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Meeting Food Hygiene Regulation for Ice Cream Vans
One of the most quintessential sounds of a British summer is the chime of an ice cream van, and most of us have visited one at some point in our lives. Ice creams and lollies are enjoyed by people of all ages, especially when the weather is warmer. According to Statista, ice cream consumption in the UK is approximately 110 grams per person per week. Therefore, the popularity of ice cream, the low-cost set-up, and potentially high-profit margins, is attractive for those wanting to start an ice cream business.
Starting a mobile ice cream business may seem like a straightforward plan, and whilst it can be, all operators must comply with relevant laws and good food hygiene and safety practices. If they do not, it increases the risk of contamination and can make food unsafe. Contaminated food can make customers ill, cause injuries and may even be life-threatening in some cases.
Poor hygiene and unsafe practices, such as insufficient cooking (if serving hot food), chilling and freezing, cross-contamination, and refreezing melted ice cream, can cause food poisoning. Allergen products, such as nuts, 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. 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.
Ice cream vans are usually driven to and parked at various locations, such as residential streets, parks, beaches and other popular tourist spots. However, some operators may choose to sell ice cream from other forms of transport, such as boats, motorbikes and bicycles. Ice cream vans will generally sell their products to the general public. They are also often available for hire at corporate events, celebrations, private parties and fetes.
Ice cream vans are famous for soft ice cream in cones with various toppings, such as flakes, sauces, wafers, nuts, sherbet and sprinkles. They also sell wrapped ice cream products, sorbet, lollies, slushies, drinks, snacks and sweets. Some may even diversify into other products, such as desserts, sandwiches, alcoholic beverages and hot food. One of the things that all types of ice cream van operators have in common is the need to uphold food hygiene and safety. How each business achieves this will depend on its nature and risks.
The overall aim of any business is to be profitable. All ice cream 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 ice cream 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 an ice cream business.
Food hygiene legislation for ice cream vans
As food operators, all ice cream businesses will need to comply with food safety and hygiene legislation.
The main laws are:
- The Food Safety Act (FSA) 1990 – Provides a framework for food safety legislation in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland). Northern Ireland has different legislation; the Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1991. The FSA 1990 covers food safety, consumer protection, food information etc.
- The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 – Created under the FSA 1990. The regulations cover the enforcement of food hygiene and the HACCP principles from Regulation (EC) 852/2004 (retained EU law). There are different regulations for each UK country, e.g.:
– The Food Hygiene (Scotland) Regulations 2006.
– The Food Hygiene (Wales) Regulations 2006.
– The Food Hygiene Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.
- The Food Information Regulations 2014 – Places duties on food businesses to provide information to consumers on allergens. These regulations were amended by the Food Information (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2019 to include Natasha’s Law, which came into force on 1st October 2021.
Further information on the key regulations is on the Food Standards Agency webpage.
Ice cream 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 ice cream business. It is the responsibility of business owners to ensure they are aware of, 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 ice cream 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.
Ice cream operator prosecution cases
- An ice cream seller was found trading illegally by the London Borough of Hounslow. Despite previous prosecution warnings, he continued to trade without the relevant licence and received a fine of over £4,000.
- A nine-year-old British girl was on holiday in Spain with her family. She suffered from an anaphylactic shock and died after just one lick of ice cream. Her father had asked the ice cream vendor several times if the sauce contained nuts and was assured it did not. After investigation, it was discovered that there were many different types of nuts in the sauce. This is not a UK prosecution case, but it highlights why strict control of allergens is essential.
Staff training on food hygiene for ice cream vans
Legally, all ice cream operators must ensure that any staff (or themselves if they work alone) who prepare, handle 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 for operators with limited food contact and wrapped foods, e.g. manufactured ice cream.
- Level 2 – Basic food hygiene certificate for staff preparing, cooking and handling food, e.g. ice cream van operators and assistants preparing and serving any hot food, cones with soft ice cream, toppings and desserts.
- Level 3 – Intermediate food hygiene certificate for those with more responsibilities, e.g. ice cream business 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 ice cream 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 hazards happen when microorganisms contaminate food and drink. In an ice cream van business, contamination is more likely due to inadequate and improper freezing and refreezing of ice cream. Poor practices provide optimal conditions for harmful pathogens to grow. It can also occur from cross-contamination from poor personal hygiene and handling practices, e.g. inadequate handwashing and unclean ice cream machinery, equipment, utensils and cleaning materials.
Examples of biological hazards include:
- Bacteria, e.g. salmonella, E. coli and listeria.
- Fungi, e.g. yeasts and moulds.
- Viruses, e.g. norovirus.
These microorganisms can cause foodborne illnesses, including food poisoning and intoxication. Listeria can be a problem in ice cream that has melted and then been refrozen.
It is unlikely customers will catch the COVID-19 virus from food (Food Standards Agency). However, ice cream 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 hazards occur when naturally occurring or human-made substances contaminate food. In an ice cream van business, chemical hazards may occur due to cross-contamination, i.e. ice cream and other foods coming into contact with cleaning chemicals. Only use food-grade chemicals on food contact surfaces and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using chemicals in/on vehicles, equipment and surfaces.
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.
- Intentionally added chemicals to food but could be hazardous if used in excess quantities, e.g. flavourings and colourings.
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 hazards are foreign materials, objects and extraneous matter that can enter food during preparation, handling and serving but may also be in raw ingredients. In an ice cream 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 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 or plaster.
Allergens are proteins that occur naturally in some foods but can contaminate other foods by cross-contact. In an ice cream van business, allergenic hazards may result from using and storing allergen products where non-allergen products are. For example, some ice cream vans have nuts as toppings and these can accidentally contaminate ice cream and other products.
There are 14 recognised allergens, which include:
- 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).
- Cereals (gluten) (oats, rye and barley).
- Molluscs (oysters, snails and mussels).
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites.
- Crustaceans (crab, prawns and lobster).
These types of hazards can cause allergic reactions in food allergy sufferers. In some cases, there is a risk of anaphylaxis in those with severe allergies.
There is potential for all types of food hazards to be present in an ice cream van. However, allergenic and biological are likely to be a higher risk when preparing, handling and serving ice cream and other products.
Ice cream van businesses 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.
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.
Ice cream operators should have effective cleaning procedures and schedules. They must ensure the vehicle, machinery, equipment, utensils, food storage, preparation and serving areas are kept clean and safe. Adopting a ‘clean as you go’ approach will help keep areas constantly clean and tidy.
Most ice cream van businesses are unlikely to serve hot food, but some may decide to do this in colder weather when ice cream sales decrease. If an ice cream operator does provide hot food, they must ensure it is cooked thoroughly before serving. If food is undercooked, it can cause food poisoning, particularly with high-risk foods such as meat, e.g. hot dogs and burgers. 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, businesses should always follow the cooking instructions on food packaging (where present), and food must always be piping hot before being served. 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.
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.
Ice cream 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.
- Cleaning and disinfecting equipment, cleaning materials and utensils before use.
- Storing food correctly in and out of the ice cream van, e.g. keeping raw foods away from 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.
Certain foods, e.g. those with use-by dates 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.
Ice cream 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.
- Freezing ice cream and other frozen products as soon as possible after purchase/delivery.
- Not refreezing ice cream that has defrosted (it should be disposed of properly).
- Disposing of ice cream that is showing signs of being refrozen, i.e. large ice crystals.
- Ensuring refrigerator temperatures are at 5°C or below, and freezer temperatures are at least -18°C or below.
- Food is stored correctly within refrigerators and chilled units, e.g. raw food at the bottom or in separate fridges to ready-to-eat foods.
- Defrosting food in accordance with the instructions on the packaging (where applicable).
- Following the storage instructions on food packaging, e.g. ice cream mixes, and monitor use-by dates.
Personal hygiene in ice cream 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 ice cream van operators do not follow good personal hygiene practices, they can contaminate food with hazards through direct contact and cross-contamination.
If ice cream 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 and before handling food. There should be a handwash basin (with hot and cold water) 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 ice cream 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.
If people working in the ice cream van are ill, it can compromise food safety. Ice cream 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 ice cream 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 ice cream vans
Legally, ice cream van operators must inform customers in writing if any of the 14 allergens are in the ingredients of the food prepared and served. It will apply to pre-packed, pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS) and non-pre-packed (loose) food.
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 ice cream van operators will likely buy and sell pre-packed food, such as bottled and canned drinks, wrapped ice creams, lollies and choc-ices, chocolate and other snacks.
There has to be an ingredient 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 sold and before they are ordered or selected by customers. For example, if an ice cream van business makes ice cream, desserts or other foods in their van 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.
Non-pre-packed foods will include soft ice cream cones, toppings, desserts served to customers and any loose foods selected from displays, e.g. cakes and doughnuts.
Ice cream 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.
When preparing food, ice cream 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 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 ice cream vans
Ice cream 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 UHT ice cream mix, syrups, wafers, cones, sauces, nuts, biscuits and chocolate.
- Chilled, e.g. refrigerated foods, such as desserts, pasteurised liquid ice cream mix and milk.
- Frozen, e.g. foods kept in the freezer, such as wrapped ice creams and lollies.
All food must be stored correctly to prevent contamination from food hazards and to 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.
- Allergen-containing foods must be kept separate from other foods.
- Store chemicals and cleaning equipment 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.
Some ice cream vans may hot hold food, e.g. 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.
Some ice cream 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 food in ice cream vans
Food contamination can also occur during food preparation and service. All areas in the ice cream 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 ice cream vans:
- Take extra care when handling and serving ready-to-eat foods, such as ice cream cones, 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 ice cream cones 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 management in ice cream vans
Ice cream 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. Rotten food can start to smell as it deteriorates, which customers will find unpleasant.
All ice cream 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 inside and outside.
- Ensuring bins are placed and kept in areas designated for waste disposal.
- Keeping outside bins locked 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 control in ice cream 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 in food businesses 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 ice cream 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 (outside).
- Pets – Are not pests, but can contaminate food if allowed in the ice cream 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 ice cream and other food is prepared and served.
- Keeping open food covered.
- Removing internal and external waste regularly.
- Keeping the serving window closed when there are no customers.
- Not having open bins and keeping lids closed when not in use.
- Not having pets in the ice cream 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 ice cream van operators meet the requirements of food safety and hygiene legislation. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has in-depth specific guidance on the safe handling and serving of soft ice cream.
Ice cream 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 that operators may find helpful.
We also offer various food hygiene and HACCP courses, which can help ice cream van operators understand their legal obligations and assist them in achieving a five-star food hygiene rating.