Recently I’ve been helping a couple of clients put together their written food safety systems. Call me perverse, but I really enjoy this kind of work. But I always tell clients that whilst I’m happy to do it with them, I won’t do it for them. Nobody understands your business as well as you, and it’s essential that you’re involved fully in the process.
When you start a small hospitality business, all too often the first you hear about food safety “paperwork” is when your EHO turns up with a thick white folder under her arm, and leaves it lurking ominously on your kitchen table. Food businesses need to keep some basic records so they can demonstrate that they’re following best practice all the time, not just when the EHO happens to visit. Large food businesses have been doing this for years, but since 2006 all UK food businesses, however small, have been required to have a written food safety system based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP). Don’t panic, let me explain…
I used to tell learners that HACCP wasn’t rocket science. Basically it’s risk assessment - looking at your food operation, anticipating what might go wrong, and taking steps to prevent it – which is much better than waiting for something to go wrong then trying to figure out why.
I then found out that in fact it is rocket science, developed by NASA in the run-up to the Apollo missions. They couldn’t afford to risk food poisoning in space, so needed to identify and eliminate all potential risks. HACCP became the industry standard for the vast food production businesses across the USA, and ultimately worldwide.
However, it wasn’t designed for small businesses and so the Food Standards Agency produced the excellent Safer Food Better Business pack (that ominous white folder) to help small caterers get their written system in order. Whilst a large food factory might keep detailed records every day, a small business such as a café or B&B only needs to work through the pack, keep some basic records (such as fridge and freezer temperatures) and record any problems when they occur. It may take a couple of hours to do the initial groundwork, but should take no more than seconds to complete each day. Easy peasy. Frankly, any small caterer who tells you they spend hours each week on food safety paperwork is doing something very wrong. You don’t have to use the pack or accompanying diary if you’re happier with your own system, as long as you can show you‘ve thought about any potential problems and how you would handle them.
Most local authorities are now operating a food safety rating scheme, with businesses being graded from 0-5. Designed to increase consumer confidence, the scheme also encourages food businesses to raise their game. For a small, low-risk business like a café or B&B it should be fairly easy to achieve a good rating, but do bear in mind that a large part of the scoring will be based on your food safety system and something called “attitude of management” - are you doing your best to operate safely and legally and to keep your knowledge and skills up to date?
So, if you haven’t done so already, time to brew a fresh pot of coffee and dust off that lurking file. And remember, it’s only rocket science…
I've been working in hospitality and training one way or another for over 25 years. I love helping small hospitality businesses to develop. Follow me and my continuing training adventures here...