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The Catering and Hospitality Industry and Hygiene Post Covid-19

Back in March, the government’s emergency legislation in response to Covid-19, ordered restaurants and pubs to close down essentially overnight. The Catering and Hospitality industry remains one of the hardest hit by the crisis. As the months have rolled on and restaurants and pubs look to reopen their doors by potentially, early July, many wonder how things might have to change or become different post Covid-19, especially when it comes to food hygiene and food safety.

Post COVID or Post Lockdown?

The phrase ‘post COVID-19’ means after COVID-19. The prefix post- means “after” or “behind”.

If you take that at face value, this assumes the pandemic has finished so therefore COVID-19 controls will no longer be necessary and things can go back to the way they were, by virtue of the fact there will no longer be COVID-19 to control against. However, some people when they use the term ‘post COVID-19’ actually mean ‘post lockdown’ or ‘during the easing of restrictions’. We very much hope that things will return to normal as soon as reasonably possible!

While we remain optimistic, that does need to be balanced with a realistic mindset. We cannot predict the future, but COVID-19 has left its mark on all of us and as restrictions ease, there certainly must be measures that will have to be in place within catering establishments before business commences once again, as well as during service that will control infection and possible transmission of the virus. Some of these measures will be temporary, but some are likely to last longer.


Before returning to work and reopening

First of all, in order to safeguard both employees and customers alike, there must be necessary and specific prerequisites in place. This is to ensure foundational preventative actions are put into effect long before a customer sets foot on the premises. This will include but is not limited to:

  • Directors, Food Business Operators and senior managers alike, should have dialogue prior to staff returning to their workplace, in order to ensure that appropriate procedures can be developed and put in place before staff return. Further discussions should take place very soon after workers return to identify whether those controls are working and are being adhered to. It will also be necessary for further discussions as things evolve or anything significantly changes.
  • A formal review of the establishment’s Food Safety Management System and Risk Assessments to ensure adequate and additional controls are up-to-date and take into account current scientific and epidemiological information. This would involve: making sure that adequate virus controls are in place such as deep cleans which occur more frequently, perhaps considering the use of contract cleaners and also making use of new virucidal cleaning products, as well as anti-bacterial disinfectants
  • A strong emphasis on a good food safety and safety culture. A Food Safety Culture are the values, attitudes and behaviours that characterise a food establishment with regards to food safety. This is demonstrated by displaying to staff and customers that ensuring food safety is an important commitment and not just “lip service.” For this to happen, Food Business Operators, Managers and Supervisors must communicate standards and legal responsibilities of staff and the importance thereof. This is a continual process, which will reinforce good hygiene practice on a day-to-day basis. Examples of this could be:


  • Verbal or written instruction demonstrating good practice
  • The use of relevant training courses for staff 
  • Issuing company workbook and hygiene rules to inform staff
  • The use of notices or posters, markers, signs, tape and / or floor mats reinforcing this will serve as a guide and a visual reminder
  • Leading by example.


  • Additional Training for Furloughed Staff. As things will have changed considerably by the time staff return to work, make sure that staff are prepared and up to date with the latest information and any new or different control measures/ policies and that support is given for any queries they may have.

Cleanliness and Personal Hygiene

After prerequisites are in place, it is important that appropriate measures are carried out and continue when business resumes trading. Although studies to date show that the virus is not foodborne, it is even more important that food handlers regularly wash their hands thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds; keep their uniforms neat and clean, and any staff who are unwell or displaying coronavirus symptoms must NOT be at work but go home and follow the current government guidelines for quarantining. Food businesses should be aware that not only must basic hygiene practices be maintained but also areas of risk are recognised and that special attention is paid to these areas.

  Cleaning of surfaces and Touch Points

Any hand contact surface areas must be cleaned frequently in order to stop the transmission of the virus. Stringent and regular cleaning of door handles, tills, table surfaces, menus etc. must be implemented. It is also important that surfaces such as tables are antimicrobial, being smooth, impervious and without crevices for viruses to harbour in.

Screening of guests

In some establishments it may also be possible to send guests a health screening questionnaire upon booking and providing them with written information; reminding them of the guidelines regarding self-isolation, if they or someone in their household has symptoms of COVID-19.

The idea of temperature checking customers as they enter the establishment could also mitigate the risk of an infected individual entering and infecting others. However, in addition to asymptomatic cases, there have been cases of infected persons not exhibiting a high temperature as a symptom of COVID-19. Therefore, although this may be a useful tool, it is by no means infallible.

 Social Distancing and PPE

In order to practice social distancing within the premises, a few things may be done to aid in carrying this out:

  • A reduced set customer allowance number
  • Make use of outside seating areas (if possible)
  • Updated seating arrangement that conforms to the 2 metre rule (wherever possible)
  • The use of ‘long trays’
  • The ceasation of buffets
  • The appropriate use of PPE such as plastic face shields and disposable gloves

Although the above may seem straightforward enough on paper, this will present various challenges. We must acknowledge at this point that the area of social distancing is not so straightforward and is problematic (even potentially with a 1 metre distancing rule) not least for the following two reasons:

  1. One of the primary reasons people go out to restaurants, pubs and clubs is to socialize. Food is one of the primary binding forces of our culture and there is a lot more than going out merely to be fed. Social distancing is by definition not very social and will inevitably create an unusual and clinical atmosphere and will take away from the occasion.
  2. Many restaurants rely on volume of customers to make them commercially viable – it’s a numbers game. For customers to adequately socially distance it could mean that the majority of restaurants will need to run at a half capacity or less, which would not only lead to a drop in profits, but in many cases cause the business to run at a loss and subsequently, will be unlikely to survive under social distancing. This is one of the biggest challenges that will need to be overcome. It is however interesting that the current government advice is “…practise social distancing wherever possible.” (Emphasis added). In the many cases it will not be possible to socially distance.

These extra measures will likely be temporary and we, as a business hope things will return to normal soon. Some of our team had the opportunity to talk to an epidemiologist recently who believes that this virus is on its way out and it won’t be long now before it comes to an end. As much as we still need to be careful and remain on our guard, the measures we put in place must be proportionate to the level of risk. We should not be cracking the proverbial peanut with a sledgehammer! Are we really being driven by objective medical and scientific advice or are we being ruled by fear? It is important that common sense prevails and measures are reasonable and commensurate with the risks. It is important also that individuals balance and weigh-up the risks for themselves.


For practical advice on returning to work and workplace controls and to be COVID safe, please contact us.

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HACCP training courses in UK

Find out about HACCP training courses

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a popular, methodical and effective way to manage food safety. In 2006, a new regulation was passed that all food and beverage businesses must have a food safety management system in place. Furthermore, the system must base itself on HACCP principles. As well as this, food businesses must keep up to date records of its operations.

CaterSafe Consultants can help to bring your business up to speed with HACCP through a range of HACCP training courses delivered in-house or externally. We also offer a comprehensive Introduction To HACCP Level Two online e-learning course. This course is ideal for food businesses as it allows delegates to complete the course at a convenient time without lowering productivity or impacting production.


What is HACCP?

HACCP was originally a food safety system developed by NASA. NASA pioneered

HACCP training courses

 the system for increased food safety during the space race. Since then, it has evolved, and many businesses in the food and beverage industry utilise its principles. In 2006, The Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006, as well as the equivalent regulations in the rest of the UK, simplified the legislation to align with HACCP principles.

HACCP principles have certainly made it easier for businesses to implement a food safety management system. However, it is vital that companies within the food industry can prove due diligence and conformance to HACCP. Complying with a HACCP strategy can lower the risk of a serious incident and can help you legally if something goes wrong.

During visits and inspections, the Environmental Health Officer is likely to ask to see your HACCP plan incorporated in your food safety management system. If you fail to comply, then you may face a fine. As well as this, you may face the prospect of closure either temporarily or permanently. With this in mind, HACCP and HACCP training courses are critical to your business success and profitability.


How can HACCP Training courses help?

HACCP is essential to your food safety management system. As a result, it is vital that your team has full knowledge of HACCP and how to implement it successfully in your organisation. HACCP training courses will begin by introducing the key terminology and aspects of HACCP.

With foundations in place, training can then focus on how to identify hazards. This then leads to understanding the appropriate critical control points you need in place. Hazard analysis and critical control identification can then ensure full compliance and a high standard of food safety.

CaterSafe Consultants recommend the Introduction To HACCP Level Two course to all teams who interact with food during their work. This comprehensive e-learning course allows people to learn at their own pace and at a convenient time. Furthermore, it makes it easy to train new employees as soon as they begin work. This takes away the stress and difficulty of organising regular training sessions.

Want to find out more about HACCP Training?

For more details, please call 01233 822 201 or contact a member of our consultancy team for more information.

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Food Hygiene Courses Kent

Food Safety Courses

If your business is in the food sector, then your employees will need food safety training. If you make, handle, prepare or sell food, then your staff need training. Without sufficient training, supervision or instruction, you may face a scathing review from your local Environmental Health Officer. At CaterSafe, we know how important it is for businesses to have excellent health, hygiene and safety standards. With this in mind, CaterSafe provides a range of food hygiene courses Kent.

The benefits of food hygiene courses Kent

At CaterSafe, we offer training for food businesses in Kent as well as across the UK. We provide both onsite and offsite training as well as e-learning courses for complete food safety coverage for all team members and food situations. There are many benefits to having sufficient food hygiene training which includes;


Training can help staff to understand the necessary legislation which can help to improve your compliance. This can help to increase your rating by inspections too.

Image boosting

Customers will look out for good and bad food hygiene practices. If customers are not happy that your business operates safely and cleanly, then it can damage your reputation. Regular training and refresher training can help to reiterate the importance of good food hygiene practice and make sure customers are happy that you prioritise their safety.

Reduce food wastage

Following the right food hygiene principles can help staff to be more aware of food storage and handling. Our training courses will also highlight pest control. All of which can help your business to minimise wastage which can save your business money.

Improve profits with food hygiene courses Kent

CaterSafe offers a range of food hygiene courses Kent and across the UK. Our courses can help to improve efficiency, provide practical tips and assure best practice approaches. All of which can reduce operational costs, improve your reputation and increase profits. Book your food hygiene course with our expert trainers by calling 01233 822 201.


Food Safety At Christmas

Christmas Turkey

Food Safety At Christmas

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat!  Actually, these days, it’s the turkey that’s getting fat and plumped up, ready for our tables on Christmas Day along with all the other trimmings that make our festive feasts such a sumptuous affair.  As with such feasts, there are often left overs which hang around for the rest of the day, waiting to be thrown between two slices of bread for a tasty sandwich later on or perhaps saved for bubble and squeak the following day.

Whatever our eating habits over the festive season, there are always a few things we should be mindful of when preparing, cooking and eating, as the most unwanted guest in your house this year will be food poisoning.

It’s likely that in pride of place on your table will be the turkey, fresh out of the oven, golden skinned and ready for carving.  What’s gone before in all the preparation and cooking will decide whether what’s on our table is safe to eat.  Here are a few tips to help you stay food safe over the Christmas season.

First and foremost, before you start any food preparation, ALWAYS wash your hands.

The turkeyChristmas Turkey

  • If it’s been frozen, make sure it is thoroughly defrosted by following the instructions on the label. Detailed guidelines on how to do this can also be found in a blog we published previously (https://catersafeconsultants.co.uk/seven-safety-tips-for-defrosting-your-turkey-this-christmas/).
  • Store it in the lowest part of the refrigerator to prevent it dripping onto anything else and contaminating it.
  • Don’t wash the turkey before you cook it. It could splash potentially harmful pathogenic bacteria around the kitchen surfaces and you run the risk of cross contamination.
  • ALWAYS wash your hands after handling the turkey and moving onto something else
  • ALWAYS wash the implements used in preparing the turkey thoroughly before using them for something else.
  • Make sure you cook the turkey thoroughly so that the juices run clear and, if you have a cooking thermometer, check that the centre has reached 75˚C.
  • Once you’ve finished and the bird is in the oven, wash your hands thoroughly.

The trimmings

  • Make sure surfaces are clean before you start preparing any food on them. Use anti-bacterial spray and a clean cloth, preferably kitchen roll which you can then dispose of.  Do this each time you move onto a different food item to prepare.
  • Make sure you use clean implements and chopping boards. On no account use any implements or boards you have used for raw meats.   ALWAYS keep raw meats separate from vegetables (e.g. the pigs in blankets).
  • ALWAYS wash your hands when you’ve finished preparing one trimming and you’re moving onto the next to avoid cross contamination.
  • Make sure everything is cooked thoroughly and piping hot, ready for your table.


The leftovers

  • Cover leftovers with foil or clingfilm and leave to cool.
  • Put them in the refrigerator within an hour if possible (your fridge should be set at 4-5˚C). Don’t leave them hanging about on the table or kitchen worktop as bacteria will multiply rapidly.
  • If you choose to reheat the food later or on the following day rather than eating it cold, make sure it is heated through and piping hot.


The guestsChristmas guests

  • Christmas comes at a time of year when there are lots of bugs and illnesses lurking around every corner. If your guests arrive with a sniffle and a handkerchief (or worse), make sure they don’t handle or serve any food and that they keep away from the kitchen.


Enjoy the wonderful festival of Christmas without the worry of food borne illnesses.  Follow these simple steps and precautions and we hope you have yourselves a merry little Christmas.

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Why is Cooked Rice considered High Risk?

Cooked Rice

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!


Chlorinated Chicken – Is There A Problem?

Raw Chicken

It was never going to be too long before another food scare hit the headlines and it’s now the turn of the humble chicken or, more specifically, the humble, chlorinated chicken.  With the Brexit process underway, trade deals are being pursued with a number of countries, one of the most sought after being the US.  A major coup by any standard but alarm bells have been sounding in the press over potential chicken imports because of their method of supplying chicken to consumers, leaving the end product with a considerable level of chlorine.

Although we share a common language with our American friends, we do not share the same food safety processes.  In the UK, there is a strict procedure throughout the whole rearing process of animals which seeks to eliminate bacteria at every stage, right through to the end product.  With chicken, stringent processes and protocols are in place from the incubator, the rearing sheds on farms and the abattoirs, through to preparation for point of sale.

This differs from the method they tend to use in the US which bypasses the various stages at which hygiene processes could be implemented and, instead, a chlorine wash of the end product is carried out to eradicate any bacteria on the meat to ensure it is safe to eat.  The US claims that this method kills off bugs and, particularly, salmonella.  These imports are currently banned by the EU as EU law stipulates that nothing but water should be used to clean meat that is being prepared for sale.

Interestingly, although banned, it has not been deemed unsafe or unfit for consumption.  The European Food Safety Authority has declared that there is no serious concern over the use of chlorine and other chemical washes in poultry and its subsequent consumption by the public.  The British Poultry Council concurs with this, as do scientific studies conducted by various American agencies.  In a nation that is as litigious as the US, it is unlikely an unsafe product would be so widely available.  It is also worth noting that low levels of chlorine have been added to our drinking water in the UK for years, the first case of chlorine water treatment being in the town of Maidstone, Kent in 1897. Chlorine is also used in most pre-prepared fruit, vegetables and salads we purchase in our supermarkets.

The bigger concern is the disparity in the breeding and rearing hygiene processes between US and UK farmers which lead to the point of sale product.  This could impact UK farmers negatively and undermine all the work that has already been done to develop safe processes throughout the slaughter procedure and it is important to maintain and to continue to develop the high standard of hygiene to which UK farmers adhere.

To date, large numbers of our politicians are not backing down and are refusing to accept chlorinated chicken as part of a trade deal.  Their resolve might not hold, however, and, if a trade deal is sealed with the US and chlorinated chicken makes its way onto our shelves, as one MP says, it will be down to us, as consumers, to decide.


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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!


Aspartame: Is it Safe?

What is Aspartame, and is it safe?

With the new sugar tax coming into effect from April 2018, it can be expected that companies will be using low calorie alternatives in their products even more frequently as a means to avoid paying any extra revenue, as you would anticipate they might.

For a number of years, there have been several food additives used as a substitute for sugar to sweeten food and beverages and one of the most popular is aspartame.  Aspartame is an artificial sweetener often used in soft drinks, chewing gum, sweets, yoghurts, crisps and vitamin tablets, not forgetting the little white sweetening tablets found in the small dispensers so many buy to use as an alternative to a spoonful of sugar in their tea or coffee.  It is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar.  The intense sweetness means that only miniscule amounts are needed to sweeten products and so the calorie count is significantly reduced, indeed, in products where sugar would usually be the main calorific ingredient, it makes the calorie content far more palatable.  For those with the occasional craving for something sweet, this would seem to be the perfect solution.

As with any miracle product though, it is always worth digging a bit deeper.  The components that make up aspartame are phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol.  Once ingested, the body breaks aspartame down into those original three elements.  Phenylalanine is particularly dangerous for those who suffer from a very rare condition called, phenylketonuria.  These individuals’ bodies are unable to process phenylalanine meaning it can build up in their blood and brain, potentially causing brain damage, so it is important that they monitor what they are ingesting.  With such a toxic effect on this small percentage of the world’s population, it would seem prudent to exercise caution. 

There have been countless controversies about aspartame since it was first developed in 1965 and pronounced safe by the EU in 1994.  Some studies have claimed it causes, amongst other things, heart palpitations, headaches, dizziness, migraines, seizures, brain tumours, diabetes, cancer, epilepsy and even birth defects. It should be noted that none of these have been formally substantiated and that the European Food Safety Authority conducted a study in 2013 which concluded that aspartame was safe, however, these claims will not go away.  There is a constant flow of scare stories about aspartame which continues to cast a shadow of uncertainty over its safety.

In 2007, Marks & Spencer, Asda and Sainsbury’s all announced that they would no longer be using aspartame or any other artificial additives in their own brand products.  They now use some of the other alternative sweeteners that are available such as sucralose and sorbitol.  A product which is widely available and naturally occurring is Xylitol.  This has been known about for over half a century and can be extracted from birch trees or corn cobs so comes from a natural source, although it does have to go through a processing procedure to bring it to point of sale.

Avoiding sugar and replacing it with alternatives about whose side effects there is still debate is not the only option available to us.  A balanced diet including moderate amounts of sugar together with regular exercise is always to be endorsed and will help maintain good health but for those who suffer health issues which mean sugar is a no-go zone, then it’s worth doing your research about the type of sweeteners that are available so that you can make an informed choice about just what you’re putting into your body.

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Is The Sugar Tax Justified?

Thoughts on the Sugar Tax

If you have a sweet tooth, you might have found the proposals to impose a tax on sugary drinks in the latest Budget slightly disappointing.  There is no denying that childhood obesity is a problem in the UK and that steps need to be taken to combat it, but is a sugar tax the right step to take?

From April 2018, the sugar tax will be levied upon producers, importers, retailers and consumers of any soft drinks which have added sugar.  Some alcoholic drinks, with a volume of up to 1.2% will also have the tax applied.  Fruit juices are exempt as they contain naturally occurring sugars, but purchasers will be advised to limit their consumption.  There will be two levels of tax; a lower rate of 18p per litre which will apply to those drinks which have 5g or more sugar per 100ml and a higher rate of 24p per litre for those drinks which have 8g or more sugar per 100ml.  Your standard 330ml can of coke contains 35g of sugar, the equivalent of 7 teaspoons, so will be hit hard.

Many organisations including Diabetes UK and the charity, Action on Sugar, have been campaigning for this outcome for some time and have welcomed the news.  It also has the backing of dentists as a means of reducing tooth decay.  A triumph for many it seems, but is sugar getting an unfair press?

Sugar is a naturally occurring carbohydrate and is present in the structure of most natural products in one form or another, e.g. fructose in fruit and lactose in milk.  We tend to think of it as it is most commonly used, in granulated crystal form, sourced from sugarcane and sugar beet.  It is used in baking, e.g. cakes and biscuits and is added to other foods for sweetening and flavour.  Sugar is also a natural preservative, causing bacteria to lose water which impedes its ability to live and multiply, prolonging the shelf life of many products.

It would not be unreasonable to say that sugar is essential in our diets because it is.  Sugar provides vital energy for our muscles and helps to keep our brains functioning effectively. There is a recommended daily allowance of added sugar per day of 30g or 7 teaspoons for adults.  The problem comes when too much is consumed as it can lead to all sorts of health problems including diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.  All these are on the rise amongst children.

Is a tax on sugar the answer to these issues and will it stop excessive intake?  It is true that there is almost an epidemic when it comes to childhood obesity but a hike in prices is unlikely to reduce consumption.  Most people that this is aimed at will continue to buy what they want and be prepared to pay the extra pennies, as we have seen with exorbitant petrol prices and 5p carrier bags.  It would be more effective to roll out an educational programme for adults and children, perhaps through television or social media, which presents them with the key information they need to know about sugar and added sugar in items like soft drinks so that they can make their own decisions and take action if required.

Producers are already looking at other ways to reduce added sugar and a popular method is to use alternative, synthetic sweeteners which are still, at this point, somewhat of an unknown quantity in terms of effects on the body.  Some groups do not want the tax to stop at soft drinks and are calling for it to be imposed on other goods such as sweets and confectionary.  Where will it all end?  Sugar should not necessarily be demonised, it does have its place and should be a small part of your staple diet, but in moderation and it is that moderation which should be encouraged and promoted in a helpful, informative way that gives the public the freedom to make their own choices.


Hepatitis E in Pork

There is usually one food scare or another in the media to keep us on our toes and, after the furore over horse meat found in some products had died down, the latest to hit the front pages is the risk of Hepatitis E in pork. This story broke last week in the papers but it is not news to everybody.  Several studies have already been carried out to investigate these reports and the findings are interesting.

Hepatitis E (HEV) is a virus that affects the liver and the main symptoms include jaundice, pale stools and darker than normal colouration of urine.  The good news is that it is a virus the body’s natural defence system can deal with and it usually resolves itself fairly quickly.  Some cases can be more serious for those with pre-existing immune conditions or pregnant women, so it is always advisable to see a doctor.

In countries where sanitation is poor, it is most commonly transmitted through water and food contaminated with sewage from infected people and animals.  In other countries, it can be spread from animals to humans, mostly through undercooked pork and sometimes processed pork.  HEV is widely found in pigs, hence the suspected risk.  It is highly unusual for humans to contract it from another human.

In recent years, there has been a significant rise in cases of HEV in a number of developed countries, including Japan, France, the Netherlands, the US and the UK.  Those mostly affected tend to be men over the age of 50.  A study was carried out in 2009-10 by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge that found there was evidence that the virus was potentially passed on during pork production.  They collected samples from slaughtered pigs at various points of manufacture, right through to the final product which lands on our shelves.  As a rule, the percentage of the virus found in samples of point of sale items was low, but it was discovered.  Of 63 sausages tested, 6 were found to contain the virus.

A later study in 2013, initiated by Defra and backed by other public bodies including the Food Standards Agency and Public Health England, concluded that, of the approximately 60,000 human cases of HEV in the UK each year, two thirds in England were NOT transmitted from UK pig products.

What does this mean for us?  It is apparent there is a very small risk that some point of sale pork products could contain HEV, however, most products you buy at the supermarket will be safe.   Make sure you buy your pork products from a trusted source.  All good suppliers will only purchase meat from approved outlets and abattoirs with robust HACCP and food safety management systems in place.  Since these studies were carried out, it is likely that even more stringent procedures will have been implemented by any good manufacturer.

The Food Standards Agency advises that, when cooking pork, it should be ‘thoroughly cooked until steaming hot throughout, the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear.’  This will minimise any risk of any foodborne illness, not just HEV.

Finally, if we even need to say it, always remember to wash your hands thoroughly before and after preparing pork and clean and disinfect the equipment and utensils used thoroughly to avoid cross contamination!


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What is Acrylamide?

Acrylamide mitigation for food safety

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.

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10 tips for an Effective Food Safety Audit

Food Safety audit

How To Do An Effective Food Safety Audit

There are many benefits of carrying out regular audits, which include; honest self-assessment, giving feedback to management and identifying whether the systems, processes and procedures in place are working and meet the required objectives.  Audits should be proactive rather than reactive, and can identify potential future problems before they occur. Whether you are responsible for internal audits of your food premises, a third party auditor, or verifying HACCP and Food Safety Management Systems, here are some practical tips for carrying out an effective audit.

  1. Identify and ensure the competency of the auditor. The auditor / inspector should be highly knowledgeable and competent in food safety and HACCP (or the specific area which is to be audited). The auditor must be in full agreement about what is to be covered and the standards and set criteria thereof. This applies to internal as well as external audits.
  1. Before carrying out an audit it is essential to plan ahead! It has been said many times: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Planning is vital to a successful and effective audit. As well as establishing the clear aims and objectives of the inspection, planning should take into account practical things like; the size and complexity of the business, the amount of travelling involved, site restrictions (such as opening times etc.), level of in-house expertise and any language barriers of staff.
  1. Communication is an integral part of carrying out an audit. It is important that the auditor communicates clearly and concisely. Be polite, affable, and professional. Don’t be overly familiar or effusive, but at the same time do not be too serious or austere. When verbally questioning staff and auditees make use of open, leading, and sympathetic questioning techniques. A good auditor will not just check, but will watch, listen, and ask questions. When talking to employees do not become side-tracked or distracted. While some ‘small talk’ is acceptable and sometimes necessary, always stick to the point.
  1. The auditor should be impartial, fair and objective, and act with integrity.
  1. Be methodical and systematic. Carry out the audit in a coherent manner. For example, the auditor should go through what they are auditing in a logical order from the beginning to the end. It’s more than merely being guided through mechanically by the audit checklist! It’s really about linking things together and checking the process meets the procedure, and the corresponding documentation. Always take notes as you go, whether written or on a smartphone, iPad or tablet.
  1. The auditor should take photographs as and when necessary – but only of what is relevant to the audit. What can’t speak can’t lie! Again, best on a smaller device such as an iPad or smartphone, rather than a large camera. We tend to use the iPhone 6s, which are discreet and have a good built in camera.
  1. If an audit is carried out at a busy time – don’t get in the way and definitely do not spend time interviewing people. Most of the time should be spent observing working practices. Also, do not stay longer than necessary. As soon as the objectives have been met you should depart. On the other hand, never leave until you have made sufficient judgement and your outcomes have been achieved.
  1. It is fundamental that auditors keep up to date with latest industry trends, scientific and epidemiological research and information. For example, within the context of a food business, the threat of Campylobacter in raw chicken is a greater problem today than salmonella. Advice may change as understanding increases.
  1. Always write up the audit report in a timely manner. This should be as close to the event as possible. Ensure that you write concisely and clearly. Avoid emotive or ‘flowery’ language. Write as dispassionately as possible. Opinions are fine, as long as they can be substantiated and are pertinent; however, reports should be written on fact and backed up by quantifiable and empirical evidence. Give clear recommendations and prioritised timescales which are practical, measurable, and achievable. Actions which need addressing immediately or within a few days should be dealt with and remedied at the time of visit, following verbal advice. However, it’s still good practice to record this in your report.
  1. When giving recommendations, it is very important that the auditor clearly distinguishes between recommendations based on best practice and legal requirements. Inexperienced auditors often get the two confused!

To learn more about being an effective auditor, contact us , and we’ll also let you have details of the next Level 3 Auditing and Inspection Skills training course that we are running in your area.


The Difference Between a Food Allergy and Food Intolerance

food allergy

Food Allergens: What’s the Difference between an Allergy and Intolerance?Food Intolerance

Some people react negatively to certain foods but does a dichotomy exist between an allergy and intolerance? If you have a food intolerance, it means that once you eat that food, your body cannot properly digest it. Or rather, your digestive system is irritated by that particular food or ingredient. If this is the case, eating that food will usually result in nausea, diarrhoea, cramps, abdominal pain, among other symptoms. Usually, even if you are intolerant to a certain food, you may be able to eat it without much trouble. You can do this by consuming only small amounts of the food, or substituting certain components, such as drinking lactose-free milk, for example, if you have lactose intolerance.

There are various reasons why one might develop an intolerance to a certain food. These include:

  • An absence of the enzyme required to digest a particular food, for instance in the case of lactose intolerance.
  • Toxins that may be present in contaminated food leading to food poisoning.
  • Some food additives that are used in preservation of foods may trigger attacks in sensitive people.
  • There are times when the thought of a particular food may make one feel sick. This psychological factor has however not been fully understood.
  • People with celiac disease react to foods containing gluten in the same way that people with food allergies do.

A food allergy, on the other hand, is a more serious condition. When one is allergic to a particular food or ingredient, their body’s immune system reacts to the presence of that food in the body as it would to an invader. An allergic reaction involving the release of histamine in the body results, leading to breathing problems, tightening of the throat, vomiting, a drop in blood pressure, swelling and even abdominal pain, among others. An allergic reaction can be life-threatening (anaphylaxis) and can be triggered by something as simple as eating microscopic amounts of the food or even inhaling it.

Food intolerance and food allergies usually exhibit similar symptoms, which is why many people confuse the two. If you have a severe food allergy, you should always carry an emergency injectable epinephrine, as well as totally avoid the problem foods at all times.

If you are not sure whether you are allergic or intolerant to particular foods, you should speak to your doctor who will help you clearly determine which of the two categories you belong to. This way, you will always be prepared because if you are truly allergic to a certain food, you should take steps to ensure you do not place yourself in a life-threatening situation.


Food Fraud

food fraud

What is Food Fraud?

With the ever widening global food supply chain, food fraud is becoming an increasing problem that is of major concern to suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, and, of course, consumers.

So what exactly is food fraud and why should the public be worried about it? Food fraud refers to any situation where food is tampered with or misrepresented with an intention of deceiving the consumer, with the main goal being to gain financially from such acts. There are many different types of food fraud, and these have been explored at length in scientific journals by various scholars. However, the two main types of food fraud are:

Sale of food that is unfit and has the potential to harm

This type of food fraud includes sale of beef and poultry with unknown origins, recycling of animal by-products with an intention of getting them back into the food chain, and even knowingly selling food products which have exceeded recommended use by, or safe to eat, dates.

Deliberate misrepresentation of food

Substituting products with cheaper alternatives and making false statements about where the food products originated from are some examples of this type of food fraud.

If animals have been stolen and illegally slaughtered, the sale of such meat constitutes food fraud, the same being true for wild game that has been poached.

The deliberate contamination of food for financial gain is worrisome in that it poses serious health risks to the consumer. With chemicals such as melamine and heparin making their way into the food chain there are serious implications for the long-term health of consumers.

Indeed, it will take a lot of vigilance to ensure that tampering of food products is curtailed. With the increasing fragmentation of global food supply chains, it has become much harder to trace the sources of food, which makes it difficult to detect tampering when it occurs. In the recent horse meat scandal for instance, the meat product travelled across several networks in several European countries, undetected.

Considering that the horse meat scandal is just a tip of the iceberg, it is no surprise therefore that consumers, investigators and regulators are anxious to identify any suspicious products that may be passed off as legitimate food products.

Consumers are entitled to the highest standards of food safety and manufacturers need to be completely transparent in disclosing details of where exactly they source their food, and what safeguards they have in place to prevent food fraud.


Safe Low-Temperature and Sous Vide Cooking

optimal cooking temperature

Safe Low-Temperature and Sous Vide Cookingsous vide cooking

Mention “sous vide” and most people will think of food that has been cooked at a very low temperature.  Sous vide cooking involves sealing ingredients in a vacuum pack bag and cooking in a water bath, a combination oven, or indeed any other cooker that can set and hold a target temperature. Essentially, sous vide cooking is about preparing dishes at an optimal cooking temperature; the temperature being sufficiently high enough to eradicate thermo-tolerant pathogens, whilst still being low enough to maximize flavour. Once cooked, the product is usually served immediately, or it can be seared and / or served or stored in a refrigerator (preferably below 3 degrees Celsius). This makes sous vide a flexible option for the busy caterer, as it enables high quality dishes to be prepared and stored in advance of busy service times.

Sous vide cooking has caught the imagination of chefs from all over the world because it is considered one of the best forms of cooking for enhancing the flavour and texture of food. When food is cooked at low temperatures there is minimal moisture loss. Foods, especially meats, become tender and more succulent when prepared at lower temperatures. This style of cooking also has a reputation for enhancing the visual appearance of food as well as its texture.

However, food cooked at low temperatures has the potential to cause food poisoning because there is a risk that pathogens may be able to survive the cooking process; therefore only those chefs who fully understand the risks associated with sous vide, and have received the appropriate food safety training, should engage in it.

Chefs must ensure they take all necessary steps to mitigate the risk of food poisoning, and that includes only using the freshest of ingredients from a reputable and traceable source. They must also be totally familiar with the equipment, temperatures and times to be used in the cooking process, and to have received the correct and sufficient training.

Personal and environmental hygiene is also extremely important in sous vide cooking; food handlers must make sure that they personally are scrupulously clean, as well as the kitchen in which it the food is to be prepared.

To summarise: Sous vide cooking should only be carried out by professionally trained chefs who fully understand this particular cooking technique and the potential food poisoning hazards  associated with it.

If you would like to have your staff professionally trained in sous vide cooking and the food safety training necessary, please contact us today.


The Benefits of the National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme

CaterSafe Auditing

The Benefits of the National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme

Have you checked the hygiene rating of your favourite restaurant or food outlet lately? You may be in for an unpleasant surprise when you do!

Most consumers will judge the hygiene standards of a restaurant merely based on appearances; if the premises and staff appear to be clean they will assume the food is safe to eat. However, the National Food Hygiene Rating gives the consumer a much more accurate picture of how well the business meets the required standards by checking-out those areas of the business that the customer can’t see. By knowing the rating of a restaurant in advance of reserving a table you may decide to switch to one that has higher standards.

By maintaining good food hygiene standards, and consequently achieving a high rating, businesses are able to offer the best to their consumers and also remain competitive. The rating scheme is run by local authorities who conduct inspections to ensure that the businesses operating in the food industry have met all the requirements. The information they obtain is then published on the Food Standards Agency website.

The rating is normally applicable to those places where people eat out, e.g. restaurants, cafes, hotels, pubs, as well as institutions like hospitals and schools. You may also find some shops and supermarkets that sell certain types of foodstuffs included within the food hygiene rating scheme.

Before a rating is given, a food safety officer visits the businesses premises to conduct an inspection. The officer will check not just how the food is served to customers, but the entire process from delivery of the food from the wholesaler right through storage, preparation, cooking and disposal of waste. An inspection will also be done to assess the structure and suitability of the building in which food is stored, prepared, and cooked. The officer will pay particular attention to provision of hand washing facilities for staff, fridges and freezers for storing food, as well as lighting and ventilation in food preparation areas. The officer will also want to see evidence of a well-documented food safety management system specific to that particular business.

When the food safety officer’s visit is completed, and they are satisfied the business is in compliance with the law, and standards are being maintained to protect the consumer from deadly foodborne illnesses, they will be given an appropriate rating. The business will then be subject to further regular inspections to ensure standards are not only being maintained, but improved upon.

The food hygiene rating scheme not only allows consumers to keep track of their local food businesses, but is a motivating factor for proprietors and managers to maintain high standards of hygiene. The introduction of this scheme has really helped to enhance the provision of safer food for the nation.


The Wastage of Food

The scandalous amount of food we waste! 

Back in March 2105, the BBC contacted us for comment on the shocking amount of food that is wasted within the UK. In a world with nearly a billion malnourished people, it’s incredibly hard to comprehend why 18 to 20 million tons of food is wasted in the UK every year. The amount of wasted food is enough to adequately feed each one of these malnourished individuals. But food is continually being wasted by households, food service businesses, manufacturers and retailers.food waste

But who exactly is responsible for discarding the highest quantity of food? According to an estimate given by WRAP, the highest level of food wastage is from consumers who are estimated to discard a horrifying 8.3 million tons of food every year! Retailers on the other hand are responsible for 1.6 million tons of wastage per year and food manufacturers waste around 4.1 million tons! Restaurants and other groups are reported to waste more than 6 million tons of food.

The water used for irrigation to grow surplus food (which will eventually be wasted), is enough to fulfil the domestic needs of 9 billion people! Yes, you read it correctly; 9 billion people! This means that if something isn’t done about food wastage, the UK will be utilising its resources on wastage.

In the UK alone, it’s reported that 20 to 40% of fruit and vegetables are not accepted in shops by major retailers because they do not meet the strict cosmetic standards. Foods such as fish are sometimes thrown back into the North Atlantic and North Sea, simply because they’re not considered the proper size, shape or species.

Food wastage has found its way in schools too. Research shows that 24 to 35% of school lunches are thrown in the bin! Households alone waste around 20% of the food they buy. Some of the food is discarded because it has reached the expiry date before it is consumed.

Retailers are not obligated to report the amount of food which is discarded. There is no law that requires them to report on food wastage, so keeping track of the amount of food that’s eventually discarded can be somewhat of a challenge. The UK Government has recognised that a lot more needs to be done in order to reduce the amount of food that is wasted every year.

Another shocking revelation on food wastage is the fact that the average UK household wastes food worth circa £60 a month, which is nearly the amount an average family spends on groceries per week!