Catherine Watkinson, Global Technical Hygiene Specialist at Hillbrush, a leading supplier of cleaning and hygiene products for the foodservice and food manufacturing industries comments:
"Ensuring that your food operation is clean and tidy is a prerequisite of good food hygiene practice. It promotes a positive image to customers and ensures that your contract is as popular as it can be. Poor hygiene will turn customers away, but bacterial contamination can also cause serious illness and result in a visit from the environmental health officer, possible prosecution and shut down. It pays to make cleaning and hygiene your top priority.
“Food premises are inspected on an annual basis to ensure hygiene levels are up to scratch and displaying a Food Hygiene Rating is a voluntary way (law in Wales and Northern Ireland) of communicating to your customers that you take hygiene seriously.
“Taking simple steps can help to increase your food hygiene rating, including introducing a HACCP system. This is a recommended management system where businesses identify possible food safety risks as critical control points (CCPs) throughout the food preparation and handling process – from the kitchen right through to service.
"Basic HACCP plans include various monitoring, verification and record keeping procedures, from ensuring that everything is dated once opened (likely also with a date for when the product should be thrown away/used by) to keeping the fridge temperature below 5˚C and the freezers below -18˚C.
“It is important to chill and defrost foodstuffs correctly to slow down bacterial growth and keep them fresh for longer. This will help with caterers’ stock rotation but also ensure maximum food safety levels. Generally, the lower the temperature, the slower the bacteria will grow. Unfortunately, cold temperatures don’t stop bacteria from growing altogether, particularly with resilient bacteria, such as Listeria Monocytogenes. Bacteria will grow in what is known as the ‘Danger Zone’, which is a temperature range of between 8˚C and 63˚C. This is because these are optimal conditions for bacteria to grow and replicate. Most bacteria will be ‘killed’ at high temperatures (over 63˚C) but standard advice is to cook food until it has reached 70˚C and has stayed there for at least 2 minutes, or 80˚C for 6 seconds.
Good cleaning means good hygiene
“Alongside a thorough HACCP plan, using high quality colour coded cleaning equipment along with good cleaning practices are key to avoiding cross-contamination. So, at a basic level, the same equipment should not be used to cleaning surfaces in contact with food as cleaning the floor. Using colour coded brushes for different types of cleaning jobs will help keep a rigorous cleaning programme in place. This is a practice widely used in food manufacturing which is now being adopted in many catering operations.
“Inadequate cleaning will result in standard food safety risks of microbiological, chemical or allergen contamination of food as well as the quality risks of spoilage, meat species cross-contact and accidental transfer of animal proteins to vegetarian or vegan products. For those caterers increasingly offering gluten free or vegan dishes or indeed, complete menus of ‘free-from’ foods, proper clean downs using the correct colour-coded equipment between preparation is particularly important. Many caterers cooking vegan dishes from scratch will prep these first, clean down and then move onto prep for other dishes on the menu.
The importance of training staff in food hygiene
“Once food hygiene procedures are in place, all staff need to have adequate training to ensure it is implemented effectively. It’s good practice to ensure any new starters too have an induction to understand the basic principles of food safety relevant to their role before they start work. It is also ideal to record any training, so you can show enforcement officers during their visits that you have implemented a training programme.
“As a legal minimum, all food handlers must receive training commensurate with their duties and responsibilities – generally this is basic food hygiene training (Food Safety Level 1 or 2). As an ideal, all supervisory and management staff should receive higher level training at either level 3 or 4 food safety”.