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Food hygiene faux-pas

23 November 2015

Liz Burton observes some recent food hygiene offences committed by catering establishments and explains how to avoid making the same mistakes

Unkempt, unhygienic commercial kitchens are all-too common these days, subjecting every guest to a Russian roulette meal that could either please or poison them. With the vast resource that is the internet, full of information and training about complying with basic cleanliness practices, there’s simply no excuse. 

People are becoming increasingly conscious when it comes to the food hygiene of where they go to eat. Most will give their shortlisted restaurant a quick google search to check that there aren’t any reviews about food poisoning or waiters wiping their noses on shirt sleeves. 

Nobody wants to be brought food from a kitchen that fails to even pass a Food Standards Agency (FSA) inspection. This is sadly a recurrent issue and continues to make the news year after year. But headlining these stories reinforces the fact that food hygiene rules cannot simply be ignored and reminds catering businesses that people won’t take kindly to establishments that have little to no concern for cleanliness. 

Kitchen horror stories

In 2015, an environmental health officer discovered that the kitchen of the Brentwood Hotel in Scarborough was in an unacceptable state and that no food safety management system was in place. 

The floor, the underside of the sink, and the cooking range were filthy; carbon, grease, fat, and food debris had accumulated. Fridges were contaminated with old food and mould, and had containers full of mouldy beans designated for guests. These offences were a clear breach of food hygiene legislation, to which the owner admitted and was fined £1,500. 

In an even direr case in 2015, the Staines branch of the Shanghai Village Chinese buffet was discovered to be breaching numerous food hygiene offences. 

Inspectors discovered containers of food being stored on the floor and containers of raw chicken above uncovered, pre-cooked noodles and ready-to-use herbs. A chef was seen handling cooked and raw foods without changing gloves, and filthy utensils, damaged chopping boards, and rusted meat cleavers were being used. 

There was inadequate cleaning of the kitchen, insufficient hand washing facilities, and no measures taken to protect food from risk of contamination. 

The directors and Shanghai Village Ltd were fined over £25,000 for their repeated offences; the charges brought against them in April were related to offences recorded between March 2014 and February 2015. 

These are just a couple of examples of failure to comply with hygiene practices resulting in legal fines. Courts are becoming even tougher on companies that breach health and safety laws; new sentencing guidelines recently introduced require judges to consider companies’ profits and directors’ pay when determining how much to fine, which will better reflect their crimes.

'Easily preventable' 

All the offences shown in these case studies could have been easily prevented. Here are examples of ways catering staff can improve their kitchens’ cleanliness and food hygiene practices:

  • Washing hands thoroughly between handling meat and other types of food and kitchenware.
  • Using separate sinks for dirty washing and hand washing.
  • Properly cooking and reheating food (to a core temperature of 75°C) to kill bacteria.
  • Storing and preparing raw meat and other foods in suitable, separate areas. 
  • Maintaining and cleaning equipment on the premises regularly.
  • Working on a clean-as-you-go basis to prevent excessive build-up.
  • Following a cleaning schedule.
  • Defrosting meat properly, especially poultry due to the risk of salmonella, by letting it thaw in a bowl away from other foods. 

Kitchen staff should receive food hygiene training so to gain a comprehensive understanding of good practices. All commercial catering businesses should have a food safety management system in place, which staff should be familiarised with, and should have evidence of their food safety procedures.

In doing so, catering services won’t have to fear their next inspection, and won’t have to run the risk of serving unsatisfactory food to guests. Each order can be confidently prepared in a clean, hygienic environment.

Liz Burton is a course author for High Speed Training, who provide online Food Hygiene & Safety courses for individuals and businesses.


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