Registering your food business – what’s holding you back?

A recent report by the BBC has highlighted concerns expressed by the FSA over newly formed ‘at-home’ food businesses, who fail to register with their local authority. But what are the rules around registering a food business, and what is holding business owners back from doing so?

“I only sell a few roast dinners once a week – it’s not really a food business”

Food business registration can be as simple as completing an online form via your local authority website, and is a legal requirement for any business that:

  • sells food
  • cooks food
  • stores or handles food
  • prepares food
  • distributes food, including:
    • restaurants, cafes and takeaways
    • catering businesses run from home, B&Bs, mobile catering and temporary businesses
    • marquees, food stalls, food pop ups and food vans
    • nurseries, schools and care homes
    • distance selling, mail order and food delivery including online

“But I only have a small business, I can’t afford to register”

Registration as a food business is free in the UK.


Other costs associated with setting up a new business, such as registration at Companies House and obtaining relevant business insurance are not linked to food business registration. Consider, however, that the penalties and risks (and stress!) you may incur if you don’t tick these boxes far outweigh your initial outlay.

“I’m running my business from my home – if I register, the EHO will visit and will probably close me down”

The Environmental Health team within your local authority are responsible for ensuring that all food businesses within their locality prepare and sell food which is safe for consumers. The most effective way to do this is to build and maintain good working relationships with food businesses – and so it is in their interests, as well as yours, to start communications on the right foot.

Your EHO will want to see that you have considered all aspects of setting up and running a food business safely; the good news is, there are many tools available to help you do so, including specific advice from the Food Standards Agency about setting up a food business at home.

If you are in doubt about any aspect of setting up your business safely, as a registered food business you can approach your EHO for invaluable advice. In short – the EHO is a vital business support person, not the big bad wolf!

“I’m still not sure I understand food safety properly – and I don’t have time to learn!”

Running any kind of business without fundamental skills and knowledge is pretty scary. But the training you need to run a food business safely and confidently- such as food hygiene, allergy awareness, health and safety and HACCP – can be easily accessed, flexible and great value for money. With online training, you can study at a time and place that suits you; and at a pace that works for your skill level and existing knowledge – just check that it is accredited by an appropriate awarding body (such as Qualifi or CIEH) and accepted by your local authority.

If you want to employ staff within your food business, especially if they will be working away from supervision, it is important to know that they have the correct training in place to uphold your standards, even when you’re not there. And demonstrating your credentials to your customers is a great marketing tool – even if you sell your business via local social media channels, people will be reassured to see your training certificates and your Food Hygiene rating

If you have recently started a food business and you’d like to share your experiences of the Food Business registration process, drop a comment below or visit our Facebook page and leave us a comment – we’d love to hear from you! And if you’re just starting out on your journey – good luck, we hope it goes well.

Do I need to register with the ICO?

The ICO, or Information Commissioner’s Office, oversees the safe handling of personal data within companies. Under the Data Protection Act 1998, any organisation that processes personal information must register with the ICO.  While failure to do so is a criminal offence, some organisations may be exempt and may not need to register or ‘notify’ the Information Commissioner’s Office.

What is ‘personal data’?

Personal data is information about individual people, where they live, what they do and more. It’s any and all information that identifies them, including:

  • people’s names and addresses;
  • photographs;
  • customer reference numbers;
  • customer reviews.

If a document, file or image identifies a person, or could be used in combination with other information to identify them, then it’s personal data. This applies even if the information doesn’t include a person’s name.

What does ‘handling personal data’ mean?

Handling personal data means taking any action with someone’s personal data. This begins when a business starts making a record of information about someone, and continues until they no longer need the information and it’s been securely destroyed. If you hold information on someone, it counts as processing even if you don’t do anything else with it.

So, in the example of a fish and chip shop, personal data might include a list of customers’ names, addresses and phone numbers that they use for ordering and delivering food, or images that they record on their CCTV system.

Which businesses are exempt?

Organisations that only processes personal information for:

  • staff administration (including payroll);
  • advertising, marketing and public relations (in connection with their own business activity);
  • accounts and records;

Some not-for-profit organisations;

Organisations that process personal data only for maintaining a public register;

Organisations that do not process personal information on computer.

Does this apply to my business?

You might use personal data in a slightly different way to the examples described above. To check whether your business needs to register with the ICO, follow this link to their self assessment tool and answer the questions…

Natasha’s Law – Are you ready?

Natasha’s Law is due to be implemented in October 2021. An important development in helping prevent the serious effects of food allergies, this law deals with labelling products that have been packed on premises ready for sale.

Who does it affect?

Any business that is preparing, packing and selling food from the same premises, or food that is packed centrally and sold from a mobile stall or vehicle

When does it come into force?

October 2021 in England, but other UK nations are expected to follow shortly after

What foods are covered by the new law?

Any food which is Pre-Packed for Direct Sale (PPDS); that means made by staff in-house, wrapped or placed in packaging and then put on display. This could include products like sandwiches, salads, snacks and cakes.

What must we do?

All PPDS products will need to clearly display the name of the food and a full list of all ingredients. Any named allergens (from the 14 named allergens list) must be highlighted within the ingredients list, for example by printing them in bold or a different colour.

What are the penalties for non compliance?

Businesses failing to follow the new rules could face a fine of up to £5,000 per offence.

Any business who is selling or planning to sell pre-packed foods would be sensible to consider their operations and processes now, in order to allow all required changes to be in place and tested before October 2021. As well as considering the physical labelling requirements, food businesses will also need to think about staff training implications. Whilst the new law makes information more readily available and therefore easier for staff to communicate accurate information, a key message for all staff in food preparation is the importance of consistency in and clear communication of ingredients and recipes.

Covid financial business support November 2020

Whilst some green shoots of hope have started to appear – including positive progress on covid vaccines and falling reinfection rates in some UK nations and regions – the hospitality industry continues to feel overwhelming pressure from lockdowns and restrictions. We’ve summarised some of the financial packages still available to support you through this tough period

Job Retention Scheme extended until March 2021

Businesses who are unable to operate as usual may be able to take advantage of furlough payments, allowing them to retain staff for whom no role currently exists, or whose role is reduced. The JRS has been extended into March 2021, with payments of up to 80% of wages, to a maximum of £2,500 throughout November, December and January. The latest iteration of the scheme does not extend to NI and pension payments – these must be covered by the employer – and the funding level for the latter months has not yet been announced.

Employees for whom a JRS claim was NOT previously made can be claimed for in the latest version of the scheme, BUT be aware – from November, claims for each month must be made within 14 days of the end of that month, e.g. claims for November furlough payments must be made by 14th December. This is a much smaller claim window than in preceding months.

Local Restrictions Support grants

The latest allocation of grant funding for businesses was announced earlier this month, with specific provision being made for business whose operations were restricted by their sector or location. Funds are allocated via local councils, but a list of criteria for application is available here

VAT Deferral

If you deferred your VAT payment that was due between 20th March and 30th June 2020, and haven’t yet paid it, your deferred payment is due to be made in full by 31st March 2021. However, a new VAT payment deferral scheme is due to launch early in 2021 that should allow you to make this payment in 11 interest free instalments ending in March 2022, giving a little further breathing space on this debt. You will need to sign up to the scheme as a business, click here for further info.

Bounce Back Loan Scheme

Bounce back loans are government backed loans that are offered to small and medium UK businesses through banks, and are intended to bridge cashflow issues caused by the pandemic.

Loans of up to £50,000 are available dependant on business turnover. The loan term is 6 years, however the first 12 months of interest payments are covered by the government and early repayment is allowed – so in effect, the loan is free to the business if repaid within 12 months. Currently, the BBLS will be available to enter up to 31st January 2021

Because of the nature of these loans and the time limit on access, some businesses have applied for funds as a precautionary measure, keeping them separately from day to day funds, with the intention of paying back before the end of the ‘interest free’ period. As they have proved popular, many financial institutions are only offering them to existing customers, so if you do want to access this loan scheme, it is sensible to approach your own business bank in the first instance.

As with any financial decision, we recommend you talk to your accountant or business adviser before taking advantage of these support schemes, as they will be able to assess the implications and impact on your financial position.

Further reading:

https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus/business-support

For the full and latest tier 1-3 information, see the Government Local Restrictions breakdown

How do I start a food business?

Starting a food business can leave you in a tangle of red tape, unless you know where to start. We’ve outlined the process below and highlighted some things to consider, as well as signposting useful links for the new food business owner.

First things first: Food Business registration

If you are not already registered as a food business, or you are taking over an existing food business from someone else, you must register online with your local authority, before you start trading. It is against the law to trade as a food business without registration – but making yourself known to your local authority gives you access to your local food safety team (including EHOs) who can be a valuable source of support and information when you are setting up.

Food business registration is required by any business which

  • sells food
  • cooks food
  • stores or handles food
  • prepares food
  • distributes food, including:
    • restaurants, cafes and takeaways
    • catering businesses run from home, B&Bs, mobile catering and temporary businesses
    • marquees, food stalls, food pop ups and food vans
    • nurseries, schools and care homes
    • distance selling, mail order and food delivery including online

You will also need to go through the legal process for setting up any kind of business, if you haven’t already done so. Check out the UK Government website, Business Wales, or NI Business Info for details of how to do this. The UK.Gov page also gives details of permits and licences required for mobile food businesses or street trading.

Premises and Facilities

You will need to demonstrate that you have suitable premises and facilities to be able to prepare food safely, including the following:

Premises must be clean, in good repair, and suitable for safe food preparation – for example, secure from pests. Provision must be made for waste disposal that does not encourage pests.

The physical space must be suitable for food preparation, including walls, ceilings and surfaces that are easy to keep clean, without peeling paint or other potential contaminants. Light and ventilation must be adequate.

You must have adequate, separate provision for handwashing, including hot water, and suitable areas for changing into clean work clothes. There must also be adequate facilities for equipment, crockery and cutlery washing and disinfection, and equipment must be in good working order.

For a more complete list of the expectations for premises and facilities, check the FSA’s Setting up a Food Business page

Food Safety

One of a food business operator’s fundamental legal responsibilties is to ensure that their food is safe to eat. Food safety encompasses a range of measures, including:

Creating and using a Food Safety Management, or HACCP, plan. This is a written plan that is used to risk assess, manage and record food preparation processes, from cleaning schedules and supplier records to temperature monitoring and stock rotation.

Being aware of the risks and laws surrounding Food Allergens, and ensuring customers can consume your food without risk of harm from allergenic ingredients.

Managing suppliers, ensuring that they are committed to providing you with food that is safe to eat and ensuring that all of your ingredients can be traced back to their original source.

Ensuring that you and your staff are adequately trained and / or supervised, understand all elements of good food hygiene practice, including how to deal with allergens, and can undertake all necessary tasks in a way which eliminates the risks of unsafe food. Make sure that any training that you undertake is designed for the correct level and staff role – for example, Level 2 Food Hygiene and Allergen training for all food handlers, or those running a very simple food operation, and Level 3 Food Hygiene for those in a managerial or supervisory role. A reputable training provider will be able to supply you with a syllabus and sample of learning material, so you can check it is right for your needs.

Click here for the FSA’s comprehensive list of your food safety responsibilities

The list above may seem daunting, but one really key point to remember, is that there are many resources available to help you. If you have any doubts about setting up and running your food business, seek out advice from your local authority food safety team, and your Environmental Health Officer. They will help you to operate safely, legally and, if you get things right, will be able to award you that all important 5 star rating – good luck!

Further reading:

What is a Food Safety Management System / HACCP?

How do I keep my restaurant Allergy Safe?

How do I turn my café into a takeaway?

How do I turn my café into a takeaway?

Despite the fiercely difficult trading conditions that most food businesses find themselves in, many have changed the way they work to suit the new conditions; turning a sit down food venue into a takeaway business is a great example of this. The CIEH have produced a comprehensive guide of the factors you must consider when adjusting your operations- we run through the topics covered briefly below:

Factors to consider include:

Food business registration – If you are not already registered as a food business with your local authority, or you plan to change your operations significantly (for instance, starting deliveries or delivering to a vulnerable group of people), you must register online. Planning regulations have been relaxed for the foreseeable future, making it easier for businesses to adjust operations.

Allergies and ordering – allergenic ingredients must be declared both at the point of ordering AND at the point of delivery. If you need to update allergy training for you or your team, consider undertaking the Safer Food Group’s Allergy Awareness course.

Food packaging and delivery bags – anything you use to package takeaway food must be fit for purpose – so containers must be food safe and delivery packaging must be capable of keeping food at the correct temperature and able to be disinfected between uses. Remember the Danger Zone from your Food Hygiene training!

Delivery drivers – if offering a delivery service, you must ensure the correct insurance is in place, and that covid safe procedures are carried out during food pick up, drop off and in between deliveries.

Food collection – consider safe procedures to allow your staff to maintain distance from customers, and customers from each other. Use clear signage to indicate what is expected of your customers

Safe food procedures – update your HACCP / SFBB plan to include your new operation and ensure it is fully risk assessed and managed.

Create a covid-safe workplace – if your business has not been open at all during the pandemic, you will need to ensure you have introduced measures such as increased handwashing, distancing between staff, increased cleaning and laundry. Even if you have already introduced measures to eliminate the spread of covid-19, you must undertake a review when making a change to the way you operate.

Communicate with your customers – there is little point in creating a new offering if your customers are unaware of it. Think about the most effective ways of shouting about your new service – and how these might differ when the majority your customers are spending a lot of time in their homes. Tap into local social media pages, community groups and encourage word of mouth recommendations from your regulars. Consider a loyalty scheme, special offers on quiet days – or something that targets a unique feature of your local area, such as a local speciality food, a traditional event or a charity cause that you can support. And don’t forget to say thank you – a personal message from a local business reminds your customers of the human element of your business.

Of course, turning your food operation into a takeaway is not the only option to try and make the most of your business during difficult times. In our latest video, our trainers Jonny and Paul discuss making the most of your resources during lockdown and tiering restrictions. They consider some successful examples of food businesses who have changed the way they work in order to survive lockdown and government restrictions. Have a look here…

Further reading:

The Food Standards Agency has also created useful advice on changing your business model, as part of their ‘Here to Help’ campaign

Can staff train while furloughed?

The simple answer to this question is – YES! Staff can train while furloughed – in fact, many employers found that the last lockdown was the perfect opportunity to review training records and fill in any gaps whilst staff were unable to work. At a time when staff are feeling uncertain about their future, making a small investment in their development can help to keep them engaged and better prepared for the challenges that face them on their return to work.

Things to consider: If someone does undertake training during furlough, they must receive at least the current minimum wage for those hours. As employees may be earning less than their normal wages whilst they are furloughed, the employer must check that this is the case.

Training must be undertaken in a covid safe way. Online training offers a remote method of delivery, so learners can access in their own homes. Courses that can be undertaken flexibly to suit the learner are useful, as these allow learners to read at their own speed, review elements they find tricky and test their understanding as they progress.

Look for providers that really consider the needs of the learner, in order to deliver effective training – for instance, those who compliment their written course material with video or audio lessons, suiting students who find it difficult to read long passages. Training providers who have put considerable effort into developing learner centred courses will invariably be pleased to talk you through their teaching methods, and present demo material for you to trial. And spending money on effective training provides a far greater return on investment for the employer, if employees can return to work with genuine insight and skills that improve their performance.

Seek a provider that meets the needs of the business too. Some offer tools that allow the training manager or business owner to track their learners’ progress. The SFG business admin panel acts as a staff training record, showing progress of current learners, previous courses requiring renewal, and allowing the business to download staff certificates for display.

A little about the Safer Food Group: our courses are designed around the needs of the food industry and it’s employees. Our courses combine clear, accessible written content with thorough, engaging video presentations, designed to incorporate the benefits of face to face teaching in a cost effective, safe online environment. Our team includes experienced food professionals, experts in education and creative tech developers, working together to meet the training needs of food businesses and manufacturers, chefs and cooks, kitchen supervisors and food handlers.

What is a Food Safety Management System / HACCP?

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Every food business in the UK has a legal responsibility to:

  • make sure food is safe to eat
  • make sure it doesn’t add, remove or treat food in a way that makes it harmful to eat

A very important part of fulfilling this legal duty is creating a Food Safety Management system, using the principles of Hazard analysis and Critical control points (HACCP). HACCP is a system that helps you identify potential food hazards and introduce procedures to make sure those hazards are removed or reduced to an acceptable level.

These procedures will help you produce and sell food that is safe to eat, providing you:

  • keep up-to-date documents and records relating to your procedures
  • regularly review your procedures to ensure they reflect what you produce or how you work

Creating a HACCP Food Safety Management System

To create a comprehensive food safety management system, you will need to consider the entire journey of the food you produce, starting with the source of your ingredients and covering areas such as food handling, storage, cooking, cleaning and staff training.

A great resource to help you with this is the Safer Food, Better Business resource provided by the Food Standards Agency. This book walks you through each area of your business and tells you what you need to look out for, what records you need to keep, and how often you need to review your processes.

Safer Food, Better Business highlights the importance of good record keeping when producing food that is safe to eat. Good records will instil a culture of diligence within your food business and will also help prove to an EHO that you are doing things right.

The key records that most food businesses will need to keep are:

For more information, The Safer Food Group offer a Level 2 HACCP awareness course that looks into each area of Food Management in closer detail, explaining how to get it right – and what can happen when you don’t!

Important Links

Free 14 allergens poster

How do I keep my restaurant allergy-safe?

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You might think that getting your food business allergy safe is a hassle – but think about the consequences of being careless with ingredients that have the potential to kill. If you put the right processes and procedures in place and everyone follows them, you can be sure you are doing your best to keep your customers, your kitchen and your reputation safe.

So, what are the steps you need to follow to make your kitchen allergen safe? This list is not a comprehensive guide – you must ensure that you are properly trained to implement a successful allergen policy in your business – but it is written to show you that making your business allergen proof is logical and achievable, and shouldn’t be intimidating.

Preparation

Step 1 – Understanding

Ensure that you have adequate food allergy training to fully understand the risks of allergenic ingredients and the best practice you must use to ensure a safe business. This is not as simple as just keeping peanuts out of your kitchen!

Step 2 – Ingredients Audit

Be aware of every ingredient that you use in your kitchen, whether cooked in house from individual ingredients or pre-prepared. For every element of every dish, make a list of all ingredients and highlight the 14 known allergens.

 Tip: Don’t forget drinks, condiments and sauces – did you know that malt vinegar contains gluten, for instance?

Step 3 – Process walk through

Walk through the entire ‘life’ of a dish in your kitchen – from delivery, through storage, preparation, service and clean down, considering what would happen if an allergen was present in that dish. Identify points where cross contamination could occur, and how you can prevent it by measures such as:

  • Separated storage and prep zones for allergens 
  • Specific equipment 
  • Clear identification of specially prepared meals during service
  • Efficient clean down and separate pot wash routines

You may decide that you cannot guarantee that allergenic ingredients can be eliminated from dishes – if that is the case, you must communicate this to your staff and customers, to allow them to make informed decisions about their food.

Step 4 – Write it down! 

Once you’ve completed the walk through and decided what you will do to keep allergens isolated, you must write it down in a clear, logical way that can be followed by any team member involved in any stage of the process.

Training

Once you have gathered all of the vital information, you have to pass it onto the relevant staff. Think about different roles in your business and their contact with allergens, as well as their contact with customers

Train your staff clearly in the processes they need to follow when working with allergenic ingredients. It is useful for front of house staff to have an understanding of food prep process, and food prep staff to understand how the front of house team operates. Create a culture in which they are happy to ask questions and seek advice if they don’t understand or have forgotten their training.

Think about how you retrain your staff when dishes, processes or legislation changes, and how often you refresh their training.

It is vital that you include allergen training in your induction programme for new and returning staff.

Communication

Consider the clearest ways in which you can communicate ingredients info to customers. It is a legal requirement to communicate the details of which dishes contain the 14 listed allergens, but some customers have allergies that are not covered by the list, and being able to inform them accurately of all ingredients in all dishes will help your reputation as a responsible business.

The key message for you and your staff when it comes to communication is NOT TO GUESS THE ANSWER TO AN ALLERGEN QUESTION. ’I don’t know’ is always an acceptable answer, if the member of staff then seeks out the correct piece of information. Teach your staff:

Food Standards Agency launches ‘Here to Help’ guide

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The Food Standards Agency have announced the launch of their ‘Here to Help’ Guide, aimed at small and new food businesses adapting to the current situation.

The FSA say,

‘In order to continue operating during COVID-19, many established food businesses have diversified into food delivery, takeaway or online sales. There has also been an increase in people cooking from home and selling food locally or online.

The Food Standards Agency are offering support and guidance to established and new businesses to help address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Here to Help campaign will provide guidance and promote best practice to support food businesses to stay compliant with food hygiene and safety requirements and best respond to the impacts of COVID-19.’