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Meeting Food Hygiene Regulation in Takeaways
Takeaway and food delivery service is big business, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to YouGov, a quarter of Britons (26%) say they have been getting more takeaways, and in 2020, UK households spent £15bn on this type of food (RetailEconomics).
People may be eating more takeaway and delivered food, but they are probably unaware of the risks. A quick internet search (of poor food hygiene in takeaways) will bring up many prosecution cases and examples of low hygiene ratings in takeaways across the UK. Issues include inadequate pest control, selling food with undeclared allergens, unsanitary conditions and cross-contamination. These poor practices can result in unsafe food, which can make customers ill, cause injuries and may even be life-threatening in some cases.
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 non-allergen 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, allergy sufferers and people with weakened immune systems.
There are many different types of takeaway businesses, with some also offering a delivery service. Some sell specific foods, such as burgers, fried chicken, pizza, sandwiches, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Greek, Italian, Japanese, fish & chips, kebabs etc. Some takeaways may be part of a larger chain, whilst others may be smaller independent businesses. One of the things that all types of takeaways have in common is they need to uphold food hygiene and safety.
The overall aim of any business is to be profitable. All takeaway businesses will be inspected as part of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS). If a takeaway business 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 takeaway businesses with some advice on achieving good food safety and hygiene standards. It will also highlight why food safety and hygiene is essential.
Food hygiene legislation for takeaways
As food operators, all takeaway 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 and covers 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.
Takeaway businesses will need to register with their local authority. They will also need a licence to sell alcohol (where applicable) and relevant insurances, e.g. public liability and employer’s liability.
There may be other applicable laws, depending on the type of takeaway 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 a 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 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.
Takeaway prosecution cases
Unfortunately, there are so many cases of takeaways being prosecuted for poor food safety and hygiene, but here are a few examples:
- A takeaway in Wiltshire was fined £28,000 for repeated food hygiene offences (Wiltshire Council).
- A takeaway owner in Trafford was fined £12,000 for a severe mouse and cockroach infestation (Trafford Council).
- A takeaway owner in Walsall received a suspended six-month prison sentence due to failings that caused acute food poisoning in eight people. He also had to pay each of the victims £772.20 (Walsall Council).
- A company in Salisbury served a takeaway meal with nuts to a woman with a nut allergy, and she suffered an allergic reaction. They had to pay £10,722.13, including the prosecution costs (Salisbury Our Community Matters).
Staff training on food hygiene for takeaways
Legally, all takeaway 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 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, e.g. wrapped foods. This course may be beneficial for front of house staff and drivers with limited food contact.
- Level 2 – Basic food hygiene certificate for staff preparing, cooking and handling food. Most takeaway 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. takeaway 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 takeaway business, its risks, the food handled, and the competence of workers.
Requirements for delivering food
Delivering food can introduce different risks that takeaway businesses need to include in their food safety management systems.
Additional precautions will be required when:
- Taking orders – Customers may place orders via telephone, the takeaway’s website or a third party (i.e. food delivery apps). Customers must be provided with full correct information about meals, regardless of whether they order on the phone or online, e.g.:
– The food sold.
– The price and quantity.
– Full allergen information.
– How to consume and store, e.g. eat immediately and whether it can be frozen or reheated.
- Controlling allergens – If a takeaway business sells food via the telephone and online, they must provide allergen information twice during the ordering process. Once before food is ordered (verbally on the phone or in writing online) and then when delivered (menu, stickers or verbally by the delivery driver). Cross-contact must be avoided as much as possible. Refer to the food allergens in takeaways section for further information.
- Using delivery vehicles – Appropriate vehicles should be used for delivering food. If domestic vehicles are used, they will need to be cleaned and disinfected properly. Local authorities can provide advice on whether a vehicle is suitable to transport food. Further information can also be found on the Food Standards Agency’s website.
- Delivering food – There is a risk of harmful bacteria growing in food during deliveries. It is advisable to pick low-risk foods capable of being transported efficiently under temperature control, e.g. those cooked to very high temperatures. Suitable food-grade containers must be used, which must seal properly and keep food at the correct temperature. Any hot/cool boxes used to transport food must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before and after use. Hot food must be treated as if it is in hot holding and cold as chilled (see the safely storing section). Allergen-free meals must be kept separate in transit, sealed and clearly labelled.
Food hazards in takeaways
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. Contamination may occur in a takeaway due to inadequate and improper storage, chilling, defrosting, cooking, reheating and delivery 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, and poor personal hygiene.
Examples of biological hazards include:
- Bacteria, e.g. Salmonella.
- 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 takeaway, chemical hazards may occur 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. flavourings, emulsifiers and stabilisers.
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 and objects that can enter food during preparation and handling but may also be in raw ingredients. In a takeaway, these may occur due to poor personal hygiene but can also come from packaging, poorly maintained premises and equipment, and pests.
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, human hair, fingernails (including false fingernails), plastic, glass, metal, animal 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 elderly. Some can be generally unpleasant to find in food, i.e. a hair, and others could also be a biological hazard, e.g. rat and mouse droppings.
Allergens are proteins that occur naturally in some foods but can contaminate other foods by cross-contact. In a takeaway, allergenic hazards may result from using, processing, storing and transporting allergen products where non-allergen products are.
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 have been numerous cases of takeaways making customers ill by serving allergen-free meals contaminated with allergens.
There is potential for all types of food hazards to be present in a takeaway. However, allergenic and biological are likely to be more of a risk in this type of establishment.
Takeaways 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, and there have been many cases in takeaways. Cleaning is essential as it stops harmful pathogens and allergens from spreading, discourages pests, and is a legal requirement.
Takeaway businesses should have effective cleaning procedures and schedules to ensure that food storage, preparation, serving areas and delivery vehicles are kept clean and safe. Adopting a ‘clean as you go’ approach will help keep areas constantly clean and tidy.
Food must be 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 kill any harmful bacteria.
The cooking method, time and temperature will depend on the type of food. However, takeaways 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). Reheated food should be at least 75°C for 30 seconds. In Scotland, the regulations require food to be at least 82°C. It is advisable to test the temperature with a clean, calibrated probe.
Foodborne illnesses usually occur 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, it is known as cross-contact, which is where products containing allergens are often unintentionally transferred to allergen-free ones.
Takeaway businesses must ensure they prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact as much as possible, which can be achieved by:
- Good personal hygiene, e.g. washing hands thoroughly.
- Using separate areas, equipment and utensils.
- Cleaning and disinfecting equipment, cleaning materials and utensils before use.
- Storing food correctly, e.g. raw meat below ready-to-eat food.
- Storing allergenic foods and non-allergenic foods separately, including ingredients and prepared food.
- Adopting a high standard of cleanliness.
Certain foods, e.g. those with use-by dates and ready-to-eat foods, must 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 enter the danger zone and encourage pathogens to grow, increasing the risk of food poisoning.
All takeaway 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 takeaways
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 staff do not follow good personal hygiene practices, they can contaminate food with hazards through direct contact and cross-contamination.
Takeaway 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 or other toiletries, which could taint food.
- Wearing suitable clean protective clothing, such as hairnets, gloves and aprons.
- No coughing or sneezing over food and preparation/serving areas.
- 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 workers are ill, it can compromise food safety. Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that staff do not prepare 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 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.
Businesses should have reporting procedures for when 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 takeaways
Legally, takeaway businesses 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. Takeaways may buy and sell pre-packed food, such as bottled and canned drinks, biscuits and chocolate.
There has to be an ingredient list, with all of the allergens emphasised, on the packaging. 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, this will apply if a takeaway makes food to go, e.g. burgers, pizza and kebabs and puts them in packaging.
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.
In a takeaway, non-pre-packed foods will include meals served to customers and any loose foods selected from display units, e.g. in a fish & chip shop.
Takeaway businesses 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, serving and transporting food, takeaway 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, especially for food transportation.
- Providing allergen training for staff, including what to do in an emergency if a customer on the premises 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, e.g. separate 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.
- Labelling allergen-free takeaway meals and keeping them separate during transit.
- Recording allergen information accurately, including product specification sheets, ingredients labels and recipes of the dishes.
Unlike bacteria, allergens are not affected by cooking. Takeaways 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 takeaways
Takeaways will store a variety of foods on the premises, such as:
- Ambient, e.g. dried goods, such as rice, pasta, bread, flour, sugar and dried fruit.
- Chilled, e.g. refrigerated foods, such as meat, butter, sandwiches, salad, desserts and milk.
- Frozen, e.g. foods kept in the freezer, such as fish, vegetables and chips.
All food must be stored correctly to prevent contamination from food hazards and to 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 and record 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 ingredients and 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 takeaways will hot hold food, e.g. in heated display units and during delivery, which provides a perfect opportunity for harmful bacteria to grow if it is not at the correct temperature. Using an insulated hot-box during deliveries will help maintain temperatures.
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 takeaways may display and/or deliver chilled foods. Chilled display units must be cold before use, i.e. set at 5°C or below, and 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.
When delivering chilled foods, it is best to use a cool box with a thermometer inside to monitor the temperature. Cold foods should be held below 8°C, but ideally between 0-5°C. They can be held above 8°C for up to four hours, but only once.
Safely serving food in takeaways
Food contamination can also occur during food preparation, service and delivery. 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 and delivering food:
- Take extra care when handling and serving ready-to-eat foods, as bacteria and allergens will not be killed by cooking or reheating.
- 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 and delivery, and the same for chilled.
- Keep delivery vehicles and equipment clean.
- Do not give food to customers if it is dropped and spilt during delivery.
- Follow the 4Cs.
Waste management in takeaways
Takeaways 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.
All takeaway 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 takeaways
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. There have been many cases of pests in and around takeaway premises, which has resulted in prosecution.
Many different types of pests can contaminate food. The ones that may be in and around takeaways 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 premises regularly for gaps or holes that could allow pests into buildings.
- 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 and vehicles clean and tidy, particularly where food is prepared, served and transported.
- 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 keeping 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. The catering pack can help takeaway businesses meet the requirements of food safety and hygiene legislation. There are also packs specific to Indian and Chinese cuisine.
We also offer various food hygiene and HACCP courses, which can help takeaway businesses understand their legal obligations and assist them in achieving a five-star food hygiene rating.