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.

Latest Government rulings for England – September 2020

Following the recent flurry of government announcements, rules affecting hospitality and catering businesses in England have changed. To help you find your way through the forest of information, The Safer Food Group has created a summary of the changes that affect the food industry, and come into force from 24th September 2020. We’ve also updated a number of our courses, including Level 2 Food Hygiene and Level 3 Food Hygiene, with guidelines to help you keep your food business Covid-19 safe. We’ll update these guidelines as we learn more about changes in the devolved UK nations

Face masks

Customers in hospitality venues must wear face coverings, except when seated at a table to eat or drink. This means, your customers will need to wear a mask on entry to and exit from your premises, and if they leave their table to visit bathroom facilities

Staff in hospitality and retail will now also be required to wear face coverings. This ruling applies to all staff (except those with specific exemptions), including those in takeaway food businesses.

For our pack of free covid signage templates, including mask poster, click here

Closing time

Businesses selling food or drink (including cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants), social clubs, casinos, bowling alleys, amusement arcades (and other indoor leisure centres or facilities), funfairs, theme parks, adventure parks and activities, and bingo halls, must be closed between 10pm and 5am. This will include takeaways, although delivery services can continue after 10pm.

Table service only

In licensed premises, food and drink must be ordered from, served at, and consumed at a table. This includes those licensed premises with outdoor service areas.

In any premises selling food or drink for customers to consume indoors on site, customers must eat and drink at a table.

Display NHS Test and Trace QR

Venues will now be required to display a QR code in their venue, to allow customers to register their visits with the NHS Test and Trace app. To create a QR code for your business, visit this site and complete your details

Businesses are also required to continue their own collection of customer and staff data that began in July – here is our previous post on collecting data if you need a reminder how to do this.

Important Links

For full details on September 24th rule changes: click here

For more information regarding the NHS Test and Trace scheme, click here

For more information from the Government about the role of your business in Test and Trace, click here

For more information from the ICO about keeping Test and Trace data safe, click here

Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19

Food Hygiene and Health & Safety courses offered by the Safer Food Group

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.’

Face coverings required in takeaways

Clarification issued by the Department of Health confirms that takeaway customers will be subject to face covering rules from July 24th

Today, 24th July 2020, face coverings become compulsory in shops in England for those customers without exemptions. We already know that pubs, restaurants and cafes do not require customers to wear masks while using their facilities – so where does this leave takeaways?

The Department of Health has now confirmed that the face covering rule WILL apply to customers buying food to eat away from the premises, with the potential of £100 fines to those who do not apply. On takeaway premises where customers can eat on site, they are allowed to remove the mask whilst eating, but must replace it once finished, to leave the shop.

When it comes to employees, businesses are already required to ensure that their staff are working safely, with adequate distancing, hygiene measures and protections in place. It is therefore the responsibility of the employer to decide whether facemasks are an appropriate safety measure within their covid-safe plan, or whether other measures, such as shields and screens provide better protection within their specific work set up.

The Safer Food Group has created a set of signage for use by businesses during the pandemic, including a poster to encourage customers to wear staff – click for our free signage pack.

For the full government guidelines on face coverings, click here.

Important Links

For more information regarding the NHS Test and Trace scheme, click here

For more information from the Government about the role of your business in Test and Trace, click here

For more information from the ICO about keeping Test and Trace data safe, click here

Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19

Food Hygiene and Health & Safety courses offered by the Safer Food Group

VAT reduction for catering and takeaway food

Clarification issued by the UK Government confirms that takeaway food will be included in the temporary VAT reduction announced on 8th July 2020.

The temporary 5% rate will apply between 15th July 2020 and 12th January 2021, in relation to food that is currently subject to standard VAT, produced ‘in the course of catering’. This includes:

  • hot and cold food for consumption on the premises on which they are supplied
  • hot and cold non-alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises on which they are supplied
  • hot takeaway food for consumption off the premises on which they are supplied
  • hot takeaway non-alcoholic beverages for consumption off the premises on which they are supplied

The VAT reduction does not apply to alcoholic drinks, or to food that is not produced in the course of catering, including:

  • retail supplies of cold takeaway food
  • retail supplies of groceries
  • supplies of food that require significant further preparation by the customer

The Gov.UK website contains further information about standard-rated and zero-rated food, as well as further details about the temporary VAT reduction.

Important Links

For more information regarding temporary VAT reduction for food businesses, click here

For more information regarding VAT rating for food businesses, click here

For more information regarding the NHS Test and Trace scheme, click here

For more information from the Government about the role of your business in Test and Trace, click here

For more information from the ICO about keeping Test and Trace data safe, click here

Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19

Food Hygiene and Health & Safety courses offered by the Safer Food Group

Collecting Customer Data for NHS Test and Trace

Understanding how to gather data and what to do with it

The easing of lockdown restrictions means a return to business for many in the hospitality sector. However, this is not ‘business as usual’ – pubs, cafes and restaurants are expected to operate in very different ways in order to minimise the risk of spreading infection – including the collection of data to support the NHS Test and Trace scheme.

Guidelines released by the UK Government request that businesses where customers eat and / or drink on site collect data that can be supplied to NHS tracers if someone on those premises is later found to have contracted Covid-19. The purpose of collection is to alert others who might have come in contact with an infected person and therefore be at risk themselves. This does not apply to businesses that sell takeaway food or drink for off site consumption only.

What data should be collected?

Data should be collected for everyone on your premises – including staff, customers and other visitors if you have them. You may already gather all relevant data as part of your staff rotas and your customer booking system – if so, there is not need to collect it again, as long as you inform people that you will submit this data to the Test and Trace scheme on request, and customers are given an option to opt out of this. If you don’t have a system already in place, you might want to use our templates to do so – click for our customer record, staff record and visitor record.

The following details should be collected:

Staff:

  • Name
  • Contact phone number
  • Dates and times present at work

Customers:

  • Name of ‘lead member’ of group and number of people in group
  • Contact phone number of ‘lead member’ of group
  • Date of visit, arrival and departure times (estimated if necessary)
  • If they interact with a single staff member, the name of the assigned staff member 

Think about your method of collection – if you are asking for data on arrival, will the customer type in details on your device, or write down using your paper and pen. If so – how will you minimise the risk of transmission via these objects? If you ask them to tell you the information and you complete the form – how will you ensure their details are not overheard by another customer?

Data protection

Although businesses should encourage customers to provide these details, the customer does have the right to refuse to supply data. Any data you collect must be kept privately and securely, should be held for 21 days, and should be securely destroyed after this time period has elapsed, whether held as paper or digital records.

Important Links

For more information regarding the NHS Test and Trace scheme, click here

For more information from the Government about the role of your business in Test and Trace, click here

For more information from the ICO about keeping Test and Trace data safe, click here

Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Reopening and adapting your food business during COVID-19

Food Hygiene and Health & Safety courses offered by the Safer Food Group