How Do You Improve Your Food Safety Score? The food hygiene rating scheme allows customers to make an informed choice on where they eat, based on the ratings, and in these days of social media there is nowhere for a food business to hide if they are given a failing score. We’ve all been there. You’re in a fancy restaurant. It’s the weekend. You want to enjoy your time off work, maybe out with family or on a date. Your food comes to the table. All seems great. Except for the hair in your soup that you’ve just spotted floating around, or the greasy cutlery which has been placed down on your table.
Is the night ruined? Could this have been avoided? Well, you might have avoided this restaurant or café entirely if you had spotted the 1 rating that they’d been awarded as part of the Food Standards Agency’s Food Hygiene Rating scheme. So where was it?
Laws state that businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are legally required to show their rating so customers can clearly see it. However, businesses in England do not have to display their current rating, instead consumers need to go online to review the rating information for food businesses operating in England. Which means that the lovely exterior of the restaurant might contradict what’s going on in the kitchen. But what can companies do to improve their low food rating and claw back their customers and clientele?
Fiona Sinclair, 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 three areas right will mean food businesses have little trouble in achieving the highest 5* food hygiene rating:
Confidence In Management
The first of the three fundamental criteria than an EHO considers is
confidence in management. This isn’t just how competent your kitchen manager is but gives careful consideration to 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 will fully reflect the processes followed in a kitchen, identifying where any hazards are and the controls you’ve put in place to ensure the hazards do not affect the food you serve. Some controls will be classed as critical (CCPs) and are usually the ones which are monitored, e.g. fridge storage temperatures or the end of cooking temperatures of foods. Your EHO will be looking to see whether you’ve identified the CCPs and that you’ve put in place, and are maintaining, suitable records to demonstrate daily control. Remember – these records must accurately reflect what’s going on in your 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 EHO’s are not just looking for certificates; they want to see staff demonstrate their understanding of food safety and, more specifically, the food safety controls detailed in your food safety management system. If you get training right then food standards will be better, and your
EHO will recognise this.
Management record keeping extends to more than just temperatures and training certificates; due diligence is the prescribed defence that allows a business to demonstrate they’re doing all in their power to maintain food safety. Proving suitable daily checks are conducted is a good way of showing that activities such as stock rotation have taken place, suitable supplies of cleaning chemicals are available and hand washing basins are suitably stocked. If your EHO sees that your activities are backed up by good record keeping then you should score well in this section.
EHOs will also review the history of compliance at each food business they inspect and, if poor, this can have a negative impact on a business’ score in this section.
The second fundamental area is the
structural condition of your operation, including how clean the premises are. If the basic structural surfaces, walls, floors and ceiling are finished to a good standard and all equipment is suitable to your operation and in good condition, you are off to a good start! Remember – equipment needs servicing and being able to prove you have plans in place to enable the upkeep of your kit is important. Don’t wait for your EHO to ask you, if you have processes in place be sure to tell them.
Cleaning is a rather obvious aspect of food safety and one that many get wrong. It’s also the easiest for an EHO to identify. Keeping your kitchen clean is a basic and rather simple rule to follow. Accurate cleaning schedules can help improve or maintain your standards; a good schedule will identify all cleaning tasks, frequency of cleaning and what equipment/chemicals should be used to complete the cleaning. It’s really good practice to ensure the person completing the tasks signs the schedule to say they have cleaned, then a supervisor should verify. Successful businesses only allow a supervisor to sign off the schedule as completed once they are 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 and sanitisers available as well as antibacterial soap and heavier cleaning chemicals e.g. a degreaser. Sanitisers must be made up correctly and be ready to use before food preparation starts. It’s also important to check on the label that they conform to BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697 as your EHO’s will look for this. Chemicals are not the only requirement; 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.
It’s very important to use two stage cleaning techniques. The E.coli guidance sets out recommendations for ensuring food preparation surfaces and equipment are properly cleaned after preparing raw meat and EHO’s are always on the lookout for this. In most inspections, they will ask staff to demonstrate their cleaning techniques therefore it’s important that staff are aware of the need to clean surfaces down with detergent/sanitiser to remove food debris and grease then to clean down again with a sanitiser, allowing the product to remain on the surface for the correct contact time to ensure that bacteria are killed. Get this right and the EHO will likely score your business well on structure and cleaning.
The third fundamental aspect is
hygiene standards, taking into account elements such as cross-contamination control, personal hygiene standards and temperature control. These are most commonly demonstrated by practical and physical implementation of your food safety management system procedures.
Controlling cross-contamination requires some thought. There are basic areas such as ensuring that raw meat and fish are always stored below or separately from ready to eat foods, or using colour coded chopping boards, as well as the correct use of sanitisers, as noted above. However since legislation on allergenic ingredients changed, cross-contamination control also means ensuring that you take steps to avoid contaminating foods with any of the 14 known allergens. This extends to storage of allergenic ingredients, handling procedures during preparation and cooking as well as final service. Remember – allergen advice needs to be available to all and staff must not guess at the content of foods!
Maintaining temperature control of foods during storage, cooking/reheating, cooling and service is vitally important. If you can prove that you know your temperature targets and have the right tools, i.e. working probe thermometer and antibacterial probe wipes, then you are a long way down the road to compliance. Recording temperatures, as mentioned above, helps close the loop.
Certain temperature limits are better known than others, e.g. 8°C for fridges and 75°C for 30 seconds for cooked foods, and demonstrating this knowledge to your EHO is no bad thing, however different cooking methods are increasingly popular these days. If you’re going down that route, make sure you are absolutely certain of your time and temperature targets and can demonstrate this to your EHO. Remember, novel cooking methods can hold inherent hazards which are different to the more traditional cooking techniques and you usually need to use specialist equipment.
EHO’s are also looking 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 is the case with blast chillers but if you’re manually cooling food, e.g. with ice baths or in a cool area, then you need to make sure you cool foods as quickly as possible, getting them into the fridge within 90 minutes to 2 hours. The current edition of the Catering Guide recommends cooling to 20C within 2 hours before putting into the fridge. This doesn’t mean it should take 2 hours to get cooling foods into the fridge every time; you should take as many steps as possible to ensure that food’s cooled as quickly as possible.
Personal hygiene is hugely important for maintaining food safety. Your EHO will always be looking to see whether staff wash their hands and how they do it. Ensuring proper hand washing should be part of any food handler’s induction training but regular checking and refresher training certainly helps. It goes without saying to ensure that hand wash basins have running hot and cold water and are stocked with antibacterial soap and paper towels. Ideally hand wash basins should have elbow taps but, if not, you should ensure that staff turn off the taps using paper towels instead of touching them with clean hands.
Finally, it’s critical to make sure your premises are pest free; the majority of prosecutions carried out by EHO’s are pest related. It’s not difficult to keep your business free from rodents and insects. A basic control is ensuring that they cannot get in in the first place but keeping your kitchen clean won’t just satisfy your EHO – it means that pests have nothing to eat. It’s good practice to appoint a recognised pest controller to monitor conditions in your kitchen and stores; they should visit about 8 times a year and be available for emergency call out visits if any unwelcome intruders are spotted.
Keeping contamination and temperature controls in place, looking after personal hygiene standards and ensuring your premises are pest free will keep your food safe and your EHO happy.
If you would like to speak to a member of the STS team directly, and find out how you can improve your food safety rating,
get in touch with our team.