Friday, 21 December 2012

Ace Your Inspection from an Environmental Health Officer

Christmas Comes But Once A Year – and indeed a visit from your local Environmental Health Officer can come round as quickly. If however, the thought of your EHO’s next visit doesn’t exactly fill you with festive cheer, you’re not on your own.

The stress of EHO visits came second in the Top 10 causes of concern in the Safer Food Group’s March 2011 survey of independent caterers.  (71% voted this as a major headache, with only worries over rising costs scoring higher). Here’s our guide to reducing the stress of your next EHO visit, to being prepared and maybe even how to gain a business benefit or two from the occasion.

What is your EHO actually doing there?
First thing to tackle is what’s your EHO actually going to look at on the visit, and best can you prepare for a positive and straightforward inspection. Having met with several EHO’s in the past from various regions we have put together our Top 10 priority inspection points that an EHO will be looking for on their visit.

EHOs Top 10 inspection points:
1.       Are the premises really clean throughout? (first impressions really do count)
2.       Do you have hand washing stations & evidence of their use?
3.       Are you all observing correct working hygiene practises?
4.       Are there any signs of pests? (mice, rats, insects etc)?
5.       Are you observing correct stock control?
6.       Are you preparing, cooking and storing correctly?
7.       Do you have a Food Safety Management System?
8.       Have you identified your Critical Control Points?
9.       Have you prepared a list of questions to asking during your de-brief?
10.   Have you received practical advice on how to improve star rating?

If you’re not fully familiar with all these points, don’t worry. Contrary to the popular myth, your EHO is no ogre.  If in doubt, ask.  Here’s our quick guide to the potential business benefits of an open and honest partnership with your EHO.

6 benefits of an improved working relationship with your EHO:

1.       Potential improvement in your Food Hygiene Rating
2.       Public recognition of your standards, PR & commercial opportunities
3.       Free advice on reducing food waste and other efficiencies
4.       Reduced likelihood of food poisoning affecting your customers
5.       Reduced threat to your livelihood caused by an outbreak and closure notice
6.       Increased confidence in you, leading to potentially reduced visit frequency

Your next EHO visit doesn’t need to be headache, these days it’s all about being open and honest.  If you have a concern, share it with your EHO and you’ll get the advice and help to put it right. If you know what they are likely to want to look at, you can be prepared, and the chances of a nasty surprise are much reduced.

Have a safe and happy Christmas

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Top 10 EHO Food Safety Points

10 EHO Safety Points, 5 Questions to Test Your Food Hygiene Knowledge and a Partridge in a Pear Sauce

At the end of every year comes a time of reflection, taking stock and then moving forward into a New Year full of new promises and plans. You’re about to launch into another busy festive season and unfortunately for you, now is not the time to sit back and relax. Food safety is one of those things, like insurance or healthcare, that’s not a priority until something goes wrong. Then all of a sudden it’s the most important thing in the world.

So to act as reminder of what you should be doing and the positive business impact of following good practice in safeguarding your business and helping become more profitable, we’ve produced a Top 10 checklist, plus a game of True or False.  Let’s see how well you’ve done in 2012 when it comes to food safety matters.

Top 10 EHO Food Safety Points for running a ‘tight ship’
Here’s your top 10 food hygiene checklist pulled together from EHOs. Score your own business and see how you get on:

·         Are all your staff aware of (and sticking to) the correct working hygiene practises?
·         Do you have a robust & documented Food Safety Management System?
·         Are your systems built on HACCP principles? (Hazard, Analysis, Critical Control Points)
·         Are staff trained to appropriate level? (ideally Level 2 Food Handler Certificate)
·         Do you have a cleaning schedule showing what to clean, who cleans, and when?
·         Are you aware of the imminent changes to food labelling (new ‘use by’ rules)?
·         Do you routinely use probe thermometers to check food temperatures?
·         Are staff aware of the Danger Zone temperatures & times?
·         Are you displaying your food hygiene inspection rating in your premises?
·         Have all the foods that you produce been included in your food safety management system?

Confident that you’ve got these more or less covered?  Now let’s test your knowledge with a quick game of Fact or Fiction. Be careful, we’ve included a couple of tricky ones...

1.       True or FalseWhile it’s advisable to follow HACCP Principles, very small catering businesses including mobile catering vans can opt-out of having a full documented Food Safety Management System”.
2.       True or FalseThe only definite way to kill all bacteria is to cook an item above 82 degrees for 2 minutes, or deep freeze an item below -10 degrees.”
3.       True or False You need a special licence/permission to use a Wooden chopping board”.
4.       True or False “Day care nurseries & care homes are not covered by food safety law because they don’t actually sell the food, it’s given away as part of a wider offering”.
5.       True or False “You can be fined up to £5,000 for a serious or persistent food hygiene failure in your business.”

True or False Answers...

Answer 1 – False. It doesn’t matter how small your business, it still needs an FSMS that incorporates HACCP Principles, You could be visited by an EHO anywhere, yes even the burger van on the car boot sale.  And your system is not up to date you’re going to be in trouble.

Answer 2 – False.  While it’s true that 75 degrees for 2 minutes is the correct guideline for cooking, this will still not kill ALL bacteria, it will just reduce it to a safe level. Similarly, freezing doesn’t kill all bacteria; it just slows its growth.

Answer 3 – True. Colour coded chopping boards are recommended. Wood can only be used for a “butchers block” and you will need a special licence.

Answer 4 – False.  Regardless of whether you’re selling the food or giving it away, the same Food Hygiene legislation applies.  It’s as simple as that.

Answer 5 – False.  Actually, the fines can be way higher than this. Food Handler staff can receive £5,000 fines and 6 month prison sentence. Supervisor/owners can be fined £20,000 and up to 2 years in prison. In exceptional circumstances fines have recently exceeded £1million.

How did you score?
How did you score in these two tests? The point is that what’s good for customer (safe food) is good for the business.  The points made if followed will actually help your business run more efficiently and will safe guarding your reputation.

Every successful business reviews any problems and adapts to changes facing it. Analysis and evolvement are vital to stay ahead in the world of catering and hospitality. So by all means take a glance over your shoulder, list the highs and lows and have good look at where you excelled, where you slipped up and where you would like to be. Set goals and plan’s the start of a resolution!

And a partridge in a pear sauce???

Have a Safe and Successful Christmas

The Safer Food Group Team

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Why use temperature probes?

When Temperatures Rise

The importance of food temperature probes, using them correctly, and how to test your probe to ensure it’s working correctly.

It’s a crisp autumnal evening with clear skies and you’re attending a fireworks event...the smells of bonfires and burgers fill the air. You discover the display is going to be a random pile of fireworks that will have a torch thrown upon them at any given moment, would you stay to watch or would you get out of the danger zone?

This risk could be likened to not using a food temperature probe in your food business; you would be giving your customers the same unpredictable and possibly lethal experience. The only difference being that your hazard is made from lamb or beef, not gunpowder. Failure to use a probe correctly and consistently has to be one of the most common failure points within a food business when it comes to hygiene inspections.  It’s estimated that 70% of businesses don’t use or test their probes correctly, and 55% don’t even possess a working food temperature probe!

5 tasks you cannot do without a probe
1.       Checking temperature of frozen and chilled deliveries as they arrive
2.       Checking your fridges and freezers are working  independent of their gauges
3.       Individually probing every cooked dish to ensure 100% confidence
4.       Probing items in ovens to check they have reached 75 degrees or above
5.       Checking the core temperature of food in your hot-hold area

Storing, freezing, thawing, cooking and serving food all have different temperature requirements, knowing these correct temperatures is essential for reducing risk of any bacterial contamination within any food handling processes.

The Danger Zone is the term used for the temperature range in which bacteria can grow in food. This is between 5 – 63°C so it essential to monitor food temperatures from delivery to storage right through preparation, cooking, serving or freezing. It’s worth stating that frozen goods should be stored at -18 to -25°C, including delivery right into your premises from any supplier. 

Ways to keep high-risk foods out of the danger zone:
  • 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.
  • Cook food for at least 2 minutes at 75°c right through to the centre or the thickest part of the food (82°c for 2 minutes in Scotland)*
  • Serve hot food at 63°C or hotter
  • 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.
  • Re-heat food adequately to 82°c to kill most bacteria.
  • Serve within 20 minutes once the food has been prepared or cooked
Cooking at high temperatures kills most bacteria, provided that the food is cooked for long enough. Always remember do not keep food in the Danger Zone any longer than necessary. Keep hot food really hot and cold food really cold and only reheat cooked food once.

Our quick guide to correct use of food probes including testing their accuracy:

Correct probe use
1.       Clean the probe thoroughly and disinfect it before and after use in order to prevent cross-contamination.
2.       Insert the probe and wait for the display to stabilise before taking a reading.
3.       Keep the probe part of your thermometer clean, otherwise it could cross-contaminate food.
4.       Anti-bacterial wipes are an easy to use method of cleaning the probe.
5.       Make sure you throw away the wipe after each use.
6.       Do not leave a digital thermometer inside your fridge or freezer, or on hot surfaces.
7.       If the battery is low, replace it immediately.
8.       You should check your thermometer is working correctly every month

How to check your Probe
To carry out a low temperature check, place tip of thermometer probe into crushed ice and cold water - leave for 5 minutes and then measure reading.  It should be should be between -1°C and +1°C.  To carry out a high temperature check, carefully place tip of thermometer probe into the steam from a boiling kettle of water and record the reading.  It should read between 99°C and 101°C.

 “[In June 2012] The Food Standards Agency has brought a successful prosecution against an Essex slaughterhouse for deliveries of over-temperature meat.... Seven of the offences concerned the delivery of meat from Elmkirk Limited to meat wholesalers based at Smithfield Market in London. Elmkirk Limited had previously had its approval to transport warm (more than 7°C) meat to premises in Smithfield withdrawn, but continued to do so...The other offence concerned a delivery of over-temperature meat from Elmkirk Limited to premises in Leeds. This was a journey in excess of two hours and the meat should have been chilled and kept chilled before and during transportation.”
As the case above suggests; there is simply no guarantee at any point of the process that rules are being followed. A probe removes the guesswork and helps protect your business and customer health, your Environmental Health Officer will expect to see evidence of this. Food probes are inexpensive (as little as £20) and there’s no excuse for not having one, using it properly, and documenting its use. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Dealing with E.coli by The Safer Food Group

Monsters in the Kitchen - E. coli

As we approach Halloween and all things ghoulish, let’s focus on monsters closer to home. Monsters in the kitchen that you can neither see, taste or smell.......bacteria. And how bacteria within food or transported by food can have a detrimental effect on your business if not handled safely.

Food poisoning and food-borne disease are illnesses resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites that contaminate food. One good example, or should that be bad is Escherichia coli otherwise known as E. coli.
E. coli bacterium normally lives inside your intestines and in the intestines of animals where it helps the body break down and digest food. Unfortunately, certain mutant strains of the bacteria (E. coli 0157) can get from the intestines into the blood and can cause a very serious infection. In most recent cases outbreaks are occurring where there is direct contact with animals even at petting zoos where simple personal hygiene rules have not been followed…..a nasty trick from a day out treat! Rules of hygiene apply across all high-risk foods and how they are handled and prepared.  Food safety rules must be meticulously followed to prevent contamination at all points of contact from the farmer to the consumer.

A recent E. coli outbreak in the UK saw the infection accrue sufferers over an 8 month period. After thorough investigation although it was impossible to assess a key source of contamination, strong links were made to handling of loose leeks and potatoes, it is possible people caught the infection from cross-contamination in storage, not washing the vegetables or hand washing after handling the vegetables, or even by cleaning equipment after preparing the vegetables. In this instance of the 250 affected almost half were under 16 years of age. As is the case with most food-borne illnesses the particularly vulnerable are the young or the old, but this study highlights just how many points in the chain at which contamination is spreadable.

E. coli 0157 has got to be one of the best ‘baddies’ out there, you don’t need to ingest many of the individual organisms to get sick, only 10 individual organisms could have a nasty effect on a human whereas over 1000 organisms carrying Salmonella would need to be ingested to have an effect. In the UK serious outbreaks of food-borne illness since the 1970s have prompted key changes in UK food safety law, such as BSE (mad cow disease) outbreaks in the 1980s and E. coli continuing to this day to make regular headline appearances; in May 2011 in Germany the E. Coli 0157 bacteria was ingested by 80 people with hundreds of others infected, chiefly females which at the time gave rise to the thinking that the line of the harmful bacteria came from contaminated salad, not reason enough to stop eating your greens!

So it isn’t down to the food itself, something hideously inedible like ‘eye of newt’ or ‘wing of bat’ would be healthy as long as it has been farmed, prepared and served in a safe way. E. coli 0157 is a haunting organism indeed but awareness takes away the scare-ness and following rules of good food hygiene means that the useful side of E coli can busy away helping our bodies produce Vitamin K, and it can be a star pupil in the eyes of micro-biology and stay out of the headlines in the future.
Causes of Contamination
E. coli can be passed from person to person, but serious E. coli infection is more often linked to food containing the bacteria. The person eats the contaminated food and gets sick. As a team working within this field for a long time, we've been in kitchens before and seen thing picked up and served that have been dropped or hot holding at insufficient temperatures. You can get handovers where one team has no idea how long a batch of food has been hot held for or cooked for, and plenty worse.

Some foods that can cause E. coli poisoning:
  •  undercooked ground beef (used for hamburgers)
  • vegetables grown in cow manure or washed in contaminated water
  • fruit juice that isn't pasteurized

A food item can come from an unknown source, even if you know where your meat or produce is coming from – can you guarantee the safe handling and production levels are enforced in that location? Has the food been stored or packaged correctly? Are high-risk foods stored separately and safely within your kitchen to prevent contamination? Do all staff involved in preparing the food or using the food, wash their hands after contact with the food item?
  •        Bacterial Contamination can occur when raw food comes into contact with high risk food: examples are meat, poultry, eggs, shellfish, milk and dairy products, cooked rice, pasta and any product made from the foods listed
  •       Raw foods are contaminated by bacteria found in the natural environment
  •       Pathogenic bacteria are transferred from raw food to high risk food at any stage of food handling by what we call vehicles of contamination; this could be from unwashed hands, utensils or surfaces.
  •       When liquid or juices from raw food comes into contact with high risk food.

It is important to remember though, that not all types of bacteria are harmful, most types of bacteria are beneficial to humans and we would find it difficult to live without them. Bacteria for the purpose of Level 2 Food Hygiene standard are split into three groups; ‘helpful’ bacteria, ‘spoilage’ bacteria, and ‘pathogenic’ bacteria.

Helpful bacteria allow us to grow crops, produce food including yoghurt, cheese and fizzy drinks. They allow us to digest the food we eat, create medical drugs, and even treat sewage to make safe. Spoilage bacteria makes food perish, a good example of this is the green mould you will see on bread that is a few days old. Identifying where harmful bacteria can come from, being aware of how to store, monitor and handle these high risk foods is vital for reducing risk of contamination.

Contamination can go right back to the first process in the chain, such as growing, slaughtering, harvesting, processing, packing, delivering, storing, preparing, cooking, displaying, serving and selling. There are so many variables to track from source to plate that the responsibility lies within the individual at each stage. It is imperative that food safety rules are followed ensuring all those who are in contact with food are aware of the dangers and their own responsibilities for not allowing bacteria to develop, contaminate and spread. It is the only policy for a food safe and infection free work place.

How to prevent E.Coli contamination?
Heat can kill E. coli, so experts recommend that people cook beef (especially ground beef) until it is cooked through and no longer pink. Choosing pasteurized juice or milk is another way to avoid possible infection. Some experts recommend washing and scrubbing vegetables before eating them. But others say E. coli is hard to remove once it has contaminated produce, such as spinach, lettuce, or onions.
The answer for your establishment is so simple that it’s easily missed.  You must put systems and procedures in place that eliminate or drastically reduce the risks to your customers:

  1. Implement a Food Safety Management System that defines the correct safe preparation, cooking and hot holding procedure for each dish you produce.
  2. Train up your team to run and adhere to the system making sure everyone follows it, no exceptions.
  3. Ensuring all your staff have at least Level 2 food handler training to have a basic understanding of cross contamination.
A quick guide to Cooking, reheating and hot holding
Most of this you would call common sense.  The problem is that common sense isn't all that common, and as such is often assumed that guidelines will be followed on a day to day basis and not always enforced.  Here’s our fundamental guidance on cooking, reheating and hot-holding that everyone in your kitchen should know:

Life saving cooking facts
1.       Always make sure you cook to 75 degrees for 2 minutes at the food’s core
2.       Use a food probe to test temperature and make sure it’s cleaned after each use.
3.       The safest restaurants will 100% test every dish, every plate that’s served

Life saving reheating facts
1.       Reheating means cooking food again and to the correct temperature
2.       The correct temperature is the same as cooking, its 75°C or higher for 2 minutes
3.       Remember that you can only reheat food once

Life saving hot-holding facts
1.       Food must be cooked or reheated correctly before hot holding.
2.       Food must be kept above 63°C at all times.
3.       As with an oven or grill, you must preheat hot holding equipment before use.


Running a commercial kitchen without a Food Safety Management System, working food temperature probe, and well trained staff, is like driving a car around with all the airbags turned off and the seat belt removed.  You are placing your livelihood and customers in unnecessary jeopardy.  Sooner or later you are going to either be stopped by the authorities, or crash rather spectacularly.