Mike Williams, director at the UK’s leading food safety consultancy STS, explains the three fundamental areas an EHO will look at during an inspection and how getting these areas right means food businesses will have little trouble achieving a 5 star food hygiene rating:
Confidence in management: This gives careful consideration to operator competency, documented food safety management systems (HACCP), record keeping and the general approach to food safety demonstrated during inspection.
A properly documented food safety management system fully reflects the processes followed in a kitchen, identifying any hazards and the requisite controls in place to ensure the hazard does not affect the food served. Some of these controls will be classed as critical (CCP’s) and are usually the ones which are monitored e.g. fridge storage temperatures or the end cook temperatures of foods. Your EHO will look to see whether you have identified the CCP’s, what controls you have put in place and that you are maintaining suitable, daily records. Remember – these records must reflect what’s going on in the kitchen.
Your EHO will also look at how well trained your staff are. Food hygiene training is essential and the Level 2 Award in Food Safety is the accepted standard. However times are changing and EHO’s want to see staff demonstrate their understanding of food safety and, more specifically, the food safety controls detailed in your food safety management system, not just certificates. If you get training right then your food standards will be much better, and your EHO will recognise this.
Management record keeping is more than just temperatures and training certificates; due diligence allows a business to demonstrate they are doing all they can to maintain food safety. Proving suitable opening and closing checks are conducted daily is a good way of showing that activities such as stock rotation have taken place, suitable supplies of cleaning chemicals are available and hand wash basins are suitably stocked. If your EHO sees that your activities are backed up by good record keeping then you will invariably score well in this section.
Structural condition (including cleaning): If your basic structural surfaces, walls, floors and ceiling are finished to a good standard, all equipment is suitable to the operation and in good condition, then you’re off to a good start! Remember – equipment needs servicing and it’s important to be able to prove you have plans in place for upkeep. Don’t wait for your EHO to ask, if you have processes in place be sure to tell them.
Cleaning is a rather obvious aspect of food safety and the easiest for an EHO to identify when businesses get it wrong. Accurate cleaning schedules help improve and maintain your standards; a good schedule will identify all cleaning tasks, frequency and what equipment/chemicals should be used. It’s really good practice to ensure the person completing each task signs to say they’ve cleaned then a supervisor should verify. Successful businesses only allow a supervisor to sign off the schedule as completed once they’re happy that cleaning standards are suitable.
It’s essential to ensure you have the right tools to clean your kitchen. At the minimum, you should always have detergent, sanitisers, antibacterial soap and heavier cleaning chemicals e.g. a degreaser available. Sanitisers must be made up and ready to use before food preparation starts and you should check that they conform to BS EN 1276 as your EHO’s will look for this. You also need to ensure you have suitable cloths, mops and buckets. Remember – cleaning equipment should be kept clean at all times so rinse out mop heads and buckets after each use and never leave a mop in dirty water.
Hygiene standards: This takes into account elements including cross-contamination control, personal hygiene standards and temperature control, commonly demonstrated by practical and physical implementation of your food safety management system procedures.
Controlling cross-contamination requires some thought. There are basic areas e.g. ensuring raw meat and fish are always stored below or separately from ready to eat foods, or using colour coded chopping boards, but cross-contamination control also means ensuring you take steps to avoid contaminating foods with any of the 14 known allergens. Remember – allergen advice needs to be available to all customers and you must never guess at the content of foods!
Maintaining temperature control during storage, cooking/reheating, cooling and service is vitally important. If you can prove that you know your temperature targets, have the right tools e.g. working probe thermometer and antibacterial probe wipes, and keep thorough records of temperatures then you are compliant.
EHO’s also look at food cooling with increased detail. It’s essential to ensure you cool food as quickly as possible, although there’s a common misconception that you only have 90 minutes in which to cool food to below 8°C. That’s certainly the case with blast chillers but if you’re manually cooling food with ice baths or walk-in fridges then you actually have up to 4 hours. This doesn’t mean take 4 hours every time; you should take as many steps as possible to ensure that food is cooled quickly. Cutting food into smaller portions, placing liquids into shallow containers and placing food on ice baths or in cold areas of the kitchen are all good practices to speed up cooling. Check and keep records to demonstrate your cooling process, in line with your other temperature records.
Personal hygiene is hugely important for maintaining food safety. EHO’s will always be looking to see whether staff wash their hands, and how. All food handlers’ induction training should include proper hand washing but regular checking and refresher training helps. It goes without saying that hand wash basins must have running hot and cold water and be stocked with antibacterial soap and paper towels.
Finally, the majority of prosecutions carried out by EHO’s are pest related so it’s critical to ensure that your premises are pest free. It’s not difficult. A basic control is ensuring that they cannot get in in the first place and keeping your kitchen clean won’t just satisfy your EHO – it will ensure pests have nothing to eat. It’s good practice to appoint a recognised pest controller to monitor conditions in your kitchens and stores; they should visit about 8 times a year and be available for emergency call outs if unwelcome intruders are spotted.
Keeping contamination controls in place, looking after personal hygiene standards, keeping your premises pest free and ensuring that all your temperature controls are in place will keep your food safe and your EHO happy.
STS is a leading provider of food safety consultancy and training services to caterers, food retailers and suppliers in the hospitality, healthcare and education sectors. The STS team is highly experienced, trusted and award-winning, providing organisations with the critical support they need to meet vital operational and compliance standards.
STS is part of the ELAS Group of companies which include: ELAS Business Support, Sound Advice, OME (Occupational Medicals Enterprise) and STS who collectively provide a full range of support and compliance services including: Food Safety, Employment Law, Health & Safety, Occupational Health, Payroll and Accredited Training.
STS holds UKAS accreditation; is a BRC Certification Body; and is registered to ISO 9001 standard. STS has strong industry links, working as Development Partners for e-learning with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, in addition to working on behalf of the FSA to address Listeriosis in healthcare organisations.