In this article
Food hygiene standards, overseen by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) are a set of guidelines that help to protect people from food poisoning and cross-contamination. In this five-minute guide, we will outline and discuss the various food hygiene requirements in schools that are required in the UK.
We’ll also provide information regarding dietary requirements common in schools, the different types of allergens and how they interact with the body, food hygiene training requirements for school staff, and take a detailed look at what food hygiene entails.
What is food hygiene?
Food hygiene is a term relating to the processes involved in storing, handling and preparing food and drink in a way that minimises the risk of people becoming ill from food-borne diseases.
The primary aim of food hygiene guidelines in schools is to offer a nationwide set of rules that stop food from becoming contaminated and causing food poisoning.
Critical elements of food hygiene include:
- Cross-contamination prevention – This includes avoiding allergenic, physical, chemical, and bacterial contamination, notably by using equipment such as colour-coded chopping boards, knives, and cleaning surfaces thoroughly.
- Personal hygiene – Including illness procedures, appropriate protective clothing, and adherence to regular hand washing guidelines.
- Cleaning procedures – Meticulous cleaning of all kitchen equipment, surfaces, and kitchenware is essential.
- Allergen awareness and control – All school kitchen staff must be aware of what the 14 different food allergens are and must prevent allergens from cross-contamination at all times.
- Cooking temperatures – School kitchens must ensure that all food is cooked and stored at appropriate temperatures to prevent the risk of bacteria growth and contamination.
- Safe storage of food – This involves appropriate labelling/dating of food items, temperature control, storage locations, and containers. Kitchen staff must be aware of what food items can and cannot be stored close to one another to prevent food poisoning.
Any member of staff that works with food in a school kitchen must legally hold Food Safety and Hygiene certification. The level of certification required by law depends on the duties that their role entails and how much involvement they have in the process of food preparation. In some instances, a more comprehensive understanding and certification in food safety may be obligatory.
Dietary requirements can be defined as the things that are needed concerning a specific person’s diet. In some cases, nutritional requirements are a medical requirement due to specific allergies. In others, dietary requirements can be part of a religious, ethical, or moral choice.
Special dietary requirements are an essential factor in the food hygiene and safety industry, especially in schools. It’s necessary for all school catering staff to be fully educated around allergens, what foods contain allergens, and which foods are suitable for specific dietary needs.
In the UK, at least ten people a year die from food-induced anaphylaxis, with hundreds more being hospitalised. Therefore, we cannot stress the importance of educating your school catering team around food allergens and specific dietary requirements.
If your school kitchen is presenting food that is deemed suitable for a specific dietary need, this information must be 100% accurate. One way to guarantee this accuracy is by adhering to current food hygiene regulations and investing in appropriate certification and training for all kitchen staff.
Common dietary requirements in schools
Currently, over three million vegetarians are living in the UK.
Vegetarians are people who choose not to eat fish or meat. Some vegetarians also decide to avoid foods containing gelatine, as this is a by-product of animal bones and skin. There are also pescatarians who choose to eat fish, but no other animal meats.
Luckily, vegetarian options are relatively straightforward with regards to cooking and preparation, with many schools providing vegetarian options as standard.
Although not as common as vegetarianism, it’s estimated that over 600,000 vegans are living in the UK.
Vegans avoid consuming all animal products, including dairy items such as milk, cheese, and eggs. Veganism is becoming increasingly popular throughout the UK as an ethical lifestyle choice and a way to maintain a healthy diet.
Religious dietary requirements.
The Muslim Faith
England’s Muslim population surpassed three million in 2019, with some parts of London now over 50% Islamic. For this reason, it’s essential to cater to Muslim students when considering dietary requirements for your school menu.
Muslims eat only halal lamb, beef, poultry, and fish (with scales and fins). Halal meat is taken from animals that have been killed following Muslim laws. Muslim’s do not eat any products containing pork, or any shellfish and seafood without scales and fins.
They may also exclude fats, gelatine, emulsifiers, additives and stabilisers derived from non-halal animals from their diets.
The Jewish Faith
People that follow the Jewish faith only eat kosher lamb, beef, poultry, and fish (with scales and fins). Kosher meat is meat that has been chosen and prepared according to the rules of the Jewish religion.
Pork and pork products are excluded from the Jewish diet, as are fish products that contain shells or lack scales and fins. Additionally, meat and dairy are never eaten together and must be prepared in separate kitchens using different utensils following Jewish faith guidelines.
Coeliac disease is one of the most common food allergies requiring specific dietary requirements in the world. The condition affects one in every 100 people, with over 70% of these people currently undiagnosed.
Coeliac disease affects the gastrointestinal system and can cause symptoms such as wind, constipation, bloating, diarrhoea, mouth ulcers, tiredness, weight loss, and anaemia. It’s crucial for school caterers to be aware of, and provide gluten-free food options for anybody living with Coeliac disease.
Gluten is found in foods containing barley, rye, and wheat, although some people living with Coeliac disease may also be sensitive to oats. Therefore, your staff and kitchen must be fully trained and equipped to cater for any gluten-free students and teachers within your college or school.
Over 5% of the UK population is lactose intolerant, making in another common food allergy that school caterers must be aware of and implement into their menu choices.
Lactose intolerance is a condition in which a person cannot efficiently digest lactose, which is a sugar present in milk and dairy products.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include increased flatulence, stomach discomfort, and/or the occurrence of diarrhoea shortly after consuming food or drink containing lactose. This condition is caused by an inability for the body to produce enough lactase and can be controlled by strictly avoiding food and drinks that have lactose ingredients.
Other dietary requirements may include nut allergies, peanut allergies, soy allergies, and shellfish allergies. However, the requirements mentioned above are the most prevalent in the UK.
Everything you need to know about allergens
Food allergens are generally harmless food substances that cause immediate allergic reactions in susceptible people. They are predominantly found in proteins. However, certain additives have also been known to hold allergy-causing properties.
Food allergies are reactions from the immune system that occur shortly after consuming certain foods. Even trace amounts of allergy-causing foods can trigger severe reactions in allergy sufferers. That’s why all school catering staff needs to be fully educated and certified around the 14 food allergens and their effects.
In most cases, allergic reactions to food are uncomfortable but not particularly dangerous. For others, symptoms can be life-threatening. Symptoms of food allergies usually develop within several minutes to two hours after consuming the offending food.
Common food allergy symptoms include:
- Itching, eczema, or hives.
- Itching or tingling sensations inside the mouth.
- Swelling of the tongue, lips, face, throat, or other parts of the body.
- Nasal congestion, wheezing, or trouble breathing.
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, or abdominal discomfort.
- Light-headedness, dizziness, or fainting.
In severe cases, food allergies can trigger a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. This can present severe symptoms, including:
- Constriction of the airways.
- A swollen throat and difficulty breathing.
- Severe drop in blood pressure/shock.
- Increased pulse rate.
- Dizziness or loss of consciousness.
Emergency treatment is vital for anaphylaxis. This condition can lead to coma or death is left untreated.
Schools must provide clear steps and procedures to reduce the risk of allergic reactions for staff and students. All catering staff must be aware of the main allergens and the measure they can put in place to mitigate risks. This includes all staff that may handle food such as kitchen staff, teachers, servers, dinner ladies, and even parents that may volunteer in the school kitchen.
Adherence to food hygiene procedures helps to decrease the risk of cross-contamination of allergens.
What are the different types of food allergens?
The 14 different food allergens that your school must be aware of are:
- Cereals that contain gluten (e.g. wheat, rye, barley and oats).
- Crustaceans (e.g. prawns, crabs and lobsters).
- Molluscs (e.g. mussels and oysters).
- Tree nuts (e.g. almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts).
- Peanuts (these are not included under nuts because they are a legume).
- Sesame seeds.
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (additives and preservatives found in dried fruit or fizzy drinks, if they are concentrated at 10mg per kg or per litre or more).
What are the Food Hygiene Training Requirements in Schools?
Legally, all food handlers in schools require ‘appropriate training’, which is usually undertaken via certified training programs. Schools staff often complete several different training courses to ensure protection for all pupils and staff against food-related illnesses and to display their due diligence to the Food Standards Agency.
What food hygiene certifications do I need?
Food servers and kitchen staff both prepare and serve school food. Therefore, they must have full awareness and training concerning food hygiene procedures. Staff employed in these capacities will benefit from completing training programs such as ‘Food Safety and Hygiene for Catering Level 2’.
This online training course offers 3-4 hours learning for students and includes units covering ‘food safety and the law’, ‘preparing food safely’, ‘storing food safely’, food poisoning and contamination’, ‘personal hygiene’, ‘hazards and allergens’, and more.
Kitchen staff may also benefit from the ‘Allergen Awareness’ course. This course has units covering ‘the law surrounding allergens’, ‘allergies, intolerance and coeliac disease’, ‘considerations of allergies in the workplace’, and ‘contamination control’.
Teachers and Staff
Teachers and other members of school staff can also benefit from food hygiene training, especially if they are teaching cooking lessons. Maintaining high standards of food hygiene throughout these lessons is crucial for preventing illness and encouraging children to learn safe food hygiene practices.
For all teachers employed in non-food handling positions, we recommend the allergen awareness course as a sufficient level of training.
Carers and Parents
It’s the responsibility of parents and carers to decide which foods their children take into school. With packed lunches introducing several allergens into the school’s ecosystem, preventative measure should be taken to avoid cross-contamination.
For example, if the school is having a bake sale, food must be labelled if it contains dairy, nuts, or any of the fourteen allergens listed above. Although this is not a legal obligation, it’s considered best practice to provide this information either in print or when asked about food ingredients.
How long do the Certificates last and how long do they take to do?
Typically, food hygiene certifications take about 2 hours to complete. They work on the format of learning, followed by answering multiple-choice questions. Certifications should be renewed every two to three years to keep up with any changes in the UK FSA regulations and guidelines.
This guide has identified and discussed the leading risks to food hygiene in UK schools and the training that is recommended for all food handlers. Your employer should be aware of these requirements and should provide training procedures to mitigate risk and avoid cross-contamination in all food storage, preparation, and serving environments.