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Meeting food hygiene regulation in hotels
According to statistics, there are over 9.8 thousand hotels in the UK! The hotel industry had a market size of £16.42 billion in 2022, rising from £11.28 billion just the previous year. That’s a lot of growth – and also a lot of food served from within those hotels.
Having good food hygiene in hotels is therefore of the utmost importance. The last thing a hotel owner wants is poor food hygiene potentially resulting in guest illness and ultimately poor reviews. Or worse – prosecution.
Hotels should follow good food hygiene practices for three main reasons:
- Guest safety – This is the most important reason for good food hygiene in hotels. Poor food hygiene can lead to the spread of harmful bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause food poisoning and other illnesses. It’s also worth noting that some guests are more vulnerable than others, including those will allergies or people who are immunosuppressed, for example.
- Reputation and guest satisfaction – A hotel that fails to maintain good food hygiene practices risks damaging its reputation. Guests who become ill as a result are likely to leave negative reviews or pass the information on through word of mouth, which can harm the hotel’s reputation and lead to a loss of future bookings. Cross-contamination due to poor practices can also leave guests unsatisfied if they have requested a particular diet such as a vegetarian, vegan, halal or cosher diet and these diets are either not catered for or have been found to be cross-contaminated with other foodstuffs.
- Legal requirements – Hotels must comply with food safety regulations by law. This legislation is there to protect people from harm that can be caused due to poor food hygiene practices. Failing to comply with this legislation can result in legal action, fines and even the closure of the business.
Food safety and hygiene legislation to follow for hotels
The responsibility for food safety in hotels ultimately lies with the owner. As such, anyone running a hotel must understand food hygiene legislation fully and ensure that their business complies with every aspect of it.
Since 2006, all establishments that handle food, even if it’s just a cup of tea and a slice of toast, must be registered with the local Environmental Health Department. As a food business, this means that a hotel must now also have documented food safety procedures based on HACCP principles (Hazard Analysis, Critical Control Point principles). The levels of checks and controls will depend on the scale and style of the food offered and any risks posed to guests.
All hotels must follow the following legislation:
- The Food Safety Act 1990 – This Act provides a framework for all establishments that serve food and drink, including hotels. The Act ensures that hotels do not put anything in food, remove anything from food, or treat food in ways that would mean it could be damaging to the health of those eating it. It also ensures that the food served by hotels is of the substance, nature and quality that customers should expect and that it is presented, labelled and advertised in a way that is not misleading or false.
- The Food Standards Act 1999 – This Act establishes the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as the body that oversees food safety laws and legislation in the UK. Its main goal is to protect public health when it comes to food and gives the FSA the power to act in the consumers’ best interests during all stages of food production, processing and supply.
- The Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations:
– The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013
– The Food Hygiene Regulations (Scotland) 2006
– The Food Hygiene Regulations (Wales) 2006
– The Food Hygiene Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006
- The Food Information Regulations 2014
– These regulations stipulate that businesses must provide allergen information if a food contains any of the 14 listed allergens.
– These were amended by the Food Information (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2019 to include Natasha’s Law.
Since leaving the EU, the UK has also chosen to retain some more recently introduced EU legislation including Annex II of the General Food Regulations 2004 (EC No 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs). This regulation is particularly relevant for smaller hotels such as B&Bs where owners live on-site with their family, and the kitchen is often a farmhouse kitchen where pets such as cats and dogs typically reside.
This legislation specifies:
Adequate procedures are also to be in place to prevent domestic animals from having access to places where food is prepared, handled or stored (or, where the competent authority so permits in special cases, to prevent such access from resulting in contamination).
Seeking clarification when this law was first introduced, the Bed and Breakfast Association published advice from a senior official at the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The advice makes it clear that small hotels and B&B owners should aim to keep pets or domestic animals out of food preparation areas as far as possible; it is reasonable to allow such pets into the kitchen provided the area is cleaned thoroughly before any guests’ food is prepared and that they should not be in the kitchen during food preparation, and likewise their beds, feeding bowls and other pet equipment should not be on any surfaces.
What happens if the legislation is not followed?
If a hotel does not follow food safety legislation, there are legal, moral and health and safety consequences. The local authority can take legal action if the hotel has been found to break food hygiene laws. The consequences of legal action include fines and closure orders and can even lead to imprisonment for the individual who is responsible for the violations of the legislation.
A large 402-bedroomed hotel in Liverpool was found guilty of a series of breaches of food healthy and safety legislation between 2015 and 2016. The Adelphi hotel, run by the Britannia chain of hotels, pleaded guilty to charges relating to three food hygiene inspections when mice and rat droppings were found as well as live cockroaches. Britannia was fined a whopping £232,500 as well as court costs of £34,831.
Inspectors reported that the conditions posed a serious risk of contamination. There were gaps in the walls, floor and ceiling that meant vermin could easily enter, with mice and rat droppings found in the kitchen, storage rooms, cutlery room and in the self-serve hot display counter as well as under customer seating. A local councillor said, “The way the Adelphi is run at the moment would make Fawlty Towers look like a five-star hotel.”
Of course, a hotel is a business, sometimes run as a part of a chain of hotels but often as an individual business. Aside from legal action, a hotel can suffer in other ways if they have been found not to follow legislation, including:
- Reputational damage and loss of clientele – A hotel may suffer from negative publicity as a result of both word of mouth and publicised legal action taking place due to breaching food safety laws. Prospective visitors may look elsewhere or may not return for a second stay due to a loss of trust in the business. This may lead to financial difficulties for the owners.
- Increased scrutiny – If a hotel has had a previous breach in food hygiene and safety legislation, the hotel may experience increased scrutiny going forward. This may mean an increase in audits and inspections of the premises.
- Loss of licences – If a hotel has had a serious breach of the legislation, the regulating authorities can rescind its licence to operate. This would have devastating consequences for a hotel business.
Staff training on food hygiene for hotels
Adequate training in food hygiene is a legal requirement for all food businesses, which includes hotels. Those handling food should be suitably trained in food hygiene and safety relevant to their level of responsibility and the tasks that they perform.
To meet this requirement, hotel owners and their staff may wish to consider attending a recognised food hygiene course and obtaining a food hygiene certificate. Having evidence of training in this area shows guests as well as Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) that the hotel takes food hygiene seriously.
Food hygiene training should include:
- Personal hygiene – Those running or working in a hotel should understand the importance of personal hygiene including handwashing, covering wounds, and illnesses.
- Food storage – You should also be trained on storing food correctly, including separating raw and cooked ingredients and temperature control.
- Food preparation – How to prepare food safely, cooking food thoroughly and at the right temperatures, and avoiding cross-contamination are all important aspects of training in food preparation.
- Cleaning – Those running or working in a hotel should have adequate training in cleaning. This includes how to clean surfaces and equipment correctly, how to use cleaning products properly and how to use and disinfect any cleaning cloths etc.
- Food safety management – This must include hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) – a systematic approach to identifying and controlling potential hazards when preparing food.
There are three levels of food safety training and certification:
This is an introduction to food hygiene and safety. It is ideal for those who handle pre-prepared foods or low-risk foods. This may be all that’s required for many hotels that serve continental breakfast items such as cereals and pastries that are bought in rather than cooked or baked on the premises.
This is a basic certificate in food hygiene and is ideally suited to those who prepare, handle and cook foods in the hotel such as a full cooked breakfast. Many hotels also offer a dinner service too and those who prepare foods for any sitting of food should ideally have at least a Level 2 qualification in food safety and hygiene.
This level of certification is at a more advanced level and is for those with significant responsibilities when it comes to cooking and handling food. A hotel owner or manager would ideally have Level 3 food hygiene certification as they are usually the person responsible for any food safety management systems on the premises. The head chef should also have this qualification.
Training should also be updated and refreshed frequently, particularly if new legislation has come into force. The frequency of refresher training will depend on the hotel and the types of food and drink handled, but most workers have refresher training around every two years.
Food hazards in hotels
Food hazards are something that most people are aware of. However, when running a hotel, these hazards must be very much understood and general, basic knowledge is not enough. The FSA defines a food hazard as anything that could make food unsafe to eat. They generally fit into one of four hazard categories: biological, chemical, physical and allergenic.
Biological food hazards
A biological food hazard involves living organisms or microorganisms that can cause diseases or illnesses if consumed by humans through contaminated food. Most biological hazards are bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites.
- Bacteria – Bacteria like Campylobacter, salmonella and E. coli can cause food poisoning if they are in contaminated food.
- Viruses – Hepatitis A, norovirus and other viruses can be spread to humans through eating contaminated food. They can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, amongst other things.
- Parasites – Toxoplasma gondii and cryptosporidium are just two of many parasites that cause illness in humans if they are eaten in contaminated food.
- Fungi – With many fungi, it’s not the fungus itself that causes illness (although it can), it’s often the toxins that the fungi produce that contaminate the food. For example, Aspergillus flavus produces the toxin aflatoxin which causes illness in humans.
Chemical food hazards
Chemical food hazards are usually substances that cause harm, illness and disease when eaten or drunk in contaminated foods. These chemical substances can occur naturally and are found within our environment, or they can be added to food both intentionally and unintentionally.
These chemical food hazards can include:
- Pesticides – Pesticides are often used in farming. They are chemical products that control diseases and pests commonly found in crops. If they are used in excess or improperly, they can contaminate food and cause those who eat the food to suffer from health problems.
- Heavy metals – Lead, mercury and cadmium are just some heavy metals that can contaminate food through water and soil pollution or if packaging or equipment is contaminated with them.
- Food additives – Sweeteners, preservatives, flavourings and colourings are often added to food for a variety of reasons. These can cause adverse reactions in some people, especially if they are used excessively beyond levels that are generally considered safe.
- Contaminants from food packaging – Sometimes, unsafe packaging or food storage containers can cause contaminants to enter foods. These include bisphenol A (BPA) and plasticisers. When consumed, they can cause health problems, particularly when consumed over a long period.
- Acrylamide – This chemical naturally occurs in some foods such as bread and potatoes when heated to high temperatures during cooking. Acrylamide has been linked to cancer.
Physical food hazards
Foreign objects or materials that have entered the food during preparation or cooking are what is meant by a physical food hazard. They mostly enter food accidentally but can also occasionally be added to contaminate food intentionally. Physical hazards can cause hotel guests to choke, cut part of their mouth or cause them to suffer from dental damage.
- Dirt and stones – These can enter food if it hasn’t been washed or prepared properly. This applies mostly to salad items or vegetable products that are naturally found growing in the ground.
- Metal or glass fragments – Often, metal and glass fragments enter food due to broken or ill-repaired kitchen equipment that has not been checked, cleaned or maintained properly.
- Bones – Meat and fish often contain bones. Sometimes, these bones are not removed properly or small fragments have broken off into the food that is then eaten.
- Rubber and plastics – Food packaging and containers are often a source of physical food hazards if they are not removed properly or if they break when preparing food.
- Nails, hair and jewellery – Many kitchens have strict rules on hair, nails and jewellery (as they should) to prevent physical contaminants from entering food. If employees do not follow a good standard of hygiene including hairnets, having clean, un-painted nails and removing jewellery, these items can enter the food being prepared.
Allergenic food hazards
Whilst biological, chemical and physical hazards generally cause equal or near-equal harm to whoever consumes them unintentionally (with the exception of immunocompromised people perhaps), allergenic food hazards affect only a small number of particular people – those with food allergies.
Allergens are mostly proteins in food that cause an expected or atypical reaction in a person’s immune system when they eat it. The immune system releases histamines and certain other chemicals to “combat” the threat the allergen poses, and these chemicals cause symptoms in the sufferer. The symptoms can be mild, such as a rash or itching, to severe and life-threatening, such as anaphylaxis.
Some of the more common allergens in food include:
- Milk and other dairy products
- Nuts (including tree nuts and peanuts
- Wheat and gluten
Certain parts of food safety laws outline 14 allergens that must be emphasised and clearly identified on labelling on food and drink packaging. These allergens must also be listed on menus or readily available in a document or folder for guests. In a hotel, food is often produced on a large scale and cooked to order. The amount of food being cooked could potentially increase the likelihood of cross-contact.
Hotels should ensure that they have robust allergen management procedures in place as well as free-from products available for their guests. Many guests with allergies will let their hosts know of their allergies on booking or on arrival. This gives the hotel staff time to prepare and ensure that everything is as safe as possible for their guests.
Hotels must follow the food hygiene 4Cs to try and prevent food hazards.
The 4Cs are:
According to the Food Standards Agency, improper cleaning is one of the most common reasons that a food business such as a hotel is prosecuted. Cleaning well is crucial. It prevents harmful contaminants and hazards from entering foods and it also discourages pests.
A hotel must have a regular, thorough cleaning routine with appropriate procedures to ensure that all areas are cleaned well. This includes, but is not limited to, kitchens and food preparation areas, dining rooms, other eating areas including outdoor areas if appropriate, and bathroom and toilet areas both for guests and the hotel owners and staff who prepare and serve food. Many food establishments use a “clean as you go” system to help them stay on top of cleanliness.
In a hotel, there are often several sittings where food is prepared, typically around traditional meal times. However, some hotels have their restaurants open from early to late and cook food to order no matter the time of day. All hotel owners and kitchen staff must ensure that they cook their food properly before it is served to guests. If food is undercooked, it can mean that the food is not safe to eat and could lead to illness and food poisoning. Food should be cooked at the right temperature for the correct time to ensure that harmful bacteria that may be present in food are killed.
How to manage cooking effectively depends on the food being cooked. However, hotels should ensure that the food served is piping hot. They could also use a probe to test the food temperature. If a hotel is reheating food, it must follow the correct guidelines too.
Foodborne illnesses often happen as a result of cross-contamination whereby bacteria or allergens are transferred to food from other foods, utensils, surfaces or from people. Cross-contamination is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. It can also occur with chemical hazards where cleaning products inadvertently enter food, particularly when they are sprayed into the air or freely sprayed on surfaces near food.
With allergens, cross-contamination is called cross-contact. Allergens can be unknowingly transferred from one food to another through surfaces, poor hand hygiene, utensils, packaging and other kitchen equipment if proper, robust care is not taken. As a result, allergen-free products can be contaminated with allergens.
To prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact, hotels must take it seriously and:
- Practise good personal hygiene such as washing hands regularly.
- Having separate utensils or preparation areas when there’s a known allergen that needs to be avoided.
- Clean all equipment properly between uses.
- Storing food appropriately according to guidance and best practice (i.e. raw meat underneath cooked items etc.).
- Have consistent and cautious cleaning routines.
Chilling food is an essential part of food safety and hygiene in hotels. The hotel should have dedicated fridges for guest food with clear segregation of food types. Improper chilling can lead to foodborne illnesses and compromise the health of guests.
All hotels should make sure that food is chilled properly following these rules:
- Fridges must be at 5°C or lower.
- Freezer temperatures must be at least -18°C or lower.
- Food stored in the fridge must be stored correctly with raw meat at the bottom.
- Any frozen food must be defrosted safely overnight in the fridge and by following any instructions labelled on the packaging.
- Use-by dates must always be adhered to.
- Food storage instructions on the packaging must always be adhered to.
- The fridge and freezer should be emptied regularly, removing out-of-date items.
- The fridge and freezer should be cleaned regularly.
Personal hygiene in hotels
Personal hygiene is of utmost importance in all aspects of our lives. However, when running a hotel, it is essential not only for us but for the benefit of the guests. It’s also the law. By law (regulation 852/2004), food handlers must maintain high standards of personal hygiene.
Personal hygiene is more than regular handwashing. It also relates to our hair, jewellery, smoking, clothing, personal habits and whether we are ill or not. If hotel owners do not comply with strict personal hygiene regulations, they could contaminate the food they serve biologically, chemically and physically as well as cause cross-contact with potential allergens.
Personal hygiene for hotel staff includes:
- Thorough handwashing before handling or preparing any food or drinks.
- Thorough handwashing after handling raw ingredients such as meat and eggs or any allergenic products.
- Hair being tied back or underneath a hairnet.
- Ensuring fingernails are clean, short and free from nail polish.
- Ensuring that jewellery is limited to a plain wedding band only.
- Ensuring that they do not wear any strongly scented perfumes or use strong-smelling toiletries which could affect the food.
- Ensuring that they wear appropriate, practical and clean clothing including aprons and gloves where necessary.
- Not cooking or preparing food if they are ill. Sickness and diarrhoea should be recorded and any skin infections, wounds or sores must be covered with brightly coloured plasters even if there is no infection visibly present.
Food allergens in hotels
Allergens pose a huge risk to those with allergies. Whilst most of us can eat what we like without worry, for those with food allergies, it’s not that simple. Because of how serious allergies can be, there is specific food safety legislation that specifies 14 allergens that must be declared on menus and packaging by law.
These 14 allergens are:
- Cereals containing gluten including rye, barley, oats and wheat.
- Lupin (can be found in bread, pastries and pasta).
- Molluscs like clams, mussels and oysters.
- Tree nuts including almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, macadamia, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, and pistachios.
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites at concentrations over 10mg/kg or 10mg/litre.
These allergens must be declared on hotel menus and on the packaging of any pre-packaged food they sell, including packed lunches if the hotel provides them for guests. If an allergen is made known to the hotel staff, then they must take extra precautions in the kitchen when preparing the food.
They must take considerable care and precautions when preparing foods for allergic guests to avoid cross-contact.
- Having allergenic hazards included in HACCP documentation, systems and controls.
- Ensuring all staff are trained on allergens and what to do if a guest suffers from an allergic reaction.
- Ensuring that all packaging is studied for allergenic ingredients each time an item is used. If buying regular items, it should still be checked every time in case allergen information has been updated or recipes have been changed.
- Preparing allergenic products in a separate area from allergen-free products such as using different chopping boards or surfaces.
- Cleaning surfaces thoroughly regularly in case of cross-contact with allergens.
- Using separate utensils for allergy-free dishes.
- Ensuring containers are labelled clearly with any allergens contained inside.
- Recording any information regarding allergens in an accurate and organised way including recipes, ingredient labels and off-shelf labels.
Allergens cannot be “cooked out” of food in the same way that heating food kills bacteria. Even if present in tiny, microscopic amounts, they can have devastating consequences. Natasha’s Law is a legacy that remains after the untimely death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who died after eating a baguette from Pret a Manger that contained undeclared sesame.
Whilst perhaps hotels don’t often fall under the remit of Natasha’s Law (where food prepared on-site and then packaged must contain allergen information), it is important that hotel owners are aware of it and what it means for their business. Some hotels do offer sandwiches or other pre-packed lunch foods for their guests to take for the day and, if this is the case, they must be aware of the legalities surrounding labelling and allergenic foods.
Safely storing food in hotels
Storing food appropriately in a hotel is essential not only to maintain food quality but also to prevent foodborne illnesses. Hotels should have good systems regarding food storage.
Safe food storage practices should involve:
- Keeping raw meat and poultry stored separately from food that is ready to eat to prevent cross-contamination.
- Ensuring food is stored at the correct temperatures. As outlined above, fridges should be kept at or below 5°C and freezers at or below -18°C. If food is kept hot, it should be at 63°C or higher.
- Containers storing food should be food-safe (BPA-free) and able to withstand the temperatures required. All storage containers should be dated and labelled with what they are storing as well as any allergens within the container.
- Food storage areas should be dry, clean and ventilated as this prevents the growth of mould and bacteria.
- The owner/manager of the hotel should check the temperatures of storage areas (including fridges and freezers) regularly to ensure they are working correctly and that storage areas are not too warm.
- If particular products are stored (including tomatoes and potatoes), specific storage advice on the packaging should be followed.
- A FIFO (first in, last out) stock rotation system should be used so that older foods are used up first.
- Disposing of any out-of-date or spoiled food promptly.
Some larger hotels may have heated display units for foods where guests can help themselves to hot food or where their food is served from these by the staff. As these food storage areas are heated, they often provide a suitable environment for bacterial growth if the food is not stored at the corrected temperatures. Food on hot plates or in hot serveries must be kept at 63°C or above to prevent this. Furthermore, it cannot be safely consumed if it is kept below this temperature for over two hours.
By following safe food storage practices, hotels will ensure that they are reducing the risks of their guests becoming ill and are meeting food safety legislation.
Safely serving food in hotels
In a hotel, food is often served by the waiting staff in a specific dining area or restaurant. As should be expected, serving the food involves maintaining the same high level of food hygiene as is expected when preparing it in the kitchen. Any trays or serveries used should be kept in a good state of repair and personal hygiene expectations must be met.
It’s important to note the route that food will take before it is served. If food is prepared in a kitchen and brought to a dining area, it may need to pass through a communal corridor area. As such, extra care may need to be taken when passing through such areas. Of course, each hotel’s building layout and serving routine will be different, but all aspects of food safety and hygiene must be considered when serving food and transporting it from kitchen to table.
Waste management in hotels
Hotels should take great care when looking to manage their waste. The size of the hotel and whether it is peak season will greatly affect the amount of waste produced.
Waste should be disposed of in appropriately segregated containers and the hotel should adopt some waste disposal principles including:
- Removing waste regularly from food areas. This means that it will not accumulate in inappropriate areas.
- Having accessible bins that are appropriate in number as well as having lids that can be opened without direct contact from hands (such as pedal bins or automatically opening bins).
- There should be separate bins for recycling.
- Bins should be lined with appropriate bin liners for extra cleanliness.
- Bins should be emptied regularly.
- Bins should be kept in a designated area that is purposefully for waste disposal.
- Bins from guest bedrooms and bathrooms should be lined and emptied daily by housekeeping staff.
- Outside bins should be locked when not used to prevent animals and pests from entering.
Pest control in a hotel
Most hotels won’t have a problem with pests. That said, pest infestations are still common occurrences and are often a reason why food businesses (including hotels) are closed down. In fact, Environmental Health Officers report closing down food businesses for infestations more than any other reason.
Pests spread diseases by contaminating food with bacteria and/or viruses. They also produce physical hazards in their waste/droppings as well as fur, feathers, or entire body (if the pest is a small insect, for example).
Pests found in a hotel may include:
- Rodents such as rats and mice.
- Insects including ants, flies and cockroaches.
- Tiny insects such as flour weevils found in stored products.
- Birds including nesting birds or pigeons may make their way inside the buildings.
- Bed bugs in mattresses and bedding.
Preventing pests is essential in a hotel. No one wants to stay in a hotel alongside a range of creepy-crawly guests! This can be achieved by:
- Regular cleaning of floors, walls, tables, countertops, and inside cupboards.
- Proper disposal of waste.
- Cleaning up spills immediately, especially in the kitchen and high-traffic areas.
- Storing food in appropriate containers with tight-fitting lids.
- Sealing entry points to rooms such as gaps around doors and windows as well as cupboards and around piping.
- Using pest control products when required or pests are suspected.
- Hiring a professional pest control company if you suspect pests are present.
- Educating staff on the presence of pests and how to avoid pest infestations.