“Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds” – we have heard this advice far more often than usual over the last few weeks due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, but it is advice we should always adhere to. If you work in the catering industry you will be fully aware of this, as it is part of basic food hygiene. As a Chef or Catering Assistant, food safety is paramount and adhering to the required workplace health and safety standards is an essential part of your job.
Current Food Hygiene and Safety Advice
The recent raised awareness of personal hygiene among the general population has not changed the food hygiene standards already in place.
According to the Food Standards Agency, there is no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted by food, but it is important that all usual food safety precautions are taken to ensure minimum opportunity for contamination. The Food Standards Agency is an independent Government department, responsible for ensuring food safety across the UK. This is a good resource for keeping up to date on any changes to food safety legislation
.Our blog, Brexit – What’s next for the catering industry? discusses various ways the food and drink industry may be affected, but our departure from the EU will not result in any immediate changes to food safety standards. All food law and labelling regulations will remain under EU law up until the end of 2020. Any new UK food safety rules would take effect from 1 January 2021, after the transition period.
Food hygiene for the catering industry
When you work with food you have to be especially vigilant when it comes to hygiene.When you are preparing and serving food for the public you have to ensure that it is safe to eat and that all precautions have been taken to prevent hazards to food safety. The first thing we tend to think of when it comes to food hygiene is the risk of food poisoning, but hazards can also be chemical contamination or physical objects in a food. Any catering establishment, whether a large commercial kitchen or a small one-person food truck, should have a food safety management procedure which covers all areas from suppliers to food storage, to food preparation and service
There are various different aspects of food hygiene in the kitchen, so let’s look at each area.
If you work with food in a business or organisation then you must be aware of your own hygiene and its importance in workplace health and safety. Personal hygiene in the kitchen involves:
- Handwashing – this needs to be thorough, with soap and warm water and should be done regularly throughout your shift. There should be a separate sink provided just for the purpose of washing hands, away from where food is washed and prepared. Hands should be dried with disposable paper towel as cloths and towels can harbour harmful bacteria. You should wash your hands before, during and after preparing food and any time you have touched raw food or have handled food waste and rubbish. If you touch any non-food equipment, such as the phone, a door handle or a cash register, you should again wash your hands before you go back to food preparation.
- Clothing –wear clean Chefs whites or an appropriate uniform supplied by your employer with an apron as an extra layer of protection. Shoes should be non-slip and closed to protect against drops and spills. No watches or jewellery should be worn. In some cases, especially if you serve food and handle cash, you should wear disposable gloves which can be worn whenever you touch food items. See our infographic for more details on the Dress Code for Chefs.
- Hair – hair needs to be kept out of food, so ensure that long hair is tied back at all times and you will need to wear either a Chef’s hat or a hairnet, and, where required, a beard net.
- Fit to Work – if you are unwell then you cannot work in a food preparation environment. You need 48 hours clearance before you can return to the kitchen.
The food coming into the kitchen needs to be safe when it arrives. It is important that it is from a reputable supplier and is checked regularly for quality and safety.
An important aspect of food hygiene is the way that food is stored in the kitchen. Many foods have a shelf life so it is important that they are stored in the optimum environment to ensure they remain safe and protected from harmful bacteria, chemicals and physical objects.
- Dry Products - these should be stored in a sealed, closed container.
- Chilling - Fridges should be kept clean and at the required temperature of less than 8°C. The recommendation is to set the fridge at 5°C. You should place fresh food that needs chilling in the fridge straight away. However, never put hot foods directly into the fridge - cooked foods should be chilled at room temperature as quickly as possible first and then moved to the fridge. When working with chilled food you should endeavour to keep it out of the fridge for the shortest time possible.When you store foods in the fridge, raw foods should always be below prepared, ready-to-eat foods to avoid anything dripping onto and contaminating them.
- Freezing - Freezers should be set at -18°C and frozen food should be put in the freezer as soon as it is delivered. If you are freezing prepared food then it should be frozen as soon as it is ready. To ensure the freezer runs efficiently and food remains frozen, the freezer should not be overloaded.
- Defrosting – you should always defrost foods in the refrigerator. There is a ‘danger zone’ between 8°C and 63°C where most harmful bacteria can grow, so keeping the food in the fridge is the safest option.
- Stock Control – food stock should be rotated so that older stock is always used first. Remember the acronym FIFO – ‘first in, first out’. Always double check the use-by and best-before dates before using a food. If you are freezing food then it must be frozen before the use-by date and then labelled clearly with the date it is frozen and a best-before date.
- Cleaning - It is extremely important that the food preparation area is kept clean at all times to prevent cross-contamination. You should clean as you go, wiping up any spills and disposing of food so it doesn’t build up. If you work in a commercial kitchen there should be a cleaning schedule in place which you must adhere to.
- Food preparation – As you work with different food items you must always wash and disinfect your surfaces and equipment. Most kitchens will use colour-coded chopping boards to use with different types of food. For example, raw meat, cooked meat, vegetables and fruit. Wherever possible use tongs or spoons to handle raw food– the less your hands touch the food, the less chance there is for any cross-contamination.
- Cooking – Heat kills most harmful viruses and bacteria so it is important to cook food adequately. The best way to ensure the correct temperature is reached is to use a thermometer or probe. The standard advice is to cook food so it reaches a core temperature of 70°C for 2 mins. Food safety requires meat, especially, to reach the required safe temperature and time limits. Food can be reheated when necessary but never more than once.
Even after the food is prepared, cooked and ready to be served, you still need to practice good food hygiene. Serving utensils should be used to pick up food, but if hands are necessary then disposable food-safe gloves should be worn. If you work in a catering establishment where you are serving food and handling money, then you should always wear new gloves for the food and remove them when you take the money.
Food waste has the potential to contaminate work areas so all food waste and packaging should be disposed of properly in foot-operated rubbish bins. These should then be emptied throughout the day. The 4 C's of food hygiene.
The 4 main things to remember for good basic food hygiene are the 4 Cs:
Whether you are a Chef, Kitchen Porter or Catering Assistant, food safety is an extremely important part of your job. By remembering the 4 C's and following good food hygiene practice in all the areas we have looked at, you will prevent most food safety hazards.
It is also advisable for anyone working in the food industry to have food hygiene training. This may be provided in your workplace or as part of your training. There are also many online courses available for self-study.
Our infographic is a simple way to remember the important points of food hygiene for workplace health and safety.