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Food Safety Guide for Burger Vans

Meeting food hygiene regulations, food hygiene legislation, staff training and food hazards

Food Safety Guides » Food Safety Guide for Burger Vans

Meeting Food Hygiene Regulation for Burger Vans

Burger vans are a familiar sight on our roads and at other sites across the UK, and they can be quite a lucrative business. The UK burger market is booming and is estimated to be worth over £3 billion. According to a study carried out by Vanarama, burgers were one of the UK’s top food van menu items. Therefore, there is the potential for a large customer base and high profit margins for burger van operators.

To be successful, all burger van operators must comply with the law by ensuring the food they sell is safe to eat. If they do not, it increases the risk of contamination, which can make customers ill, cause injuries, and may even be life-threatening in some cases. Unsafe food is an even greater risk for those who are vulnerable, such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women, allergy sufferers and people with weakened immune systems.

Poor hygiene and unsafe practices, such as not cooking or chilling high-risk food (such as meat burgers) sufficiently, and cross-contamination, can cause food poisoning. Allergen products coming into contact with allergen-free ones can result in severe allergic reactions in some people. Physical contaminants can injure the mouth and may even result in choking.

Burger vans park at various locations, including road lay-bys, parks, beaches, festivals, markets and events. Burger vans will generally sell their products to the general public, particularly motorists and workers passing by on roads. They are also often available for hire at corporate events, celebrations, private parties and fetes.

As the name suggests, burger vans will sell predominately burgers, such as beef and cheese, but may also offer other types. They may also sell breakfasts, hot dogs, bacon/sausage/pork rolls, chips and hot and cold drinks. Some may specialise in specific types of food, such as vegetarian and vegan. One of the things that all burger van operators have in common is the need to uphold food hygiene and safety. How each operator achieves this will depend on its nature and risks.

The overall aim of any business is to be profitable. All burger van operators will be inspected as part of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS). If an operator has poor food safety and hygiene standards, its food hygiene rating score is likely to be lower. According to an NFU Mutual Food Hygiene Report, 69% of people check the food hygiene ratings of the establishments they use, and customers would turn away from a 3-star rated business, but not one that was 5-star rated. A poor hygiene rating can mean a loss of customers and, therefore, a reduction in takings.

This guide will provide burger van operators with general advice on achieving good food safety and hygiene standards. It will also highlight why food safety and hygiene is essential when running a mobile catering business.

Food hygiene legislation for burger vans

As food operators, all burger van operators will need to comply with food safety and hygiene legislation.

The main laws are:

 

Further information on the key regulations is on the Food Standards Agency webpage.

Burger van operators will need to register with their local authority, and most will require a street trader licence (if selling on the public highway). They will also need a licence to sell alcohol (if applicable) and relevant insurances, e.g. public liability and employer’s liability.

There may be other applicable laws, depending on the type of business. It is the operator’s responsibility to ensure they know and comply with all relevant food safety laws. Ignorance of legislation is not a defence.

Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are responsible for enforcing food safety and hygiene. They have certain powers under the FSA 1990 and various food hygiene regulations. If burger van operators do not comply with legislation, EHOs can give a poor food hygiene rating score or issue enforcement notices. For more serious offences and non-compliance of notices, officers may decide to prosecute, which may mean fines, imprisonment and even closure of the business. If customers are made ill by unsafe food, they may also claim compensation, which can be very costly.

Food van operator prosecution cases

  • A snack van owner in Beckenham (south London) was fined £7,530 for numerous food safety and hygiene issues. Inspectors found that the van was in poor condition and dirty, there was no hot water supply for handwashing, and the fridges/freezers were poorly maintained. It was that bad that even the food safety and hygiene manual was filthy. Also, the owner had not registered his business or attended a food hygiene training course for over ten years.
Burger Cartoon
Burger Van Cartoon
Burger Meal Cartoon

Staff training on food hygiene for burger vans

Legally, all burger van operators must ensure that any staff (or themselves if they work alone) who prepare, handle, cook or sell food are supervised, instructed and trained in food hygiene matters. It does not mean that staff have to have a food hygiene certificate. However, having evidence of this type of training is the best way to demonstrate to EHOs and customers that the business is committed to food safety. It also provides evidence for due diligence purposes in the event of an investigation or legal action.

Staff should receive training in line with their responsibilities, the area where they work and their tasks.

There are different levels of food hygiene training, e.g.:

  • Level 1 – Introduction to food hygiene, typically for those handling low-risk food. This course may be useful for operators with limited food contact, i.e. serving wrapped foods.
  • Level 2 – Basic food hygiene certificate for staff preparing, cooking and handling food. Most burger van staff will need at least a level 2 course, e.g. food preparers and cooks.
  • Level 3 – Intermediate food hygiene certificate for those with more responsibilities, e.g. burger van owners, supervisors, managers and those involved in food safety management systems and HACCP.

 

Refresher training is also a requirement. The frequency will depend on the nature of the business, its risks, the food handled, and the competence of operators/workers.

Food hazards in burger vans

Food hazards are contaminants that can enter food and potentially cause harm to consumers. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) defines a food hazard as “something that could make food unsafe or unfit to eat”.

There are four different types of food hazards: biological, chemical, physical and allergenic.

Biological

Biological hazards happen when microorganisms contaminate food. In a burger van, contamination is more likely due to the insufficient and improper chilling and cooking of burgers and other high-risk foods, such as hot dogs, bacon and sausages. Poor practices provide optimal conditions for harmful pathogens to grow. It can also occur due to cross-contamination from poor personal hygiene and handling practices, e.g. inadequate handwashing and unclean equipment, utensils and cleaning materials.

Examples of biological hazards include:

  • Bacteria, e.g. salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter and listeria.
  • Fungi, e.g. yeasts and moulds.
  • Viruses, e.g. norovirus.

 

These microorganisms can cause foodborne illnesses, including food poisoning and intoxication. E. coli 0157 and salmonella can be a problem in undercooked and rare beef burgers.

It is unlikely customers will catch the COVID-19 virus from food (Food Standards Agency). However, burger van operators must follow current Government Guidance to reduce the risk to customers. Local authority environmental health teams can provide up-to-date guidance on COVID-19.

Chemical

Chemical hazards occur when naturally occurring or human-made substances contaminate food. In a burger van, chemical hazards may occur due to cross-contamination (i.e. food coming into contact with cleaning chemicals) and processing.

Examples of chemical hazards include:

  • Toxins produced by animals, plants and microorganisms, e.g. mycotoxins (produced by fungi).
  • Unintentionally added chemicals, e.g. cleaning chemicals and those produced during processing. Acrylamide can be a risk where a burger van cooks bread or potatoes at high temperatures, e.g. frying chips and toasting buns.
  • Intentionally added chemicals to food but could be hazardous if used in excess quantities, e.g. flavourings.

 

Eating food contaminated with chemicals can result in immediate harm to the consumer. It can also cause long-term health effects if exposed to the hazard over time.

Physical

Physical hazards are foreign materials, objects and extraneous matter that can enter food during preparation, handling, cooking and serving but may also be in raw ingredients. In a burger van, these may occur due to poor personal hygiene but can also come from packaging, poorly maintained vehicles/equipment and pests.

Examples of physical hazards include:

  • Natural hazards – Occur naturally in food, e.g. fruit pips, stems and stones, dirt on potatoes, bones in meat, and shells from nuts.
  • Unnatural hazards – Should not be present in food, e.g. stones, human hair, fingernails (including false fingernails), string, plastic, glass, metal, animal fur, droppings and wood.

 

These types of hazards can cause injuries to the mouth, teeth and gums. In some cases, physical contaminants can even result in choking, especially in the very young and the elderly. Some can be generally unpleasant to find in food, i.e. a hair.

Allergenic

Allergens are proteins that occur naturally in some foods but can contaminate other foods by cross-contact. In a burger van, allergenic hazards may result from using and storing allergen products where allergen-free products are. Allergenic hazards can cause allergic reactions in food allergy sufferers. In some cases, there is a risk of anaphylaxis in those with severe allergies.

There are 14 recognised allergens, which include:

  • Eggs.
  • Fish.
  • Milk.
  • Peanuts (groundnuts).
  • Celery (all of the plant, including the root celeriac).
  • Mustard (liquid, powder and seeds).
  • Tree nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts etc.).
  • Sesame (seeds).
  • Lupin (flower and seeds).
  • Soybeans.
  • Cereals (gluten) (oats, rye and barley).
  • Molluscs (oysters, snails and mussels).
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites.
  • Crustaceans (crab, prawns and lobster).

 

Many allergens will be in a burger van, e.g. buns (sesame, milk, egg and cereals), burger sauces (mustard, eggs, milk and gluten), beef burger patties (sulphites and gluten), vegetarian/vegan burgers (nuts, gluten and soya). These are just examples. The exact allergens will depend on the type of food sold and the ingredients in each food item.

There is potential for all types of food hazards to be present in a burger van. However, allergenic and biological are likely to be a higher risk when preparing, handling, cooking and serving burgers and other meat products.

The 4Cs

Burger van operators should follow the 4Cs of food hygiene to prevent food hazards. These are cleaning, cooking, cross-contamination and chilling. These four simple rules cover essential food hygiene and safety practices.

Cleaning

According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), a lack of thorough cleaning is one of the most common reasons for prosecution. Cleaning is essential as it stops harmful pathogens and allergens from spreading, discourages pests, and is a legal requirement.

Burger van operators should have effective cleaning procedures and schedules. They must ensure the vehicle, machinery, equipment, utensils, food storage, preparation, cooking and serving areas are kept clean and safe. Adopting a ‘clean as you go’ approach will help keep areas constantly clean and tidy.

Cooking

Food must be cooked thoroughly before serving. If burgers (and other high-risk foods) are served rare or undercooked, it can cause food poisoning. Cooking at the correct temperature for the appropriate time will kill any harmful bacteria.

The cooking method, time and temperature will depend on the type of food. However, operators should always follow the cooking instructions on food packaging (where present), and food must always be piping hot all the way through before being served. Burgers should never be served rare or pink in the centre, and the juices must always run clear. A burger should not be cooked like a steak, and the Food Standards Agency explains why.

When cooking, food should reach at least 70°C and stay at that temperature for 2 minutes (or at an equivalent temperature and time, i.e. 80°C for 6 seconds). Reheated food should be at least 75°C for 30 seconds. In Scotland, the regulations require reheated food to be at least 82°C. It is advisable to test the food temperature with a clean, calibrated probe to ensure it is properly cooked.

Cross-contamination

Foodborne illnesses usually occur due to the transferring of harmful bacteria between people, food, surfaces and equipment. This is known as cross-contamination, and it is one of the most common causes of food poisoning (FSA). It can also occur with chemicals, e.g. spraying chemicals in the air that can land on food, surfaces and equipment. Where allergens are concerned, it is known as cross-contact. This is where products containing allergens are often unintentionally transferred to allergen-free ones.

Burger van operators must ensure they prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact as much as possible in their vans, which can be achieved by:

  • Good personal hygiene, e.g. washing and sanitising hands thoroughly.
  • Using separate areas, equipment and utensils for different types of foods, e.g. raw and cooked.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting equipment, cleaning materials and utensils before use.
  • Storing food correctly in and out of the burger van, e.g. keeping raw foods away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Storing allergenic foods and non-allergenic foods separately, including ingredients and prepared food.
  • Adopting a high standard of cleanliness.
  • Preventing and controlling pests.

Chilling

Certain foods, e.g. those with use-by dates, cooked and ready-to-eat foods, must be stored chilled to be safe. Chilling (and freezing) does not kill harmful bacteria, but it does stop them from growing. If food is improperly chilled, it can enter the danger zone and encourage pathogens to grow, increasing the risk of food poisoning.

Burger van operators must ensure that food is properly chilled, frozen and stored correctly, for example:

  • Ensuring chilled and frozen food is stored at the correct temperature on receipt/delivery.
  • Ensuring chilled food is kept out of the refrigerator for the shortest time possible during preparation.
  • Ensuring refrigerator temperatures are at 5°C or below, and freezer temperatures are at least -18°C or below.
  • Ensuring food is stored correctly within refrigerators, e.g. raw food at the bottom or in separate fridges to ready-to-eat and cooked foods.
  • Defrosting frozen food in accordance with the instructions on the packaging or safely in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Following the storage instructions on food packaging and monitoring use-by dates.

Personal hygiene in burger vans

Personal hygiene is vital when working with food. It includes many different aspects of the body, clothing and habits, such as handwashing, protective clothing, hair, jewellery, smoking, illnesses etc. If burger van operators do not follow good personal hygiene practices, they can contaminate food with hazards through direct contact and cross-contamination.

If burger van operators have employees, they should instruct and train them on the expected standards of personal hygiene when working with food.

It can include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Keeping hair, body and hands clean.
  • Washing hands regularly and thoroughly, e.g. after visiting the toilet, after handling raw meat and before handling ready-to-eat/cooked food. There should be a handwash basin (with hot and cold water and soap) sited in or within a reasonable distance of the van.
  • Tying hair back and/or covering it with a hat.
  • Short fingernails, no false fingernails and no nail varnish.
  • No jewellery or watches, except a plain wedding band.
  • No strong perfumes or other toiletries, which could taint food.
  • Wearing suitable clean protective clothing, such as hairnets, gloves and aprons, and changing it regularly.
  • No coughing or sneezing over food and preparation/serving areas.
  • No smoking in or around vans, including in the cab.
  • Discouraging behaviours, e.g. touching the face/hair, spitting, chewing gum and picking teeth/nose.

 

Under Regulation 852/2004, food handlers must maintain high standards of personal hygiene and cleanliness.

Staff illnesses

If people working in the burger van are ill, it can compromise food safety. Burger van operators have a legal responsibility to ensure they (including any staff) do not handle food if they have an infection. It also applies if they show any symptoms of food poisoning, e.g. vomiting and diarrhoea, and have any infected wounds, skin infections or sores. Any cuts and sores should be covered with brightly coloured waterproof plasters or dressings, even if they are not infected.

If burger van operators have employees, they should have reporting procedures for when food handlers have gastrointestinal symptoms, Hepatitis A, and wounds, sores and skin conditions. If a worker has diarrhoea or vomiting, they should report it to the operator immediately. If they are at home, they should stay there or go home straight away if they are at work. They must not return to work until 48 hours after their symptoms have stopped.

Food allergens in burger vans

Legally, burger van operators must inform customers in writing if any of the 14 allergens are in the ingredients of the food prepared, cooked and served. It will apply to pre-packed, pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS) and non-pre-packed (loose) food.

Pre-packed

These are foods that are already in packaging before being sold. They are in packaging that has to be opened to be altered and are ready for sale. Most burger van operators will likely buy and sell pre-packed food, such as bottled and canned drinks, chocolate, crisps and other snacks.

There has to be an ingredients list, with all of the allergens emphasised, on the packaging. Operators should check the labels to ensure the allergens are clear before serving pre-packed foods to customers.

Pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS)

PPDS foods are prepared and packed on the same premises where they are sold and before they are ordered or selected by customers. For example, if a burger van business makes burgers, baps and other foods and puts them in packaging ready for sale, this will apply.

The regulations have recently changed regarding PPDS food. Natasha’s Law came into force on 1st October 2021. Businesses must now label PPDS foods with a full ingredients list, with all of the allergens emphasised, on the packaging.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has further information on the allergen labelling changes for PPDS foods. There is also specific guidance for mobile food sellers.

Non-pre-packed (loose)

Non-pre-packed foods will include unpackaged burgers served to customers, hot drinks made to order and any loose unpackaged foods selected from displays, e.g. cakes and sausage rolls.

Burger van operators must provide allergen information for all loose foods containing any of the 14 allergens. They can do this by adding complete allergen information to menus or putting it on a chalkboard. They can also provide written information packs or a notice informing customers on how to obtain allergen information.

Precautions

When preparing, cooking and serving food, burger van operators must ensure that food allergens are handled and managed effectively to prevent cross-contact, which can be achieved by:

  • Including allergenic hazards in HACCP systems and putting controls in place.
  • Completing allergen training (and staff), including what to do in an emergency if a customer has an allergic reaction.
  • Looking for any hidden allergenic ingredients in foods.
  • Preparing, cooking and storing allergen-containing products separately from non-allergen products, e.g. using separate equipment, such as colour-coded boards.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and equipment thoroughly where separation is not possible.
  • Carefully checking pre-packed food labels for allergenic ingredients.
  • Labelling any ingredient containers clearly with the allergens they contain.
  • Recording allergen information accurately, including product specification sheets, ingredients labels and recipes.

 

Unlike bacteria, allergens are not affected by cooking or chilling. Operators will also need to consider various dietary requirements and food intolerances. Avoid cross-contact as much as possible when preparing and handling food.

Safely Storing Food In A Burger Van

Safely storing food in burger vans

Burger van operators will store a variety of foods in the vehicle and perhaps in other premises, such as:

  • Ambient, e.g. dried goods, such as sauces, bread, biscuits, tea, coffee, cakes and chocolate. They may also store vegetables, e.g. potatoes and onions.
  • Chilled, e.g. refrigerated foods, such as meat, meat-free foods, ready-to-eat foods, salads, desserts and milk.
  • Frozen, e.g. foods kept in the freezer, such as chips, meat and meat-free foods.

 

All food must be stored correctly to prevent contamination from food hazards and keep it fresh, so good quality, safe food is served.

Here are some top tips:

  • Check all food deliveries before putting them into storage and reject anything that could compromise food safety and quality.
  • Keep dry goods in sealed, labelled containers.
  • Keep storage areas clean and tidy.
  • Do not store any food, equipment or utensils on the ground.
  • Have an effective stock rotation system, e.g. First In First Out (FIFO).
  • Regularly check the temperatures of fridges and freezers.
  • For pre-packed foods, always follow the storage instructions on the packaging.
  • Where possible, store raw and ready-to-eat foods separately. If it is not possible, keep higher risk foods, e.g. raw meat, below ready-to-eat and cooked foods.
  • Do not store bread, potatoes and other starchy foods in the fridge if intending to cook them at high temperatures (acrylamide risk).
  • Allergen-containing foods must be kept separate from other foods.
  • Store chemicals, cleaning equipment and waste away from food storage areas.
  • Keep an eye on use-by dates and best before dates, and dispose of any food that has expired. Using food beyond its use-by date is unlawful.
  • Label any non-pre-packed foods with the name and any allergens.
  • Label any chilled and frozen food with dates put into storage.

Hot holding

Some burger vans may hot hold food, e.g. burgers and hot dogs. When hot holding food, it must be held at a temperature of 63°C or above. Food can fall below this temperature for up to two hours during display or service. However, if not used after this time, it should be disposed of properly. It is always best to throw out any leftovers to minimise the risk of food poisoning.

Chilled display

Some burger vans may display chilled food. Before putting any food into chilled units, they must be at the correct temperature before use, i.e. set at 5°C or below. The temperature should be checked at least once a day (using a clean probe between chilled food). Display all chilled food for the shortest possible time.

Chilled foods should be held below 8°C, but ideally between 0-5°C. It can be held above 8°C for up to four hours, but only once.

Safely Serving

Safely serving food in burger vans

Food contamination can also occur during food preparation and service. All areas in the burger van and equipment should be kept in good repair and clean. Anyone handling and serving food must maintain a high standard of personal hygiene at all times.

When serving food from burger vans:

  • Take extra care when handling and serving ready-to-eat foods, as bacteria and allergens will not be killed by cooking or reheating.
  • Provide and use utensils to serve wherever possible to avoid direct touching of food.
  • Use gloves when serving and change them regularly.
  • Follow hot holding guidance where food has to be kept hot before serving (where applicable) and the same for chilled.
  • Always follow the 4Cs.
Waste

Waste management in burger vans

Burger vans are likely to produce mostly food, packaging and water waste. If waste management is inadequate, it can encourage pests and may even result in infestations. It can also increase the risk of food becoming contaminated with harmful pathogens. Food can start to smell as it deteriorates, which customers will find unpleasant.

All burger van operators should have appropriate provisions for the segregation, storage and removal of waste, for example:

  • Not allowing waste to accumulate by removing it regularly from food areas.
  • Having appropriate bins inside the van and outside (where applicable), e.g.:
    – Sufficient in number.
    – Different types of bins for different wastes.
    – Bins with foot pedals, so no hand touching.
    – Bins with tight-fitting lids to prevent pests.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting bins regularly.
  • Lining bins with appropriate liners.
  • Regularly emptying bins.
  • Ensuring bins are placed and kept in areas designated for waste disposal.
  • Keeping outside bins closed when not in use.
  • Piping wastewater into sealed containers or tanks and not discharging it on site.
  • Removing waste from parking sites and disposing of it legally and properly.
Pest

Pest control in burger vans

A pest is any insect or animal which can contaminate food with harmful pathogens and become an infestation if uncontrolled. They can also introduce physical hazards, e.g. contaminating food with droppings or the pest itself.

Pests are relatively common, and EHOs close down food businesses due to pest infestations more than any other problem.

Many different types of pests can contaminate food. The ones that may be in and around burger vans may include:

  • Rodents – Mice and rats.
  • Insects – Flies, ants and cockroaches.
  • Stored product insects – Beetles, particularly weevils, can be found in flours, grains and cereals.
  • Birds – Pigeons.
  • Pets – Are not pests, but can contaminate food if allowed in the van.

 

Some examples of pest prevention and control methods include:

  • Checking the van regularly for gaps or holes that could allow pests into the vehicle. It should be pest-proof.
  • Keeping the van windows and doors closed and locked when not in use.
  • Ensuring external areas around the parked van are kept clear of vegetation, rubbish and anything that could encourage or harbour pests.
  • Looking for evidence of pests or pest damage when checking deliveries, e.g. insects or gnawed packaging. Do not accept deliveries if there are any signs.
  • Keeping the vehicle clean and tidy, especially where food is prepared and served.
  • Removing internal and external waste regularly.
  • Keeping the serving window closed when there are no customers, or using screens.
  • Not having open bins and keeping lids closed when not in use.
  • Not having pets in the van, including in the vehicle cab.
  • Storing food correctly, e.g. not on the floor, and keeping it covered or well-sealed.
  • Using a pest control contractor if there is any evidence of pests inside the van.

 

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has a food safety management pack called Safer Food, Better Business. It can help burger van operators meet the requirements of food safety and hygiene legislation.

Burger van operators should contact the local authority environmental health team for advice on food safety and hygiene specific to their business. There is also guidance from the CIEH on mobile catering that operators may find helpful.

We also offer various food hygiene and HACCP courses, which can help burger van operators understand their legal obligations and assist them in achieving a five-star food hygiene rating.

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