Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Allergy Suffering - How to avoid potentially fatal mistakes with food allergens

Nowadays there is certainly more awareness of people with food allergies and also an increase in available ingredients without risk of any allergens included and therefore it follows that more and more food business opt to cater for these people and offer a menu with allergen-free choices.

Chances are if you specialize in catering for this demographic then you already have strict controls in place to avoid any risk of contamination between allergen-free foods and how they are prepared or stored. A gluten free burger for example is not just a deconstructed burger minus the bun....all of the ingredients need to be guaranteed that they have been prepared and stored away from any contaminants so that you can serve the food safely and without risk to the customer.

Allergens are substances which cause the body’s immune system to respond, sometimes in severe ways. When this is severe it can result in anaphylactic shock and sometimes even death.
Symptoms can include severe asthma, swelling of the throat and mouth and therefore difficulty in swallowing, redness of the skin, nausea and sickness and eventually collapse.

Allergenic foods include some of the following: any nuts - particularly peanuts; milk based products; shellfish; cereal containing gluten and celery/celeriac. These are just some foods where allergenic controls must be considered and put into practice. There are three key points for allergenic controls – communication methods; contamination prevention and cleaning:

1. Communication Methods
Clear labelling on all food products
Menu description of any allergenic product
Knowledge of products
All staff suitably trained

2. Contamination Prevention
Approved suppliers
Allergenic foods kept separate from other foods
Use separate preparation areas and utensils
If any other food products become contaminated destroy straight away.

3. Cleaning to prevent Allergenic Cross-Contamination
Food handler hand washing before and after preparation
Thorough cleaning of work surfaces and utensils before and after preparation

Labelling, storing, preparation, handling and training are interrelated in identifying any risks prior to preparing or handling allergen foods. You cannot simply pay attention to just labelling any allergenic foods. The whole process needs to be backed and supported by all staff so that there is no risk to the consumer. Anything less than this is negligent and can lose you valuable custom; so if you are not prepared to handle the detail then it certainly isn’t something you should risk including in your menu.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Food Storage - It's a Piece of Cake

In June 2011 The Safer Food Group launched its online Level 2 Food Hygiene training course – and now with over 82,000 learners we are proud that we are helping so many of you get the training you need and hopefully saving you money along the way! So here’s a birthday message from us to help spread the awareness of Food Hygiene and getting your staff trained to the correct level.

Happy Birthday Cake - Victoria Sponge

200g caster sugar
200g softened butter
4 eggs, beaten
200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp milk

Let us remember some food hygiene rules here, when it comes to certain ingredients when baking or preparing food, extra care is needed either in storage, handling or cooking. If you fail to identify these items and the risks that they carry then you can be at risk of exposing your customer or yourself to harmful bacteria and pathogens that are in higher risk foods such as raw eggs. So first wash your hands....

When making your cake first you must make sure all work areas; equipment and you are clean!  Equipment should be smooth and resistant to chipping or cracking; impervious & non-toxic. It should also be rust resistant – ‘food grade’ stainless steel is best. Tableware should have no chips or cracks that could harbour bacteria. Work surfaces ideally should be stainless steel. Wood is not acceptable as tiny scratches in the surface will harbour bacteria; soft wood in particular is not recommended as it is absorbent and cannot be properly cleaned. Colour coded equipment and utensils are best. Chopping boards, knife handles ideally should be made of polypropylene....put them all together until you get a safe working consistency...

Now for the ingredients, here we shall briefly highlight the importance of correct storage so that food is kept in the right conditions. Correct storage helps to prevent food-borne illness alongside preventing spoilage and therefore wasted food; also to preserve the food's taste, appearance and nutritional value.

Add the eggs a little at a time, then fold in the flour and baking powder, use a little milk if necessary for a soft mixture. Dairy products are classed as high risk foods and need to be treated appropriately. Use separate refrigerators or cold stores if at all possible for dairy and cooked meats and the other for raw meat. Stack shelves neatly so you can easily check the stock. Allow enough room around food for air to circulate, do not leave refrigerator doors open any longer than necessary as the temperature inside the fridge will rise and the food may be exposed to the Danger Zone. Also do not put hot food in a refrigerator as this will raise the temperature inside and may cause condensation which can cause cross-contamination by dripping onto other food.

Dry goods must be stored in cool, dry, well ventilated conditions. The goods must be kept off the floor, with sufficient space around to allow air to circulate and for you to check the goods. Never stack food in cardboard boxes directly on the floor or against a wall. This is because it will attract moisture from the wall or floor and destroy the packaging - it is better to stack onto shelves.

Now put your mixture into a greased and lined baking tin and bake in a medium oven for 15-20mins or until golden brown and springy to the touch – test with a skewer or a freshly washed hand! Let the cake cool in the tin for a few minutes and then turn onto a wire rack; cover and protect all food from contamination while it is cooling and move it to the coolest part of the food area. Allow the cake to cool completely before icing to your preference; before refrigerating, transfer the food to a clean, cold container. Serve and enjoy. 

Friday, 26 April 2013

Operating your Food Business within the Law

Operating your Food Business within the Law
As the nation prepares for another round of local elections, let us identify the ways in which the law applies to Food Hygiene Standards and how you can keep your business running smoothly within them. Our Level 2 Food Hygiene Certificate comes as a recommendation but the course is based upon current UK legislation, it follows that there are certain aspects that are imperative for any food business to adhere to.

The most recent law governing food production and handling in the UK is the ‘Food Hygiene (HACCP) Regulations’ act of 2006. These regulations are essentially very similar to the previous legislation passed in 1995 which basically stated that all food handlers must be supervised, instructed and trained in food hygiene matters to a level that is appropriate to their job. However the 2006 act also had two important new inclusions:

1) A Food Safety Management System must be implemented and records kept demonstrating compliance with the legal regulations.

2) Businesses must identify steps critical to food safety and ensure adequate procedures are identified implemented, maintained and reviewed using HACCP principles.

There are now high potential fines and even imprisonment for hygiene and food safety offences in the UK. Food hygiene offences can receive a fine of up to £5,000 and even receive a 6 month prison sentence. More serious Food safety offenses carry a potential fine of up to £20,000 and up to 2 years in prison.

Every local authority in the UK has the power to control the sale of unfit, injurious or sub-standard food. Environmental Health Officers, (EHOs), have the power to enter any establishment to carry out an inspection or seize samples at any reasonable time.  An EHO may also impose an improvement order, close down your business, fine and prosecute you. It is illegal to prevent them from gaining access to your food premises. Failure to co-operate with an EHO is a criminal offence. Remember that the EHO is actually there to help you. Their responsibility is to ensure that the food you produce/sell/serve to the general public is safe. If an Environmental Health Officer believes there is an imminent risk to people’s health, they will issue a hygiene emergency prohibition notice and immediately close the business.

Your EHO’s role is to:

• Carry out routine inspections
• Investigate food poisoning outbreaks
• Investigate food complaints
• Ensure product safety and fitness
• Monitor conditions and hygienic operations
• Ensure compliance with legislation
• Offer advice
• Take away suspect food and have it condemned if it is unsafe.
• Take companies to court for breaking food safety laws.

You will sometimes hear the words, ‘Due Diligence’. This means in Law that you have taken all reasonable precautions, (shown due diligence) to ensure food safety. Therefore you have done everything you possibly can to make sure that the food you serve is safe. Written records are also a good way of proving ‘due diligence’. If you can prove that you have cooked the food to the correct temperature, stored the food correctly, and served the food at the right temperature within a set time limit, these can be used as a ‘due diligence defence’.

If for example you see signs of pest activity, and then you report this to your supervisor, you have shown due diligence. If your supervisor then decides to do nothing about it, any fine from the EHO, (£5000 to £20,000) will be imposed on your supervisor, not you. Also should you be ill and report this to your supervisor before starting work, you have shown due diligence. If your supervisor then tells you to come to work, then once again, any fine from the EHO will be imposed on the supervisor not you. Owners and anyone who is in charge of food premises have greater legal responsibilities than food handlers. Always remember that the Law is there to protect you and more importantly to ensure that the food you produce, sell or serve to the general public is safe.

Six Food Safety Laws
• Keep yourselves & your workplace clean, and wear suitable, clean protective clothing
• Store, prepare and display food at safe temperatures
• Do everything possible to protect food from contamination
• Inform your employer if they have symptoms of a food-borne illness
• Don’t do anything that would expose food to contamination.
• Don’t sell food with an expired date mark or food unfit for human consumption

Six Food Business Safety Laws

• Premises must be registered with the local enforcement authority
• Premises must be designed, equipped and operated in ways which prevent contamination and anything that could lead to illness or injury
• Your business must ensure adequate washing facilities and arrangements for personal hygiene
• Ensure all staff are trained and supervised to work hygienically
• Food hazards must be assessed and action taken to stop or reduce risks to food safety (hazard analysis)
• Every person that deals with food has a legal responsibility to safeguard food so that it does not cause illness or harm.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Spring Cleaning - Our Guide to a Clean Food Area

If you were eating out in a restaurant you would expect the level of cleanliness to be high. I am sure each of us at some point has been served a drink from a glass with a lipstick mark still on it, or a table set with slightly crusty cutlery or even a good greasy fingerprint on the side of your steaming plate of food. Although a reduced level in the standard of cleanliness may be acceptable in your own home, it is certainly not acceptable when serving or preparing food for public consumption.

The process of cleaning something is to make sure it is free from dirt and contamination. It involves a lot of energy and should be seen as much part of your job role as the food preparation itself. Activities include wiping, rubbing, scouring, scrubbing, brushing and sweeping and tasks should be carried out effectively and regularly – certain tasks work on a ‘clean as you go’ basis, some will be repeated daily, others less frequently. Cleaning is essential if you are to keep food and the workplace safe.

Cleaning helps to:
• Protect food from contamination
• Reduce opportunities for bacterial multiplication, by removing food particles
• Protect food from physical and chemical contamination
• Avoid attracting pests
• Prevent accidents such as slipping on a wet or greasy floor
• Create a good impression for customers
• Carry out legal obligations to keep food safe.

In the UK, local authorities produce a Food Law Enforcement Plan which identifies measures they will take within their area each year in regards to implementing food safety within food businesses. In order to stay off any ‘unsatisfactory’ audit lists and prevent any embarrassing cases of contamination being discovered in your food business; it is vital to have in place a cleaning schedule and follow it.

Six Stages of Cleaning
Stage 1 - Pre-clean. Remove loose and heavy soiling, for example, scrape plates and chopping boards, or soak pans.
Stage 2 - Main clean. Wash with hot water and detergent.
Stage 3 – Rinse. Remove any traces of detergent and food particles with clean hot water.
Stage 4 – Disinfection. Use a chemical disinfectant, and leave it on for the correct contact time.
Stage 5 - Final rinse. Use clean hot water.
Stage 6 – Dry. If possible, leave items to dry naturally in the air, because the use of drying cloths can spread bacteria. If you have to use a cloth try to use disposable paper ones.

Your employer is responsible for working out the cleaning schedule. This sets out when and how different items and areas should be cleaned and who should do the cleaning. They should allow plenty of time at the start and end of the shift so that ALL cleaning duties can be completed at the required level. Clear guidelines need to be provided and followed for each task specifying how the item is to be cleaned, with what chemicals and how often it is to be cleaned. Particular items of equipment may need specialist cleaning so training must be provided and then levels maintained; this may be achieved by a staff rota or checklist or delegated to a particular member of staff.

Our Top 10 Safety Tips when Cleaning
1. Before you start cleaning, make sure that food is safely stored out of the way and cannot be contaminated.
2. If you are cleaning a refrigerator, cold room or freezer, ensure that the food is kept at a safe temperature outside the danger zone.
3. Switch off and isolate electrical equipment, such as slicers, refrigerators, vending machines, processing machines with dry hands before you start to clean.
4. Ensure that you know how to use a cleaning chemical safely and always follow the manufacturer's instructions.
5. Do not leave items to soak in disinfectant for longer than the manufacturers recommended contact time because bacteria may become resistant to the chemicals. Never leave them to soak overnight.
6. Wear protective clothing, such as rubber gloves and goggles, appropriate to the job
7. Never mix chemicals together, they could explode, cause toxic fumes or burn your skin
8. Work through the stages of cleaning in a way that does not spread dust or dirt, avoid being distracted in a way that puts you, other people or food at risk
9. Clean and disinfect mops and cloths soon after use and leave them to dry in the air
10. Always store chemicals, cleaning equipment away from food and only store chemicals in the original labelled containers designed for that purpose

Bacteria can be present on food as it comes into your business, can remain whilst in storage and be spread by a poorly set out workspace, poorly cleaned workspace and poorly trained staff unaware of guidelines they should be following. So keep everyone up to date, keep equipment maintained and remember to wash your hands!!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Passionate About Training? Why online training can be the answer...

The simple answer is time and money. The world pretty much now revolves around the internet and people are using it for everything from ordering groceries to talking to their loved ones around the world and so why wouldn’t they want to use it for training?

Time is a very precious commodity and whether you are an employer who can’t afford to lose your staff for a day to go to a classroom based course or an employee who has to get trained in their own time; you can do your eLearning in bite sized chucks (so long as you have access to the internet) during the day as time allows or in the evening when you can relax a bit. Build the learning up over a few sessions and then take the exam when you are ready. It can also be said that learning a bit at a time can for a lot of people make learning more palatable as you don’t have the pressure of completing the course in one day and passing the exam. At the end of the day retaining the knowledge is key when you get a visit from an Environmental Health Officer.

Money is very tight at the moment and lots of businesses and individuals are having to save where they can. Classroom based courses are always going to be more costly as there is a trainer to be paid for as well as the student to get to the classroom. ELearning means you can take the course anywhere you can get an internet connection and to put it simply the cost is lower because the overheads are less.

Is an online course good enough? Yes it is. Our course is accredited by Qualifi who are a UK awarding body and they are regulated by Ofqual. Our Food Hygiene course has a “Fully Accredited” status which is the highest level an online Level 2 course can achieve at the moment.

Your certificate will come as a pdf document which gives you the flexibility to email, print or electronically transfer to anyone you need to. We do this to offer a level of flexibility and also to reduce the cost which is reflected in our prices.

We also offer in our system an ability for anyone buying more than one course at a time a business administration area where you can view your course codes and see which ones have been registered as well as learner progress and a link to a copy of the certificate for all of your successful learners so you can build your own learning database. Any spare codes you buy have no life attached to them until they are registered so there is no need to worry that they will be wasted if they are not used.

Easy to use, flexibility for learners and managers plus the best price add up to a very sensible way to get all your staff up to the correct level of training. 

Visit our website www.saferfoodhandler.co.uk for more information.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Horses for Main Courses??

After shocking headlines this week over leading supermarkets and other retailers discovering some of their British and Irish burgers were contaminated with horse meat; tests being carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) analysing a range of beef products found traces of both horse and pig DNA in many of the ‘beef’ products. ¬Tesco’s group technical director Tim Smith has been in the news apologising for the distress and pledging to discover how the contamination could have taken place and to prevent it from happening in the future.

In this circumstance it has been commented that there are only two possible reasons for this contamination, from illegality or from gross negligence, neither comforting for the consumer or the retailers. The most shocking factors in this case being the scale and commodity of the items; and how as a consumer we put our faith in larger retailers having specialists that source the products plus in having procedures to ensure product validity and trusting packaging and labelling.

We would like to remind you about the importance of knowing your supply food chain within your business, products such as minced beef for example can end up in a range of meals and indeed as burgers so if you fail to check your suppliers then a potential contamination can occur right across your menu.

Current trends are all on the ‘keep it local’ and ‘buy British’ and many regional producers do supply locally direct to restaurants and food outlets. On a small scale when buying direct from local producers it is easier to keep tabs on your food supply chain. Understandably as some food manufacturers expand to supply a larger demand or when pricing from retailers forces changes in methods or standards of production; and indeed a restaurant chain that brings in large quantities from a select supplier, when price and demand compete then this is where problems in product quality can occur, in this instance the use of imported meat at the UK manufacturing plant.

So no matter what scale your food business runs on – check your suppliers, contact or meet your producers if possible and prove your products...and don’t fall at the last fence!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Cold Turkey Anyone? Our Guide to Cooling, Freezing and Thawing

With the festive season done and dusted and another opportunity to turn over a new leaf in the New Year we look forward to successful business, to keeping resolutions and fresh starts. And whilst the weather outside is frightful we ask you to bear in mind good housekeeping and keeping cold things cold with our guide to cooling, freezing and thawing of food.

The basic rule of good practice is to cut down the amount of time high risk food is kept in the danger zone (between 5°C and 63°C). Food will be in the Danger Zone if left in ambient temperatures, (room temperature) plus food passes through the Danger Zone while it is being cooled, thawed or heated.

Here’s a checklist of must-do’s to ensure you don’t get a chilling review from a customer:
  • Check temperatures as food is delivered to your workplace (use a probe thermometer)
  • Refrigerate raw, highly perishable & high risk foods immediately after delivery
  • Keep food refrigerated until it is needed for preparation or serving.
  • Cool food rapidly, so that food spends as little time as possible in the Danger Zone.
  • Thaw frozen food in a refrigerator so that the outside temperature of the food cannot reach Danger Zone temperatures whilst the inside is still frozen.

Cooling Hot Food

Hot food passes through the Danger Zone temperature as it cools, so the temperature must be reduced as quickly as possible.

The best way to cool food is in a blast chiller, as this shortens the time the food spends in the Danger Zone. However, most small businesses may not have a blast chiller. Therefore you should aim to cool the food to 5°C or colder within 90 minutes and then refrigerate it. Food kept at 0°c to 5°c will prevent or slow down bacterial multiplication. All high risk and perishable foods must be refrigerated.

Before refrigerating, transfer the food to a clean, cold container, make sure it is covered and move it to the coolest part of the food area. Never place hot food in the refrigerator as this will raise the temperature of the fridge and cause condensation that could contaminate other food. Whenever possible use large shallow trays and pans for cooling food in liquid, because the large surface area helps to accelerate the cooling process.
Remove cooked meat joints and whole chickens from their juices before placing them in a clean container with enough space to allow air to circulate. Cover and protect all food from contamination while it is cooling.

It’s important to:
  • Use separate refrigerators or cold stores if at all possible. This way you can store raw foods such as meat and poultry in one fridge and high risk foods such as dairy products and cooked meats in the other.
  • Stack shelves neatly so you can easily check the stock. Allow enough room around food for air to circulate, this way, the fridge will be able to operate more efficiently and reach its target temperature quickly.
  • Not leave refrigerator doors open any longer than necessary as the temperature inside the fridge will rise and the food may be exposed to the Danger Zone.
  • Not put hot food in a refrigerator as this will raise the temperature inside and may cause condensation which can cause cross-contamination by dripping onto other food.

Thawing Frozen Food

Raw foods such as meat and poultry must be completely thawed before cooking. Inadequate thawing can result in food poisoning.

Here’s a quick guide to thawing frozen food:
  • If ice remains in poultry or meat, the surface of the food may cook while the inside temperature remains in the Danger Zone.
  • Wherever possible thawing should take place in a thawing cabinet or in a refrigerator set aside for this purpose.
  • If you have to use a fridge, always put the food you are thawing on the bottom shelf to prevent the juices dripping onto other foods and cross-contaminating them.
  • Place the food in a container that will hold the thawing juices, without overflowing or dripping.
  • Microwave ovens can be useful for thawing, provided that the manufacturer's instructions are followed carefully.
  • Always plan your work so as to give food ample time to defrost completely.
  • Cover food as it is thawing to prevent contamination
  • Never re-freeze thawed food, because the food may have been sufficiently warm for long enough to allow bacteria to resume multiplication.

Frozen Storage

Foods kept in freezers will keep bacteria dormant at temperatures of -18°C or below so they cannot multiply. Just as you would in a fridge; place raw foods below high risk foods to avoid any risk of contamination. Place stock with a shorter shelf life in front of stock with a longer shelf life.  Keep food in the suppliers packaging if it is clean and undamaged and always re-seal opened packaging.

If food needs to be re-wrapped label it clearly and include the date it was frozen. Do not put unwrapped food in the freezer as it could become contaminated, cause contamination or be damaged by freezer burn.
So by following simple rules you don’t need to get in a cold sweat over chilling, thawing and freezing procedures.