Food preparation businesses in the hospitality sector include hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, sandwich shops and similar businesses that prepare food for customers to eat on premises or for takeaway. A key requirement for these businesses is to show that food handling and preparation processes are safe and to keep documentation to show this.
Good food hygiene ensures that food prepared for customers is safe to eat. It prevents harmful microorganisms that can cause serious illness from contaminating food, prevents cross contamination, enables businesses to comply with the law, and protects the reputation of the business.
The US FDA has analysed epidemiological data on food poisoning outbreaks and found that five major risk factors occur repeatedly:
- Improper food-holding temperatures
- Inadequate cooking
- Contaminated equipment
- Food from unsafe sources
- Poor personal hygiene
Food hygiene authorities can visit business premises to inspect them to check for compliance with legal requirements. It can include taking samples for scientific analysis and inspecting records. This can result in:
- A formal request to improve any failings
- A legal notice stating what actions must be taken, or what processes, equipment or premises must not be used
- Prosecution for serious failings to comply with the law
In some countries, such as the UK, authorities issue hygiene ratings that are made public or even displayed on the front of the premises, which can improve or damage business reputations, and provides added incentive to produce food of high quality.
In the EU the main legislation controlling food safety practices is Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs, which is the basis for each member country’s local regulations.
In the US the FDA publishes the FDA Food Code as a best advice for voluntary adoption by local, state and federal organisations with compliance responsibilities for food service, retail food stores, or food vending operations.
Australia and New Zealand are governed by the Food Standards Code. A new Code came into effect on 1 March 2016. This had no major changes, but brought the code up to date with national and state legislation and reworded parts to make requirements clearer, such as who has to comply with specific parts of the Code.
Legislation is aimed to ensure premises are clean and well maintained, they are designed to allow adequate cleaning, have enough space for working, allow maintenance of good hygiene, food preparation practices prevent contamination eg from dirt, disease-causing organisms and pests, and food can be stored safely and cross contamination is prevented.
Food safety requirements
The detailed legal requirements will vary slightly between countries (even within the UK), but the general principles of food hygiene are the same, usually based on the Codex Alimentarius. The regulations will also be flexible to adapt to the size of a business, so that small businesses have simpler requirements. Local agencies responsible for monitoring businesses for food safety and enforcing regulations will have guides available to help you develop procedures and documentation suitable for your business.
One of the key requirements for preparing and storing safe food is to have procedures based on the principles of HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control point). Although this was first developed for the food processing industry, even small food handlers such as individual restaurants, bars and cafes should have procedures based on HACCP. In some countries it is also a legal requirement. They can be adapted to the size of business and complexity of the food preparation processes.
HACCP is a systematic approach to identifying, evaluating, and controlling food safety hazards. A food safety hazard is anything that could make food dangerous to eat and can be:
- Microbiological: bacteria, viruses, tapeworms, fungi from contamination from hands, pests or poor storage conditions allowing growth of microorganisms
- Chemical: any non-food chemical, such as cleaning products, pesticides, non-food-safe colourings and non-food safe preservatives
- Physical: objects such as broken glass, pieces of stone or concrete, machinery parts, plastic, sand, hair, finger nails, jewellery, buttons
Seven basic principles of HACCP can be applied to any food business:
- Conduct a hazard analysis: analyse processes and identify where the risks are
- Determine the critical control points (CCPs) at each stage where a hazard could occur
- Determine the critical limits that must be met to ensure food safety, such as cooking temperature and time, cooling time, storage temperature and time
- Establish monitoring procedures, such as visual observations and measuring of temperatures
- Decide the action you need to take when something goes wrong or a critical limit is not met: this can be further cooking or heating, if this is safe, discarding food, cleaning up spills
- Establish verification procedures to make sure corrective actions are working: this can include checking records, observing the person doing the monitoring, checking equipment used for monitoring
- Set up record-keeping and documentation procedures to have proof for food hygiene inspectors that you are taking appropriate safety measures
The FDA recommends using the Process Approach for the retail and hospitality sectors to take account of the increased complexity of food preparation in restaurants and the need for small businesses with limited staff numbers to balance the amount of time required for hazard control when there are many individual food items.
The Process Approach divides the food flows into broad categories based on the stages in the preparation of a food, analysing the hazards and placing controls on each grouping (Food and Drug Administration, 2006). Operational steps can include receiving, storing, preparing, cooking, cooling, reheating, holding, assembling and serving.
The Process Approach identifies three preparation processes based on the number of times food temperature crosses the ‘temperature danger zone’ of 41-135°F (7.2-57.2°C):
Process 1: food preparation with no cook step: this covers a wide range of foods including salads, cheeses, deli meats, raw oysters, burger meat, steaks.
eg Receive → Store → Prepare → Hold → Serve
Process 2: food preparation for same day service: cooked and held hot.
eg Receive → Store → Prepare → Cook → Hold → Serve
Process 3: complex food preparation: cooked in large volume for next day service.
eg Receive → Store → Prepare → Cook → Cool → Reheat → Hot → Hold → Serve
Identifying and controlling the hazards in each process achieves the same control of risk factors as making a HACCP plan for each product, according to the FDA (FDA 2013) and so achieves the same level of safety.
Premises include the buildings and rooms involved in food preparation and storage. They must be kept clean and in good condition and the design must provide suitable space for working and maintaining hygienic practices, prevent build-up of dirt and mould, and provide suitable conditions for handling and storage of food.
The premises should provide adequate:
- Handwashing facilities and toilets for staff, separated from food preparation areas, with soap, hot and cold running water and hygienic drying
- Ventilation in kitchens and toilets: it should control condensation, temperature, odours, humidity or air-borne particles and prevent contamination in food preparation areas
- Drainage for kitchens and toilets and designed and constructed to prevent contamination
- Facilities for staff to change clothes, where needed
- Storage of cleaning chemicals, disinfectants and other chemicals to prevent contamination of food
Design of food preparation areas
The design of rooms must allow good food hygiene practices and processes, including protection from contamination during food preparation processes and prevention of cross contamination. Food safety legislation has specific requirements for the food preparation area relating to the condition and design of:
- Floors: floors should be constructed of material that is easy to clean and safe to walk on and maintained in sound condition
- Walls: should be made of durable impervious materials that are washable, non-toxic, easy to clean and maintain
- Ceilings: ceilings and overhead fittings (lighting, piping, cabling) should be designed to prevent accumulation of dirt, mould, condensation and risk of contamination
- Windows: must be constructed to prevent dirt accumulation and have insect screens where necessary
- Doors: should be easy to clean and constructed of non-absorbent material
- Surfaces: should be made of smooth, washable, non-toxic, corrosion resistant material, and maintained in a good condition
- Washing facilities for equipment and food: these must be adequate for washing food and utensils and have hot and cold water
All equipment that comes into contact with food must be made of appropriate materials, kept in good condition, cleaned effectively, and fitted appropriately to allow cleaning around it.
- Water that is used as a food ingredient or comes into contact with food for cleaning, heating, steaming, cooling must be of drinking quality
- Ice that may come into contact with food or drink, must be made with potable water and must be produced, handled and stored hygienically
- The steam that comes into contact with food must not contain any contaminants that could affect food safety
- Water that is used for non-food purposes, such as fire control, heating, refrigeration, must be kept in isolated systems so that it cannot contaminate food, drink, surfaces or equipment
Staff working in food handling areas must keep good personal hygiene and be aware of practices and factors that can cause contamination of food and cross contamination. There may be a legal requirement for staff training, such as with the US Food Safety Modernisation Act.
Personal hygiene factors to prevent the contamination of food with bacteria, viruses or parasites passed on by staff include:
- Wear suitable hygienic clothing, including gloves, hair covering, footwear, where necessary
- Prevent contamination of ready-to-eat foods from cutting boards, utensils, clothing, raw meat or eggs
- Do not touch ready-to-eat foods with bare hands
- Cover hair
- Do not wear watches or jewellery
- Do not smoke, spit, sneeze, touch face or hair, or eat food, while handling food
- Wash hands, especially after handling raw meat, before and after wearing gloves, going to the toilet, handling waste, after cleaning, blowing your nose, and after touching phones, light switches, door handles or money
- Dry hands using a disposable towel
- Do not work in a food handling area if ill with diarrhoea, vomiting, infectious disease or have open wounds or skin infections
All raw materials and ingredients used and any material used in processing products must be safe and not contaminated with anything that would make the final product unfit for human consumption.
Storage, processing and distribution systems must protect food from contamination and cross contamination that makes it harmful to health or makes it become unfit to be eaten. This includes pest control, pet control and having processes and procedures that limit bacterial levels to within specified criteria.
Cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria or viruses onto food from contaminated surfaces, hands, equipment or other food such as raw meat.
How to prevent the cross contamination of food:
- Wash hands thoroughly after touching raw meat, especially poultry, and unwashed raw vegetables
- Wash hands thoroughly after going to the toilet or touching pets
- Do not let raw meat and unwashed raw vegetables touch other foods
- Cover raw meat in a fridge so it cannot touch other foods and store below other foods to prevent blood drips from contaminating them
- Do not prepare ready-to-eat foods using a chopping board or utensils that have been used to prepare raw meat or raw vegetables, especially root vegetables and leeks that may contain soil
- Use disposable cloths for wiping and cleaning up spills. Change cotton cloths often and wash in a hot cycle to clean them thoroughly
- Do not prepare food if you are ill with vomiting or diarrhea
- Clean utensils and work surfaces with detergent and hot water. Those that come into contact with raw meat, unwashed vegetables, and soil from vegetables need a thorough cleaning and sterilizing. Use separate chopping boards and utensils for preparing raw meats and other foods
The temperature of food and the time taken to reach it may be specified for the various stages of preparation. This can include, for example, storage before preparation, storage and display after preparation, when food is served hot, when food is served cold after cooking, and when reheating food.
Defrosting has risks of bacterial growth and development of toxins while food is warming up and during storage afterwards. Some foods such as meat give off liquids when defrosting that can drip onto and contaminate other food and surfaces. It is important to follow the guidelines for the control of temperature at each stage.
The materials used for packaging and wrapping must be stored in a way that prevents contamination and be suitable for coming into contact with food. The procedures for wrapping and packaging must ensure that there is no contamination of the food.
Pest and pet control
There must be adequate measures to prevent pests from contaminating food both in storage and preparation. This includes:
Building design and maintenance to prevent means of access
Adequate storage of ingredients and prepared food that prevents access to pests
Hygiene measures to prevent access to food spills and waste that attracts pests and allows them to survive in the food environment
Small businesses are more likely to have pets in the building, including feral cats. There must also be measures to prevent contamination of food by pets.
Food waste must be removed from the food preparation area as soon as possible and stored in containers that are suitable for waste disposal services to handle. The containers must be designed to be easy to clean, prevent contamination, prevent access to pests and kept in good condition. Waste disposal must also comply with hygiene and environmental regulations.
Staff handling food must be instructed or trained in food hygiene so they have an understanding of the requirements for their work.
Vehicles and containers used to transport food must meet the same standards of hygiene, good condition, protection from contamination, and storage at a suitable temperature. They must be kept clean and maintained in good condition.
Slips and trips
Slips and trips are the most common cause of major injury in workplaces and commercial kitchens. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure the safety of staff, visitors and the public by taking adequate precautions.
This can involve staff training, ensuring the use of safe practices and proper cleaning and maintenance. Different floor materials have different levels of risk and require different cleaning and maintenance practices. Practices for preventing slips are also closely related to general food hygiene practices:
- Food spillages: preventing and cleaning up
- Water spills and leaks: preventing sinks from overflowing and water leaks on the floor
- Poor floor conditions: good maintenance and cleaning, and also use of suitable materials
- Trip hazards: things left in working spaces and unexpected places on the floor, such as boxes, bags, cables, are a danger
- Cleaning practices: floors are kept clean to prevent build-up of slippery substances and spills are removed quickly and safely
- Carrying hot oil: replacing oil for deep fat frying needs to be done safely to avoid burns and spills
- The UK HSE has produced a series of guides on avoiding slips in commercial kitchens.
Injury from knives is common in the food preparation sector. The law requires businesses to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of employees. This includes:
- Train staff in the safe use of knives
- Use the knife appropriate for the task
- Use knives on a stable surface
- Keep knives sharp
- Store securely
- Clean carefully
- Use protective clothing where needed
- Do not use knives inappropriately, such as opening cans, handling carelessly
Skin problems in catering
According to the UK Health and Safety Executive work-related dermatitis in one of the main causes of illness for chefs, cooks and catering assistants. It affects businesses that handle a lot of food where staff have to wash hands frequently to meet food safety laws, do cleaning tasks and wash kitchen equipment and utensils.
Practices that prevent dermatitis are also good food safety practices:
- Protect the skin by avoiding contact with cleaning products, water, and food where possible
- Use utensils to handle food and equipment to process/prepare food where possible
- Use a dishwasher instead of hands to wash up
- Wear gloves suitable for the task: food handling or cleaning
- For food preparation, use food-safe disposable gloves, wash hands before and after wearing and avoid cross contamination from the outside of the gloves
- Use soft disposable paper towels for drying hands
- Protect the skin with food and skin safe moisturiser to replace the natural oils: this should be hypoallergenic, fragrance free and free of food allergens such as nut oil
- Check hands regularly for signs of dermatitis: itchy, dry or red skin
- Train staff in keeping hands healthy and food safe
FSA. Food Hygiene. A Guide for Businesses. Food Standards Agency, 2013. (link)
FDA. Food Code 2013. Food and Drug Agency, 2013. Report number PB2013-110462. ISBN 978-1-935239-02-4. (link)
Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Food Standards Code. (link)