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Meeting Food Hygiene Regulation in Restaurants
When people eat at a restaurant, they expect to be served good quality food as a paying customer. What they do not expect is to be made ill or injured by unsafe food. If a restaurant business does not follow good food hygiene and safety practices, it increases the risk of food contamination. Food contaminants, or hazards, can make customers ill, cause injuries and may even be life-threatening in some cases.
Poor hygiene and unsafe practices, such as inadequate cooking and cross-contamination, can cause food poisoning, and cross-contact can cause allergic reactions. Physical contaminants can injure people’s mouths and may even result in choking. Unsafe food is an even greater risk for those who are vulnerable, such as young children, the elderly, allergy sufferers and people with weakened immune systems.
There are many different restaurants to choose from that offer various types of food, such as English, Chinese, Indian, Italian, American, and pub grub. Some establishments may be fast food, family-based, casual dining or fine dining. Some may be solely restaurant based, whereas others may have a restaurant within the establishment, e.g. garden centres and hotels. One of the things that all types of restaurants have in common is the need to uphold food hygiene and safety. How each restaurant achieves this will depend on the type of business.
The overall aim of any business is to be profitable. If a restaurant business has poor food safety and hygiene standards, it can affect its food hygiene rating score and deter customers. 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 restaurant businesses with some advice on achieving good food safety and hygiene standards.
Food hygiene legislation for restaurants
As food operators, all restaurant businesses will need to comply with food safety and hygiene legislation.
The main laws are:
- The Food Safety Act 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 Food Safety Act 1990 covers food safety, consumer protection, food information etc.
- The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 – created under the Food Safety Act 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.
There may be other applicable laws, depending on the type of restaurant 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 given to them under the Food Safety Act 1990 and various food hygiene regulations.
If a restaurant business fails to comply with the law, 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 bring a prosecution case, which may mean fines and/or imprisonment and even closure of the business. If customers are made ill by unsafe food, they may also claim compensation under civil law, which can be very costly for businesses.
Restaurant prosecution cases
A Hertfordshire restaurant was prosecuted under the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013. They were fined £23,000 after a customer suffered anaphylaxis after eating a starter containing milk. The restaurant was pre-warned of the customer’s allergies.
An Indian restaurant owner was jailed for six years for gross negligence manslaughter after a customer with a severe peanut allergy died from an anaphylactic shock. The owner swapped almond powder for a cheaper mix containing peanuts despite the warnings. The customer asked for a dish with no nuts but was given a curry containing peanuts.
A hotel was fined £9000 for causing Christmas Day food poisoning. Over 20 people who ate at the hotel restaurant were affected by Clostridium perfringens food poisoning due to incorrectly cooling and reheating food.
Staff training on food hygiene for restaurants
By law, all restaurant businesses must ensure that any staff 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 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, e.g. wrapped foods. This course may be beneficial for waiting-on and front of house staff with limited food contact.
- Level 2 – basic food hygiene certificate for staff preparing, cooking and handling food. Most restaurant staff will need at least a level 2 course, e.g. kitchen staff and chefs.
- Level 3 – intermediate food hygiene certificate for those with more responsibilities, e.g. restaurant owners, supervisors, managers, head chefs 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 restaurant business, its risks, the food handled, and the competence of workers.
Food hazards in restaurants
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 occur when microorganisms contaminate food. In a restaurant, contamination is usually due to inadequate and improper storage, chilling, defrosting, cooking and reheating of food. This provides optimal conditions for harmful pathogens to grow. It can also occur from cross-contamination, e.g. raw foods coming into contact with cooked and ready-to-eat foods.
Examples of biological hazards include:
- Bacteria, e.g. Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter.
- Fungi, e.g. yeasts and moulds.
- Viruses, e.g. norovirus.
These microorganisms can cause foodborne illnesses, including food poisoning and intoxication.
Chemical hazards occur when naturally occurring or human-made substances contaminate food. In a restaurant, chemical hazards are often due to cross-contamination, i.e. spraying cleaning products near food.
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. colourings and glazing agents.
Eating food contaminated with chemicals can result in immediate harm to the consumer. It can also cause long-term health effects if they are exposed to the hazard over time.
Physical hazards are foreign materials, objects and extraneous matter that can enter food during preparation and handling but may also be in raw ingredients. In a restaurant, these typically occur because of poor personal hygiene but can also come from packaging and poorly maintained premises and equipment.
Examples of physical hazards include:
- Natural hazards – occur naturally in the food, e.g. fruit pips and stones, bones in meat and fish and shells from nuts.
- Unnatural hazards – should not be present in food, e.g. stones and pebbles, human hair, fingernails (including false fingernails), plastic, glass, metal and wood.
These types of hazards can cause injuries to the mouth, teeth and gums. In some cases, they can even result in choking, especially in the very young and elderly. Some can be generally unpleasant to find in food, i.e. someone else’s hair or a plaster.
Allergenic hazards are often included in the chemical category. These are proteins that occur naturally in some foods but can contaminate other foods by cross-contact. In a restaurant, allergenic hazards are normally caused by allergen products being used, processed and stored where non-allergen products are. It can be tricky to avoid if there are no separate areas in the restaurant kitchen.
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 hazards to be present in a restaurant kitchen and overall establishment. However, the most common types of food hazards likely to be found are biological and allergenic.
Restaurant businesses should follow the 4Cs of food hygiene to prevent food hazards from entering food. 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 food businesses are prosecuted. Cleaning is essential as it stops harmful pathogens and allergens from spreading, discourages pests, and is a legal requirement.
Restaurant businesses should ensure they have effective cleaning procedures and schedules, so that 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, if not all, restaurants will cook food, and it is vital that it is cooked thoroughly before serving to customers. If food is undercooked, it can cause food poisoning. Cooking at the correct temperature for the appropriate time will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed.
The cooking method, time and temperature will depend on the type of food. However, restaurant 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. Reheated food should be at least 75°C. It is recommended to test the temperature with a probe.
Foodborne illnesses are usually caused when harmful bacteria are transferred 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, this is known as cross-contact, which is where products containing allergens are often unintentionally transferred to allergen-free ones.
Restaurant businesses must ensure they prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact as much as possible, which can be achieved by:
- Good personal hygiene.
- Using separate areas.
- Cleaning and disinfecting equipment, cleaning materials and utensils.
- Storing food correctly, g. raw meat below ready-to-eat food.
- Storing allergenic foods and non-allergenic foods separately.
- Adopting a high standard of cleanliness.
Certain foods, such as those with use-by dates, have to be stored chilled to be safe. Chilling does not kill harmful bacteria, but it does stop them from growing. If food is improperly chilled, it can encourage pathogens to grow, increasing the risk of food poisoning.
All restaurant businesses must ensure that food is properly chilled and stored correctly, for example:
- Refrigerator temperatures are at 5°C or below, and freezer temperatures are at least -18°C or below.
- Food is stored correctly within the refrigerator, e.g. raw meat and poultry at the bottom.
- Defrost food in the fridge overnight and in accordance with the instructions on the packaging.
- Always follow the storage instructions on food packaging and monitor use-by dates.
Personal hygiene in restaurants
Personal hygiene is vital when working with food. It includes many different aspects of a person’s body, clothing and habits, such as handwashing, protective clothing, hair, jewellery, smoking, illnesses etc.
If food handlers do not follow good personal hygiene practices, they can contaminate food with hazards through direct contact and cross-contamination.
Restaurant businesses should instruct and train workers on the expected standards of personal hygiene when working with food.
It can include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Washing hands thoroughly before handling and preparing food.
- Tying hair back and/or covering it with a hat or hairnet.
- Short fingernails, no false fingernails and no nail varnish.
- No jewellery or watches, except a plain wedding band.
- No strong perfumes, aftershaves or other toiletries that could taint food.
- Wearing suitable clean protective clothing, such as hairnets, gloves and aprons.
- No coughing or sneezing over food and preparation areas.
- Discouraging behaviours, e.g. touching the face/hair, spitting, chewing gum and picking teeth/nose.
By law (under Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004), food handlers must maintain high standards of personal hygiene and cleanliness.
If food handlers are ill or have particular health problems, it can compromise food safety. Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that staff do not enter food preparation areas or handle food if they have an infection. It also applies if they show any symptoms of food poisoning, e.g. vomiting and diarrhoea, and if they 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.
Restaurant businesses should have reporting procedures in place if food handlers have gastrointestinal symptoms, Hepatitis A, and wounds, sores and skin conditions. If a worker has diarrhoea and/or vomiting, they should report it to their manager 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 restaurants
By law, restaurant businesses must inform customers in writing if any of the 14 food allergens are in the ingredients of the food (and drink) 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 enclosed by packaging that has to be opened to be altered and are ready for sale. Restaurants may buy pre-packed food, such as bottled and canned drinks, biscuits, chocolate and cakes.
There has to be an ingredient list, with all of the allergens emphasised, on the packaging. Restaurant businesses should check the labels before serving pre-packed foods to customers.
Pre-packed for direct sale (PPDS)
PPDS foods are those that have been prepared and packed on the same premises where sold. For example, if a restaurant business makes salads and sandwiches and puts them in packaging. It is common in restaurants with display units where customers can choose, e.g. at a garden centre.
The law has recently changed regarding PPDS food. Natasha’s Law came into force on 1st October 2021. Businesses must now ensure that PPDS foods are labelled with a full ingredient 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.
In a restaurant, non-pre-packed foods will include any meals served to customers and any loose foods selected from display units.
Restaurant businesses must ensure they provide allergen information for all loose foods that contain any of the 14 allergens. They can do this by adding full 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, restaurant businesses 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.
- Providing allergen training for staff, including what to do in an emergency if a customer has an allergic reaction.
- Looking for ‘hidden’ allergenic ingredients, e.g. Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies (fish).
- Preparing and storing allergen-containing products separately from non-allergen products.
- 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 of the dishes.
Remember, unlike bacteria, allergens are not affected by cooking. Therefore, cross-contact must be prevented when preparing and handling food.
Safely storing food in restaurants
Restaurants will store a variety of foods on the premises, such as:
- Ambient, e.g. dried goods, such as bread, pasta and flour.
- Chilled, e.g. refrigerated foods, such as meat, salad and milk.
- Frozen, e.g. foods kept in the freezer, such as vegetables, chips and fish.
All food must be stored correctly to prevent contamination from food hazards and keep it fresh, so good quality safe food is served to customers.
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 storage areas clean and tidy.
- 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, store higher risk foods, e.g. raw meat and poultry, 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 they were put into storage.
Some restaurants will hot hold food, e.g. in heated display units, which provides a perfect opportunity for harmful bacteria to grow if it is not at the correct temperature.
When hot holding food, it must be at a temperature of 63°C or above. Businesses can keep food below this temperature for up to two hours.
However, if it is not used after this time, it should be:
- Reheated until it is steaming hot and put back into hot holding (only reheat once).
- Cooled as quickly as possible to a temperature of 8°C or below.
- Disposed of if it has been out for more than two hours.
It is always best to throw out any leftovers to minimise the risk of food poisoning.
Safely serving food in restaurants
Food contamination can also occur during food service. Therefore, restaurant businesses must have strict procedures in place.
All restaurant food eating areas, and serving equipment, should be kept in good repair and clean. Any staff serving food must maintain a high standard of personal hygiene at all times.
When serving food:
- Take extra care when handling and serving ready-to-eat foods, as bacteria and allergens will not be killed by cooking or reheating.
- Do not use dirty tea towels or clothing to carry hot plates to tables.
- Use utensils to serve wherever possible to avoid direct touching of food.
- Follow hot holding guidance where food has to be kept hot before serving.
Waste management in restaurants
Restaurants are likely to produce mostly food and packaging waste. If waste management is inadequate, it can encourage pests and may even result in infestations. It can also increase the risk of pathogens in the food premises. Rotten food can start to smell as it deteriorates, which customers will find unpleasant.
All restaurant businesses 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 and outside the food premises, 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.
Pest control in restaurants
A pest is any insect or animal which can contaminate food, and if they become uncontrolled, it is known as an infestation. Pests can transfer pathogenic microorganisms to food by direct or indirect contact. They can contaminate food with physical contaminants, such as droppings, fur and feathers, and the whole (or part) of the pest can also end up in food.
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 commonly found in and around restaurant premises 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).
Some examples of pest prevention and control methods include:
- Checking the restaurant premises regularly and trying to spot gaps or holes that could allow pests into buildings.
- Ensuring that external areas around the restaurant premises are kept clear of vegetation 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 premises clean and tidy, particularly where food is prepared, served and eaten.
- Removing internal and external waste regularly.
- Using fly screens on any open windows.
- Not having open bins and keeping lids closed when not in use.
- Storing food correctly, e.g. not on the floor, and keep it covered or well-sealed.
- Having an approved contractor to manage and monitor pest control within and around the premises where possible.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has a food safety management pack called Safer Food, Better Business for caterers. This pack can help restaurant businesses meet the requirements of food safety and hygiene legislation. We also offer various food hygiene and HACCP courses, which can help restaurant businesses understand their legal obligations and assist them in achieving a five-star food hygiene rating.