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Meeting Food Hygiene Regulation for Schools
There are 32,028 schools in the UK (BESA). Most, if not all, of these schools, will provide food to pupils and staff during the school day, usually at lunchtime. Some may also offer food at other times, e.g. at breakfast or after-school clubs, at tuck shops and during lessons and events. Schools must ensure all food provided to pupils (and staff) is nutritious, good quality and safe to eat.
All schools (and any catering contractors used) must comply with food safety laws and adopt good hygiene practices. If they do not, it increases the risk of contamination and can make food unsafe. Contaminated food can make pupils and staff ill, cause injuries and may even be life-threatening in some cases. According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), approximately 2.4 million foodborne illness cases occur every year in the UK.
Poor hygiene and unsafe practices, such as not cooking or chilling high-risk food 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 cause choking. Unsafe food is an even greater risk for those vulnerable, such as younger children, older people, pregnant women, allergy sufferers and individuals with existing illnesses and weakened immune systems.
All schools will be inspected as part of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS). If a school 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 food hygiene ratings, and people would turn away from a 3-star rated business, but not one that was 5-star rated. Parents will be reluctant to send their children to a school with a poor food safety record. Non-compliance with food safety standards can also result in enforcement action, loss of registration and poor Ofsted ratings.
This guide will provide schools with general advice on achieving good food safety and hygiene standards. It will also highlight why food safety and hygiene is essential in schools.
Food hygiene legislation for schools
All schools 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. There may be other food-related laws, depending on the type of school. Governing bodies and headteachers must ensure they know and comply with all relevant laws. Ignorance of legislation is not a defence.
Schools will need to register as food businesses with their local authority (LA). They will also need to register with Ofsted (England) or equivalent regulators for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. During an inspection or a registration visit, if Ofsted finds that a school is not complying with food safety legislation, it can notify local authorities. It could result in the refusal or removal of registration or affect the school’s rating (under the Education Act 2005). It may even result in Ofsted and Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) taking enforcement action against the school.
EHOs are responsible for enforcing food safety and hygiene. They carry out regular inspections and have certain powers under the FSA 1990 and various food hygiene regulations. If schools do not comply with legislation, EHOs can 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 school. If pupils are made ill by unsafe food, they and their families may also claim compensation, which can be very costly.
School food incident cases
Staff training on food hygiene for schools
Legally, schools must ensure that any staff who prepare and handle food are supervised, instructed and trained in food hygiene matters (including catering contractors). 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, Ofsted and parents that the school is committed to food safety. It also provides evidence for due diligence purposes if there is 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 beneficial for staff with limited food contact, e.g. teachers, teaching assistants and other staff members.
- Level 2 – Basic food hygiene certificate for staff preparing, cooking, handling and serving food, e.g. catering/kitchen assistants, cooks, chefs and food servers.
- Level 3 – Intermediate food hygiene certificate for those with more responsibilities, e.g. headteachers, head cooks/chefs, 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 school, its risks, the food/drink provided, and the competence of workers.
Food hazards in schools
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 poor practices provide optimal conditions for harmful pathogens to grow. In schools, contamination may occur due to poor food storage, defrosting, cooking, reheating and chilling. It can also result from cross-contamination (e.g. raw foods coming into contact with ready-to-eat foods), poor personal hygiene, pests and using food past its use-by date.
Examples of biological hazards include:
- Bacteria, e.g. salmonella, E. coli, listeria and campylobacter.
- Fungi, e.g. yeasts and moulds.
- Viruses, e.g. norovirus.
These microorganisms can cause foodborne illnesses, including food poisoning and intoxication.
It is unlikely people will catch the COVID-19 virus from food (Food Standards Agency). However, schools must follow current Government Guidance to reduce the risk to staff, pupils, parents and visitors.
Chemical hazards occur when naturally occurring or human-made substances contaminate food. In a school, chemical hazards may occur due to cross-contamination, i.e. storing or spraying cleaning products near food and preparing food on surfaces where chemicals have been.
Examples of chemical hazards include:
- Toxins produced by animals, plants and microorganisms, e.g. by bacteria and moulds.
- 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. 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, cooking, handling and serving but may also be in raw ingredients. In schools, these may occur due to poor personal hygiene but can also come from packaging and poorly maintained premises/equipment.
Examples of physical hazards include:
- Natural hazards – Occur naturally in food, e.g. dirt on potatoes, fruit pips and stones, bones in meat and fish and shells from nuts.
- Unnatural hazards – Should not be present in food, e.g. stones, human hair, fingernails (including false fingernails), jewellery, plastic, glass, metal and wood.
These hazards can cause injuries to the mouth, teeth and gums. In some cases, physical contaminants can even result in choking, especially in younger children. Some can be generally unpleasant to find in food, i.e. a hair.
Allergens are proteins that occur naturally in some foods but can contaminate other foods by cross-contact. These types of hazards can cause allergic reactions in food allergy sufferers. There is a risk of anaphylaxis in people with severe allergies.
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).
In schools, allergenic hazards may result from using and storing allergen products where non-allergen products are. Staff can also inadvertently contaminate products with allergens through a lack of training, poor personal hygiene and negligence. Also, there is the risk of serving an allergen-containing meal to a pupil if there is no healthcare plan or it’s not followed.
There is potential for all types of food hazards in schools. The risk will depend on the type of school, the vulnerability of pupils and staff, and the food/drink served. Schools must have a suitable food safety policy and management system (based on HACCP) to prevent and control food safety risks.
Schools should follow the 4Cs of food hygiene to prevent food hazards. 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.
Schools should have effective cleaning procedures and schedules to ensure that food storage, preparation, cooking, serving and eating areas are kept clean and safe. Adopting a ‘clean as you go’ approach (regularly cleaning and disinfecting) will help keep areas constantly clean and tidy. It is also crucial to keep equipment and utensils clean.
Food must be cooked thoroughly before serving. If food is undercooked, it can cause food poisoning, particularly with high-risk foods such as meat, poultry, fish and rice. Cooking at the correct temperature for the appropriate time will help kill any harmful bacteria. It is also important to hot hold food properly (see the safely storing food section).
The cooking method, time and temperature will depend on the type of food. However, kitchen staff 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). It is advisable to test the food temperature with a clean, calibrated probe to ensure it is properly cooked.
If reheating any food, it should be at least 75°C for 30 seconds. In Scotland, the regulations require reheated food to be at least 82°C. Only reheat food once.
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.
Schools must ensure they prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact as much as possible, which can be achieved by:
- Good personal hygiene, e.g. washing and sanitising hands thoroughly.
- Thoroughly washing salad, fruits and vegetables.
- Not washing raw poultry, as bacteria can splash onto surfaces, equipment and other foods.
- Using separate areas, equipment and utensils for different foods, e.g. raw and cooked.
- Cleaning and disinfecting equipment, cleaning materials and utensils (before use, between uses and after).
- Storing food correctly, e.g. keeping raw foods away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods and keeping away from chemicals.
- Storing allergenic foods and non-allergenic foods separately, including ingredients and prepared food.
- Covering open food.
- Adopting a high standard of cleanliness at all times.
- Preventing and controlling pests.
- Training staff on avoiding cross-contamination.
Certain foods, e.g. those with use-by dates, cooked and ready-to-eat foods, must be stored chilled to be safe. Chilling does not kill harmful bacteria, but it does help to 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.
Schools must ensure that food is properly chilled 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.
- 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 foods as per the instructions on the packaging or safely in the refrigerator overnight.
- Using safe chilling methods that chill cooked foods down quickly and safely, e.g. blast chillers and dividing food into smaller portions.
- Following the storage instructions on food packaging and monitoring use-by dates.
Personal hygiene in schools
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 staff do not follow good personal hygiene practices, they can contaminate food with hazards through direct contact and cross-contamination.
Schools should instruct and train their staff 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 touching ready-to-eat/cooked food).
- Tying hair back and covering it with a hairnet and/or 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 clean clothes and suitable protective clothing (such as hairnets, gloves, overalls and aprons) and changing it regularly.
- No coughing or sneezing over food and preparation/serving areas.
- No smoking, eating or drinking when handling food.
- 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 at all times.
If workers are ill, it can compromise food safety. Schools have a legal responsibility to ensure that 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.
Schools 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 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 schools
Legally, schools must inform consumers 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.
These are foods that are already in packaging before being sold. It has to be opened to be altered and are ready for sale. Some schools may buy and provide pre-packed food, such as milk cartons, juices and snacks.
There has to be an ingredients list with all allergens emphasised on the packaging. Schools should check the labels thoroughly before serving pre-packed foods to pupils with allergies.
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 consumers. It will apply if schools make food on-site and put it in packaging ready for sale/selection, e.g. fruit pots, packaged sandwiches and salad boxes.
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 the allergens emphasised on the packaging.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has further information on the allergen labelling changes for PPDS foods for schools, colleges and nurseries.
In a school, non-pre-packed foods will include snacks and meals served to pupils/staff and any loose foods selected from counters and display units.
Schools must ensure they provide allergen information for all loose foods containing any of the 14 allergens. They can do this by adding full allergen information to menus or putting it on a chalkboard or chart. They can also provide written information packs or a notice informing people on obtaining allergen information.
When preparing, cooking and serving food, schools 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 risk assessments and putting controls in place.
- Having a written record of any pupils with food allergies and ensuring all staff who prepare, cook, handle and serve food are aware.
- Providing allergen training for staff, including what to do in an emergency if an individual has an allergic reaction.
- Looking for hidden allergenic ingredients, e.g. Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies (fish).
- Preparing allergen-free snacks and meals first (where possible).
- Thoroughly checking any ingredients used in meals, e.g. sauces and dressings.
- 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.
- Starting a meal from scratch if allergenic ingredients are used by mistake.
- Carefully checking pre-packed food labels for allergenic ingredients.
- Labelling any ingredient containers clearly with the allergens they contain.
- Recording allergen information accurately, including ingredients labels and recipes of the dishes.
Unlike bacteria, allergens are not affected by cooking. Schools will also need to consider various dietary requirements and food intolerances. Avoid cross-contact as much as possible when preparing and handling food. Further allergy guidance for schools can be found on GOV.UK.
Safely storing food in schools
Schools will store a variety of food on the premises, such as:
- Ambient, e.g. foods kept at room temperature, such as tinned goods, sauces, bread, cereals, flour, rice, pasta, vegetables and fruit.
- Chilled, e.g. refrigerated foods, such as meat, fish, salads, sandwiches, butter, cheese, yoghurts, eggs and milk.
- Frozen, e.g. foods kept in the freezer such as ice cream, ice, fish, chips, meat and vegetables.
Store foods correctly to prevent contamination from food hazards and keep them 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 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 put into storage.
Most schools will hot hold food, e.g. in heated units, soup kettles and bain-maries, which provides a perfect opportunity for harmful bacteria to grow if not at the correct temperature.
When hot holding food, it must be at a temperature of 63°C or above. The food can be kept below this temperature for up to two hours.
However, if not used after this time, it should be:
- Reheated until 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.
Most schools will hold 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 packs). Display all chilled food for the shortest possible time.
Hold cold foods below 8°C, but ideally between 0-5°C. It can be held above 8°C for up to four hours, but only once. After this time, the food should be disposed of properly.
Preparing food safely in schools
Pupils are likely to have various dietary requirements. Some may eat particular foods for religious reasons, other beliefs, needs and preferences, e.g. vegan, vegetarian, kosher and halal. Some may have food intolerances, e.g. to gluten or lactose. It is important to ensure that different types of food are kept separate during preparation to avoid cross-contamination.
This can be achieved by:
- Discussing dietary needs, preferences and intolerances with parents/pupils. Ensuring the information is recorded and members of staff are aware.
- Training staff on different diets and the precautions to take.
- Purchasing foods from approved suppliers and ensuring the correct type of foods are selected and delivered.
- Having separate preparation areas, equipment, boards, and utensils for different foods. If this is not possible, thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting them.
- Using the correct equipment for the task, e.g. colour-coded boards.
- Following the 4Cs, especially for cross-contamination.
Safely serving food in schools
Food contamination can also occur during serving. All areas and equipment should be kept in good repair and clean. All staff handling and serving food must maintain a high standard of personal hygiene at all times.
When serving food:
- Have separate serving areas for different foods.
- 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 directly touching food.
- Use gloves when serving and change them regularly.
- Follow hot holding guidance where food has to be kept hot before serving, and similar for chilled.
- Always follow the 4Cs.
Pupils should be encouraged to uphold personal hygiene. It is advisable to have posters in and around eating areas with instructions, e.g. on washing hands properly.
Waste management in schools
Schools are likely to produce many different types of waste, e.g. food and packaging. 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 can be unpleasant.
All schools should have appropriate provisions for the segregation, storage and removal of waste, for example:
- Having an approved and licensed waste carrier to remove waste.
- Not allowing waste to accumulate by removing it regularly from food areas.
- Having appropriate bins inside and outside the 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.
- Ensuring bins are placed and kept in areas designated for waste disposal.
- Keeping outside bins closed when not in use.
Pest control in schools
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, feathers, fur 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 schools may include:
- Rodents – Mice and rats.
- Insects – Flies, ants, wasps and cockroaches.
- Stored product insects – Beetles, particularly weevils, can be found in flours, grains and cereals.
- Birds – Pigeons (outside areas).
- Foxes – Particularly where there are playing fields and grassy areas.
Some examples of pest prevention and control methods include:
- Checking the premises regularly and trying to spot gaps or holes that could allow pests into buildings.
- Training staff to spot the signs of pests and how to report.
- Ensuring external areas around the 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, especially where food is stored, prepared, served and eaten.
- Removing internal and external waste regularly.
- Using fly screens on any open windows and other pest control methods.
- Not having open bins and keeping lids closed when not in use.
- Storing food correctly, e.g. not on the floor, and keeping it covered or well-sealed.
- Having an approved contractor to manage and monitor pest control within and around the premises and contacting them if there are any signs of an infestation.
- Taking extreme care to ensure any pest control chemicals used do not contaminate food and are kept away from pupils.
- Disposing of any food touched by pests.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has a food safety management pack called Safer Food, Better Business. The catering pack can help schools meet the requirements of food safety and hygiene legislation.
We also offer various food hygiene and HACCP courses, which can help schools and staff understand their legal obligations and assist them in achieving a five-star food hygiene rating.