Written by David Osbourne
Recently published data from the Food Standards Agency shows a continuing trend of improved food safety standards across the UK with 93.0% (2014/15) of all businesses classed as 'broadly compliant' with hygiene law, or better, equating to having a National Food Hygiene Rating of 3, 4 or 5.
How well did you score?
The National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme now operates in all Council area in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with Scotland operating a slightly different 'pass/fail' scheme. It is intended to provide consumers with at-a-glance information about hygiene standards in food businesses and help them make informed choices about where they might want to buy and eat food.
The scheme is based on 3 elements considered during routine food safety inspections, with premises awarded one of six different hygiene ratings (0-5), where the top rating of 5 represents a very good level of compliance with legal requirements. All businesses receive a window sticker to inform consumers and ratings are published on the national website at: www.food.gov.uk/ratings
The scheme is designed to ensure that all businesses are able to achieve the top rating by simply demonstrating good compliance with legal requirements for food hygiene in three areas: how hygienically the food is handled - safe food preparation, cooking, re-heating, cooling and storage, the condition of the structure of the premises - cleanliness, repair, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities, and how food safety is managed and documented - using a system such as 'Safer Food, Better Business' or similar.
To get the best possible rating, you should look at your last food hygiene inspection report to check that you've taken all of the actions needed to ensure that you meet legal requirements.
What the inspector will look for.
- How can a business demonstrate that food is handled hygienically?
You can do this by showing, for example, that: there are high standards of personal hygiene of staff - e.g. clean over clothing (such as aprons), appropriate headwear, minimal jewelry and regular and appropriate hand-washing, control measures in place to prevent cross contamination - e.g. use of separate areas for handling raw and cooked foods, proper use of colour coded chopping boards, and correct use of appropriate cleaning chemicals, foods are stored at the correct temperature - e.g. food stored in fridges is maintained at less than 8°C (ideally between 0-5°C) and that the chill chain is protected, foods are properly cooked, re-heated and cooled - e.g. foods are cooked to 75°C or hotter and are checked visually for signs of thorough cooking, and foods are cooled quickly and as necessary refrigerated
- What about the condition and structure of the premises?
There should, for example, be: a suitable structure which is clean and in good repair throughout the premises, adequate natural/artificial lighting, adequate natural/artificial ventilation and a structure proofed against pest entry.
- What about how the business manages and documents what it does to make sure food is safe?
It is a legal requirement for food businesses to provide documentary evidence that the food they produce is safe. This should: identify and show an understanding of the food safety hazards (microbiological, physical and chemical) within the business, provide evidence that measures have been taken to effectively control these hazards and that these measures are reviewed as appropriate, provide evidence that all food handlers are supervised and instructed and/or trained in food hygiene matters in order that they produce food that is safe to eat.
The Food Standards Agency has produced systems to help create a documented food safety management system - Safer food, better business, but other systems may be suitable.
Food hygiene training
One of the keys to running a safe food business is effective training. The law requires that staff are trained in all the safe methods of food handling that are relevant to the job they do. Managers are required to supervise them to check they are following the safe methods properly.
The Food Standards Agency provides a number of useful factsheets and video clips on their website (https://food.gov.uk/business-industry/food-hygiene/training) An increasing range of taught courses is also available from EHT&C, including 'How to improve your food hygiene rating', along with the popular Level 2 & 3 Food Safety courses, and Allergen awareness.
As always, on-site courses and 1:1 coaching are available to help any business achieve the highest levels of compliance.