the scientific findings and take some precautions.

This year, the Food Standards Agency has launched a campaign called, ‘Go for gold’. Contrary to how it might sound, they are not encouraging people to enter the Olympics, but have issued guidelines on how to attain the optimum shade of gold when cooking your starchy foods. With any form of cooking, whether it be frying, roasting or toasting, the goal should be to achieve a light golden colour. Cooking starchy food for too long and at too high a temperature will increase the amount of acrylamide. They also advise against keeping potatoes in the fridge as this can cause the sugars to multiply, thus raising the amount of acrylamide in the end product once cooked. Always check the guidelines on the packet when cooking things like oven chips. The food industry is attempting to do what it can to reduce the acrylamide concentrations in food so it would be prudent to follow their cooking guidelines.

It is easy to be alarmed by these reports about such staple fixtures of our diets, but it is important to remember that the studies on humans are inconclusive and that the risk is not yet substantiated. The Food Standards Agency recommends that a balanced and moderate diet including your standard 5 a day will help reduce the risk of cancer. Let moderation be our watchword and maybe that piece of toast really should just go in the bin.

 

Here is a video from the Food Standards Agency with some basic information on Acrylamide and their ‘Go for Gold’ Campaign.

Seven Common Reasons for a Low Food Hygiene Rating!

Seven Common Reasons for a Low Food Hygiene Rating!

hygiene ratingFollowing on from my comments on BBC West Midlands in November and my radio interview with BBC Coventry and Warwickshire on the 17th June 2015; I thought it would be a good idea to remind people of the most common reasons why food businesses fail to achieve a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ food hygiene rating. I was invited onto the breakfast show to give some insight into why a wide range of eateries in the Coventry and Warwickshire area, have only attained a food hygiene rating of “1” from the Local Authority – with some premises awarded “0” out of a possible “5”.

Every food business, whether it be a large supermarket, a branded restaurant chain or a small proprietor run café, have the potential to be awarded the Food Standards Agency maximum food hygiene rating of 5 (very good). The maximum rating demonstrates to your customers that you not only value their custom, but you’re working hard to ensure the highest possible standards of food safety and that food purchased from your premises won’t make them unwell.

The food safety officer inspecting a business will work out and award an overall Food Hygiene Rating based across three different areas, which are:

 

  1. How hygienically the food is handled – how food is prepared, cooked, re-heated, cooled and stored.

 

  1. The condition, layout and structure of the building- including the cleanliness, lighting, ventilation as well as other facilities and amenities.

 

  1. Confidence in management – how effectively the business manages food safety.

Unfortunately, although many businesses have the potential to be awarded a very good rating, they don’t actually achieve it because of a failure to develop, implement, and adhere to some very straightforward procedures. Based on our experience, these are the seven most common reasons why businesses fail to achieve a very good food hygiene rating:

 

  1. No documented food safety management system in place. (Whilst the premises may not be dirty, there’s no documented evidence that food safety is being taken seriously. Remember: If it’s not written down, there’s no proof!)

 

  1. Failure to actively and diligently manage an existing food safety system. (Documentation and monitoring records such as fridge/freezer temperatures etc. must be filled in regularly and in a timely manner. Depending on the type of business, this will require records to be completed several times each day.)

 

  1. Lack of knowledge. (A failure to keep abreast of current legislation may result in a food safety management system that is no longer “fit for purpose”.)

 

  1. Business operators viewing food safety as an ‘optional extra’. (During the course of a busy and pressurised day, when customer numbers are high, there may be a temptation to serve food quickly rather than safely.)

 

  1. Lack of staff training. (Many food service businesses employ additional staff during the summer but fail to provide them with adequate training. Some small business operators working on narrow margins are often tempted to view training for casual or seasonal staff as a waste of money.)

 

  1. Poor hygiene habits of food handlers. (Even where food safety training has been delivered, management may fail to ensure staff actually adhere to it!)

 

  1. Poor cleaning practices due to poor structure and layout of the premises. (Food businesses by law should have adequate lighting, ventilation, drainage and a dependable supply of hot and cold potable water, with separate sinks for hand washing and food preparation. Poorly laid out or difficult to access areas, such as behind ovens and freezers, may result in staff failing to clean effectively, which can result in a build-up of dangerous levels of bacteria and an infestation of pests.)

 

If you would like help implementing a food safety management system for your business, or help in achieving the Food Standards Agency maximum food hygiene rating, contact Sam Turner at CaterSafe Consultants: http://catersafeconsultants.co.uk/contact-us