The importance of good food hygiene in restaurants should never be overlooked. All food handlers must be aware of food hygiene regulations, their individual responsibilities, and the best practices they can apply to meet safe food standards.
There are an estimated 2.4 million cases of food poisoning in the UK every year, a number that has more than doubled in the last decade. The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) runs a nationwide ‘Food Hygiene Ratings Scheme’ which rates restaurants according to their food hygiene standards. The purpose of this scheme is to encourage compliance by all food handlers and restaurant managers while making the public aware of the standards in individual establishments.
In the UK, one of the vital requirements for storing and preparing safe food is to implement procedures based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles. These principles were initially developed for the food processing industry. However, they work as a best practice guide for restaurants, bars, and cafes looking to comply with all food hygiene regulations.
In this five-minute guide, we’ll provide information about what food hygiene is, why restaurants must comply with food hygiene regulations, and sound food hygiene principles. We’ll also discuss the legal implications and penalties associated with noncompliance, food safety management procedures, and the importance of staff training.
Perhaps you already know the basics of food hygiene? This article will refresh your knowledge and offer up-to-date information, leaving you confident that your restaurant is fully compliant with UK food hygiene regulations and providing a safe environment for your staff and customers.
What is food hygiene?
Food hygiene is a term used to describe the important processes of storing, handling, and preparing food and drink in a way that minimises the risk of people contracting illnesses from infection and food-borne viruses.
The primary purpose of food hygiene policies in restaurants is to create a framework that reduces the risk of food becoming contaminated and leading to illness amongst customers.
Some critical elements of food hygiene include:
- Cleaning procedures – All kitchen and restaurant equipment must be meticulously cleaned. Including kitchenware, front of house areas, surfaces, floors, and bins.
- Cross-contamination prevention – This can be implemented by using colour-coded chopping boards and knives, storing raw and cooked foods separately, maintaining a cleaning rota, and cleaning all surfaces thoroughly. These measures help to prevent bacterial, allergenic, chemical, and physical cross-contamination.
- Personal hygiene – This can be implemented by wearing appropriate uniforms and protective clothing, regularly washing hands and implementing strict procedures around illnesses for all restaurant employees.
- Cooking temperatures – In a restaurant environment, it’s crucial that all food served to customers is stored at the correct temperatures and cooked appropriately. These measures help to prevent the growth and spread of potentially harmful bacteria.
- Allergen awareness control – All restaurant staff need to be aware of the 14 most common food allergens and should try to prevent cross-contamination from these allergens at all times.
- Safe storage of food – All food on your restaurant premises must be labelled and dated appropriately and stored in temperature-controlled environments. All staff that handle and serve food must undergo training about what items of food can and cannot be stored close together. This helps to minimise the risk of food poisoning from occurring.
Why restaurants must comply with food hygiene standards
There are several reasons why food hygiene is so essential in restaurants; these include:
Food hazards and food poisoning
Ill health and food poisoning caused by contaminated foods are some of the biggest concerns associated with food preparation. Restaurant employees need to understand the leading causes of contamination, how food becomes contaminated, and how to prevent this from happening.
Minimal amounts of contamination can lead to allergic reactions and food poisoning. These conditions are so severe that they can lead to fatalities, so all food must be prepared safely and in a hygienic environment.
Professional training helps to ensure that employees understand the potential hazards of food preparation and how to prevent allergic reactions and food poisoning from occurring.
Reputation, penalty notices, and closure
In the hospitality industry, reputation is everything. An inadequate food hygiene rating or negative online reviews can completely destroy a business. It’s worth remembering that your customers will recognise your efforts when it comes to outstanding food hygiene practices.
If a customer falls ill after dining in your restaurant, the chances of them ever returning are significantly reduced, not to mention the negative reviews and comments that they could make to friends or family. A Zendesk survey found that 54% of customers share negative experiences with five or more people, whereas only 33% of people share positive experiences.
Additionally, once your restaurant has been inspected and received a poor food hygiene rating, you have 14 days to implement any recommended changes. Failure to do so can result in unlimited fines, prison, and closure of your restaurant. All of these penalties can be avoided by complying with basic food safety and hygiene regulations from the outset.
Training improves quality control and efficiency
Food safety can help your restaurant to maintain profits and minimise wastage as it acts as a benchmark for quality control. Much less food will be wasted once your staff are fully trained in food safety and hygiene best practices. Two additional benefits are that your kitchen will become more cost-effective, and your reputation as a provider of high-quality food will improve.
Employees will understand their jobs
Over time, some employees may question why they have to perform specific tasks in certain ways. However, once they have completed food safety training, they will have a deeper understanding of their responsibilities. The training will remind them that the health and safety of co-workers and customers is their responsibility.
Your employees will be handling the food
As your restaurant staff are the people that will handle and prepare the food, they must do so in the safest possible manner. This helps to protect customers from hazardous foods while ensuring that employees maintain high standards of hygiene for personal safety.
Good food hygiene – The four C’s
In the hospitality industry, the four C’s are an important aspect of food hygiene safety. Chilling, Cooking, Cleaning, and Cross-contamination are all parts of the food handling process and have to be implemented professionally at all times. For restaurant employees who are unfamiliar with this protocol, a food hygiene course will cover these topics in detail. In the meantime, we’ll take a look at the role each ‘C’ plays in restaurant food safety and hygiene.
Efficient cleaning eliminates bacteria on surfaces, equipment, and hands. It’s also an excellent way to prevent harmful bacteria from spreading onto food. All staff must wash and dry their hands thoroughly before they handle food. Additionally, spilt food, used equipment, and crockery must be cleared away after use. If your team cleans as they work, they can avoid the build-up of mess and create more hygienic conditions throughout your restaurant.
Thorough cooking eliminates harmful bacteria present in food. For this reason, it’s essential to ensure that food is cooked correctly. When reheating or cooking food, restaurant staff must make sure that the food is piping hot, and food must always be served at a minimum temperature of 63°C.
This is especially important when you are cooking poultry or products made from minced red meat.
This is mainly because there could be bacteria present in the middle of these food products. For this reason, they should never be served rare or pink and should be cooked right the way through. Whole cuts of lamb and beef, such as cutlets, steaks, and entire joints, can be served rare, but they must be sealed on the outside.
Cross-contamination is one of the leading causes of food poisoning. It occurs when bacteria are spread between equipment, food, or surfaces. It’s more likely to happen when raw food touches food that is ready to eat, surfaces, or equipment.
Practising safe procedures such as using separate equipment for raw and ready-to-eat food, disinfecting work surfaces, and safely storing food can all contribute to reducing the risk of cross-contamination in your restaurant.
Correctly chilling food helps to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Many foods require a chilled storage environment to stay safe and to slow down their process of decomposition. Foods such as salads and fruits will perish very quickly if stored at room temperature.
By implementing practices such as checking chilled food on delivery and refrigerating food as soon as necessary can be an effective way to chill food, minimise waste, and improve overall kitchen hygiene.
What the law says
The most crucial food hygiene regulations that restaurants need to comply with are:
- Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs.
- The Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 (as amended).
Both of these regulations set out the necessary hygiene requirements for all aspects of restaurant businesses. This includes rules for premises, facilities, and personal hygiene of staff.
One of the leading legal requirements is that you need to prove the measures that you have in place to produce and sell food that is safe to eat. You must have these measures available in writing for inspection purposes if required.
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) is an internationally recognised method of identifying and managing food safety-related risk. If you base your food safety programme around HACCP principles, you will be able to provide the public, your customers, and regulatory agencies with an assurance that your restaurant’s food safety programme is well managed.
HACCP is a management system in which food safety is addressed via the analysis and control of chemical, biological, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement, and handling, to manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of the finished product.
It’s easy to develop your own procedures based on the principles of HACCP. Alternatively, you may use a pack produced by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), your local authority, or a food industry guide recognised by the FSA.
HACCP revolves around seven fundamental principles:
1. Conduct a hazard analysis
This principle involves identifying the areas where different types of hazard may arise within your food production process and ensuring that food safety standards are upheld. HACCP looks for chemical hazards, physical hazards, and biological hazards, with an onus on biohazards. This is because biohazards have the most significant potential for risks with severe consequences. Try to identify hazards that you can prevent or control somehow.
2. Identify critical control points
Critical control points (CCPs) are steps within the food production process, where an element of control can be placed to reduce risks or prevent hazards. CCPs can be identified inside your restaurant’s food production process using a decision tree explicitly designed for HACCP. The amount of CCPs required will vary concerning the length of your production processes. Additionally, sometimes a single CCP can prevent several hazards.
3. Establish critical limits
After listing your restaurant’s hazards and CCPs, HACCP recommends working out the critical limit (CL) for each of the identified hazards. This involves establishing parameters which are typically based upon food regulatory standards and often include monitoring a form of measurement. This could be pH level, weight, temperature, or some other variable to prevent hazards from occurring or to mitigate risk.
4. Find a system for monitoring CCPs
Now that you’ve identified all of your CCPs, the hazards that can be monitored at each CCP and the measurements to monitor, you can use these to create a system that improves your overall health and hygiene. Your system should establish where, when, and how measurements are taken, how often, and who is responsible for managing these procedures.
5. Create relevant procedures for corrective actions
If your new system finds that CCP measurements exceed your critical limits for a hazard, you need to have safety measures in place to be actioned when necessary. To do this, you must review the food production process, isolate the incident, and implement new measures to prevent re-occurrence of the problem.
6. Verify the effectiveness of your HACCP plan
Now that your HACCP is in place, you need to verify that all your checks and actions contribute to the safe production of food. To do this, you must review records, check instrument calibration, and test food products to prove the effectiveness of your plan.
7. Keep records of all procedures and actions within the HACCP plan
You must create records for all the CCP monitoring that you undertake to prove to inspectors that you are producing food safely. These records can include a copy of your HACCP plan, and information related to hazard analysis, critical limits, food safety checklists, and more. These documents will allow you to check that all standards are met with consistency by relevant members of staff.
Critical considerations for food hygiene standards in restaurants
Premises include all rooms and buildings that are used to store or prepare food. These areas must be cleaned regularly, kept in good condition, and designed in a way that maintains hygienic practices. The build-up of mould and dirt must be prevented, and there should be a suitable space for working and the handling and storing of food.
Restaurant premises should provide adequate:
- Toilets and handwashing facilities for staff
- Ventilation in bathrooms and kitchens
- Drainage for restrooms and kitchens
- Staff changing facilities
- Ample storage of cleaning chemicals, disinfectants, and other chemicals.
Design of food preparation areas
Food preparation areas must be designed to allow good food hygiene practices and processes. Food safety legislation provides specific requirements for food preparation areas relating to the design and condition of:
- Floors must be constructed with a material that is safe to walk on, easy to clean and maintained in good condition.
- Walls should be constructed with durable materials that are washable, non-toxic, easy to maintain.
- Ceilings and overhead fittings should be designed to prevent the accumulation of dirt, condensation, and mould.
- Windows must be designed to prevent dirt accumulation and be fitted with insect screens where necessary.
- Doors must be easy to clean and made out of non-absorbent materials.
- Surfaces should be made of smooth, non-toxic, washable, corrosion-resistant material, and kept in good condition.
- Washing facilities for equipment and food must be appropriate for washing food and utensils and provide hot and cold water.
Any equipment that makes contact with food must be made of appropriate materials, well maintained, cleaned efficiently, and fitted to allow cleaning around it.
- Any water used to clean, cook, heat, cool, or steam food must be of drinking quality.
- Ice that may come into contact with food or drink must be made from drinking water and produced, stored, and handled hygienically.
- Steam that comes into contact with food must never contain contaminants that could be detrimental to food safety.
- Water that is used for non-food purposes, such as heating, refrigeration, and fire control must be kept in isolated systems so that it cannot contaminate food, drink, equipment, or surfaces.
The staff that work in food handling areas must adhere to good personal hygiene practices and be trained on factors that could lead to contamination.
Any raw materials and ingredients must be safe and uncontaminated with chemicals or anything that could make the finished product unfit for human consumption.
Distribution, storage, and processing systems must always protect food from cross-contamination and contamination that can make the food hazardous to health or unfit to consume.
Food waste must be managed appropriately and removed from food preparation areas as soon as possible. Once removed, all waste must be stored in containers that are safe for waste disposal services to remove.
All containers should be designed to prevent contamination, deter pests, be easy to clean, and kept in excellent condition. All waste disposal practices must comply with hygiene standards and environmental regulations.
All members of staff that handle food must be trained in food safety and hygiene so that they understand the importance of these practices in their work.
There have to be adequate measures in place to prevent pests from contaminating food both in preparation and storage. This includes:
- The building design and maintenance to prevent means of access.
- Adequate storage of prepared food and ingredients restricting access to pests.
- Hygiene measures that eliminate access to food spills and waste that may attract pests and allow them to survive in the restaurant environment.
We hope that you’ve found the information provided in this guide informative and educational. By following the measures outlined here, you will bolster your chances of receiving an excellent food hygiene rating for your restaurant.
Furthermore, you will help to prevent contamination and food poisoning amongst your staff and customers, maintaining a high standard of hygiene and upholding your reputation as an excellent food services provider.