Effective Cleaning in a commercial kitchen

Image from UnSplash

As anyone in a food industry role knows, cleaning is the most powerful tool in the fight against cross contamination. Cleaning is not just about keeping up appearances – efficient and effective cleaning eliminates breeding spaces for harmful bacteria. In its absence, pathogens multiply to dangerous levels, can spread widely within their environment and create a very real risk of food poisoning.

What are the principles of good cleaning practice?

As they are the cornerstone to kitchen hygiene, it is worthwhile taking the time to recap the principles of good cleaning practice.

Cleaning is vital to food safety for the following reasons:

  • Removes food waste and dirt that can harbour pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
  • Reduces the likelihood of a range of food safety hazards contaminating the food.
  • Makes the premises less attractive to pests.

The key principles of good cleaning practice are:

  • Clean surfaces, utensils, equipment and hands between every different task.
  • Clean as you go – don’t let waste and used equipment pile up in the prep area, and clean spills immediately.
  • Use suitable cleaning products and methods for a commercial kitchen and always follow the manufacturers instruction.
  • Follow the process set out in your HACCP plan and cleaning schedules to ensure you get it right consistently.
  • Pay attention to common touch points – regularly touched doors, handles and fridges etc. should be sanitised every 1-2 hours.

When cleaning work surfaces and equipment, two cleaning chemicals are required. Detergents (or degreasers) are used first to remove waste and grease. Disinfectant is then employed to kill pathogens. Some cleaning products combine both detergents AND disinfectant – but in all cases, the manufacturer’s instructions must be followed. These include ‘contact time’ – the time the product must be left on the surface before wiping – and dilution. This is important not only to ensure efficacy of the product, but also to provide some residual protection against bacteria after the product has been used.

In the UK, cleaning products meeting the BS EN standards (BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697) are suitable for use in commercial kitchens.

How do Cleaning schedules support good hygiene?

Cleaning schedules are a crucial part of any food business’ HACCP plan, and, if created using a comprehensive risk assessment approach, form a suitable framework to ensure both front of house and food service personnel perform required cleaning tasks regularly. Cleaning schedules often form a visible indicator of hygiene standards to customers, when displayed in public areas that need very regular cleaning, such as bathrooms.

Some larger companies are now turning to tech solutions for completing cleaning schedules, alongside other HACCP paperwork. Online FSMS solutions are currently early in their development, but no doubt will develop over the next few years to provide a streamlined alternative to paper-based records.

Where does cleaning go wrong?

So where are our cleaning ‘blind spots’? According to our consultant EHO, a number of areas are often overlooked when it comes to cleaning, including:

Manual Tin Openers – often used and then thrown straight back in a drawer, tin openers can harbour moisture and protein, and make and ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

Wire Safety guards on food mixers – whilst bowls and whisks are removed and cleaned, the equipment itself is often neglected, and food residue left behind.

Vacuum pack machines and wet bains-marie – the liquid left in the bottom of these machines is sometimes left at the end of service; the warm, contaminated water forms an effective bacteria soup.

Handwash basins – these are often neglected. By nature of their use, handbasins present a high risk of cross contamination, and should be treated as a common touch point for cleaning purposes.

Deep cleans – this is one of the jobs that is often neglected. Cleaning underneath cupboards, behind equipment and inside cupboards should take place weekly in a busy commercial kitchen.

How did the pandemic affect cleaning practice?

One positive outcome from the pandemic period has been an increased awareness of the importance of good cleaning practices, both front of house and in the kitchen. Whilst levels of cleaning activity have generally reduced since the height of the pandemic, businesses with a good safety culture, managers who lead by example and comprehensive food safety training programmes are typically demonstrating better cleaning practice than in pre-pandemic times.

Good hand hygiene unsurprisingly increased in both staff and customers during the peak pandemic period. According to reports by the FSA (Consumer Handwasher Tracker, The Food Standards Agency, August 2022), handwashing has slipped somewhat from the public’s priorities, but still remains higher than reported pre-pandemic behaviour.

The early stages of the covid-19 pandemic saw a period of uncertainty, where information about preventing the spread of the covid virus was scarce and often conflicting. This period saw a rise in use of chlorine-based products, including bleach, as disinfectants – partly due to misinformation, but also in response to supply issues. Unfortunately, this practice has remained in some commercial and domestic kitchens. Bleach (and other chlorine based products) are corrosive, potentially harmful to health and dangerous when used in combination with other chemicals – and as such should not be used as a disinfectant in food production environments.

Are ‘gentle’ cleaning products effective?

Environmental concerns have led to an increase in development of ‘eco’ cleaning products, and a wide range of these products are now available for domestic use. For commercial kitchens, there are now a small number of environmentally responsible cleaning products available from wholesalers, including the ChemEco range, that meet the necessary BS EN standards.

As with any chemical product, cleaning products should never be mixed with other chemicals, should remain in original packaging where possible, and if diluted and decanted, users must have access to the manufacturer’s instructions.

What new cleaning technology is on the horizon?

Surprisingly, the pandemic has not left a raft of new, improved cleaning tech in its wake. However, one key move in the market – the restriction of single use plastics due to come into force in October 2023 – may have a positive influence. Retailers are being encouraged to accept customers’ containers for take-away foods; however, this presents an obvious cross contamination risk. Could we see a development in UV technology that provides a quick, effective method of sanitising take-away tubs for reuse?

This information post has been compiled by The Safer Food Group, leading training provider to the food industry. For more information about our courses, please visit www.thesaferfoodgroup.com or email info@thesaferfoodgroup.com

Single-Use Plastics Ban – Info for Cafes, Restaurants, Take-aways and Street Food vendors

Is your food business ready for October 2023?

Following the success of the plastic bag charge, the Government is set to introduce a ban on the sale and use of many single use plastic items from October 2023. According to figures released by Defra at the end of July 2023, the use of single-use supermarket plastic bags has fallen 98% since retailers in England began charging for them in 2015.

How will food businesses be affected by the single use plastics ban? And what items will be included in the new legislation?

The October 2023 ban will include many single-use plastic and polystyrene items, including: cutlery, balloon sticks and some plates, trays, bowls, polystyrene cups and food containers. From the introduction of the ban, food businesses in England including retailers, takeaways, food vendors and hospitality outlets will not be able to offer these products to their customers. This brings businesses in England in line with those in Scotland and Wales, who have complied with similar laws since 2022.

Plastic stirrers and straws are already restricted, following laws introduced in 2020.

What plastic products will not be covered by this ban?

A temporary exemption will apply to plates, trays and bowls that are considered to be packaging and cannot be replaced with a non plastic alternative – for instance, pre-packaged salad bowls, soups, desserts, or bowls or trays that are filled with food at the counter of a takeaway. Polystyrene cups for food that will be heated after purchase will also be exempt. These products will all be subject to different legislation at a later date, as part of the Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme (details to follow when available).

Can I replace my plastic items with biodegradable plastic?

No – the legislation applies to all types of single use plastic, even biodegradable or compostable versions.

I have loads of plastic cutlery in stock, can I use them after September 2023?

No – after the legislation comes into force, you will not be able to use any banned plastic products, even if you have already purchased them. So, before the ban comes into effect, you’ll need to think about all the products you need to use up and research the alternatives to replace them. Don’t forget to consider the difference in cost of these alternatives, and potential supply issues, especially as many businesses will be switching at a similar time. Alternative solutions you may consider include:

  • using biodegradable alternatives (e.g. bamboo or cardboard)
  • encouraging customers to bring their own reusable containers and cutlery, perhaps by offering an incentive or discount.

As we’ve already discussed, alternatives to single-use plastic may be more expensive and you may need to pass these costs onto your customer. If this is the case, make sure you communicate with your customers in advance. Highlighting the environmental benefits of your new packaging can be a great way to get them on board, and it’s very likely that they will see similar changes in competitors and other food businesses.

What are the implications of the ban on food safety?

One concern for food safety experts is the potential use of customers’ own containers for takeaway and retail food. Where does the responsibility for food safety sit with food that is produced, then placed into a container that is potentially contaminated, damaged or unsuitable for the food that is placed with it?

Although use of customers’ own containers is currently being mooted as a potential method, unless the cleanliness of these containers can be guaranteed, it is unlikely that many food business owner will feel happy to sell food in this way. We could see the development of quick, efficient sanitisation methods that facilitate this – perhaps UV sterilisation? A better alternative might be investment into deposit and return schemes, which enable regular customers to pay a deposit for containers, then return them to the business for thorough cleansing and later reuse. Perhaps a universal container deposit scheme may emerge as a result of the single use plastic ban?

Ideas for alternatives to single use plastic are suggested by environmental campaigners, Rewrap https://www.refill.org.uk/alternatives-to-single-use-plastic/

This information post has been compiled by The Safer Food Group, leading training provider to the food industry. For more information about our courses, please visit www.thesaferfoodgroup.com or email info@thesaferfoodgroup.com

HACCP forms for Catering and Hospitality

The forms below have been prepared as part of The Safer Food Group’s Level 2 HACCP Awareness course. Please make use of them for your own business or home catering needs.

If you would like to republish these forms on your own website or publication, please contact info@thesaferfoodgroup.com for further information.

Hot Holding Record

Freezer Temperatures

Cleaning Schedule

Cooking Temperature Record

Fridge Temperatures

Treat or Trick?

Make Hallowe’en allergy-safe

October 2021 marked significant changes in food labelling legislation throughout the uK. The introduction of Natasha’s Law, in response to the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laprouse, imposed additional labelling requirements onto foods classified as PPDS – pre-packed for direct sale.

One year on, have these changes led to an improved situation for customers? YouGov research suggests that almost two thirds of consumers are still unaware of the stricter rules now followed by food outlets. More significantly, 45% of respondents to the survey said that lack of confidence in food handlers’ allergy awareness prevented them from buying food from certain outlets.

What can we do to improve this situation in our food businesses?

  • Be aware of all relevant food legislation

For instance, do the latest legislative amendments apply to your business? PPDS is food that is produced and packed on site for later sale, so your Hallowe’en range might introduce items such as pre-packed cakes and biscuits, wrapped toffee apples, and sweet cones. Do you know how to label these foods, and how this differs to other food in your range? Take time to understand your legal duties and make sure you’re fulfilling them in your business

  • Take a proactive approach

Don’t wait for a customer to ask you about allergens – ask them first. Some customers, especially younger or less confident ones, may hesitate to ask, even if they know they have a specific allergy. Giving them an opportunity to tell you about allergies increases their confidence in your professional approach to food safety

  • Train your team

Allergens can be a scary subject. Getting it wrong can be fatal, so it’s no wonder some food handlers are not confident about talking to customers about their needs. Help your team out by getting them properly trained – a Level 2 course will give them the fundamental understanding of allergenic ingredients and how to deal with them, as well as equipping them with the skills needed to communicate with customers. Level 3 training is suitable for supervisors required to risk assess their food business, and implement suitable systems, processes and communication methods, to ensure they are both legally compliant AND safe for customers with allergies.

When you understand allergenic ingredients and how to deal with them in your business, it’s not such a spooky subject! Let’s keep everyone safe this Hallowe’en and beyond.

Further Reading

‘One year on from Natasha’s Law consumers are still in the dark about allergy labelling’ – BSI, October 2021

Food allergy management for community groups and charities

Challenges for community groups serving food

Community organisations often face unique challenges when serving food. These can include:

  • Sourcing safe food – food may be donated from various sources or homemade, so accurately monitoring ingredients and potential for cross contamination may be tricky or even impossible
  • Inexperienced teams – food handlers may be volunteers without food industry experience or training, and the team may not be consistent from event to event. They may not be confident to deal with difficult questions and potentially too eager to answer with a positive message, rather than an accurate answer
  • Inexperienced supervisors – those supervising food production may themselves be inexperienced and may not have adequate understanding to put safe processes into place and ensure they are carried out.

The key factors to managing allergens safely in a community organisation setting are the same as in a commercial setting: accurate risk assessment, easy to follow processes and clear communication.

Food allergen legislation for community groups and charities – how does the law apply to us?

Unless your organisation is registered as a food business, you will not be subject to many of the food allergen laws, including the latest ‘Natasha’s Law’. Organisations that supply food on an occasional and small-scale basis usually do not need to register as food businesses; however, if you provide food on an organised and regular basis, you’ll need to register with your local authority – Follow this link to the FSA guidance

Whether or not you are a registered food business however, food legislation provides a good framework to help you operate safely. Here is some key information about food allergy law that will help you operate safely:

 There are 14 allergenic ingredients that are listed by the Food Standards Authority. These ingredients – or ALLERGENS – are those most likely to cause an allergic reaction. In law, registered food businesses must declare their use to their customers. Here’s a useful poster of those 14 listed allergens.

Other ingredients can also be allergens, even if they don’t appear on the list. Ingredients such as strawberries, kiwis, and peas are increasingly causing allergic reactions, so it is always useful to have a list of all ingredients contained within any food you offer.

Food ingredients labelling depends on how the food is packaged. Food classified as ‘pre-packed’ has a different labelling requirement from food ‘pre-packed for direct sale’, which is different again from food sold ‘loose’. For further information, see our post about Natasha’s Law

Do I need to worry about allergens if I’m not a registered food business?

Even if your organisation is not required to follow food allergy legislation, it is still within your interests to take sensible precautions in order to keep your customers and supporters safe. Training all of your volunteers in food safety and allergen management may not be an effective or proportionate solution – but it is often reassuring to have one or two experts trained up and ready to advise. The Safer Food Group offers cost effective, flexible, online training, with discounts for larger organisations – get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

Whether or not you have a trained expert on your team, it is sensible to risk assess your food operations and make any necessary adjustments. Think about the journey your food products take, from ingredients through production to serving. Do all of your food products take the same journey? (for instance, do you produce all your food in house, or do you also accept ready-to-sell donations?) If not, you’ll need to run through this assessment for all different categories of foods.

Here’s a simple matrix that can help you start to think about the journey your food takes, and the risks that might be introduced along the way. This matrix is based on a real example, but it is important you consider your own organisation carefully and make adjustments for the way you operate. At this stage, just concentrate on allergens, but you could use a similar approach to general food hygiene and safety. To keep things clear, you should undertake this process for each different type of food you serve:

The next stage is to think about whether you can eliminate those risks, whether you can minimise the risks, or whether the risks are impossible to mitigate. Taking donated cakes as an example:

Looking at the risks and measures you’ve identified, come up with an achievable plan and think about the way you will communicate the plan with everyone involved – in this case, donators of cakes, those preparing and serving the cakes, and your customers. Don’t forget, if you are working with inexperienced volunteers, you will need to consider what actions may be too complicated or onerous.

In this example, you’ll see that the risk has not been eliminated completely, but steps have been taken to minimise allergen contamination and the risks are communicated clearly with customers. As a minimum, we must enable allergy sufferers to make an informed choice about whether or not they can safely eat our food.

Once you’ve risk assessed and created a plan, do a ‘dry run’ to check your thinking – and go back and adjust any areas that haven’t worked out as you expected.

Getting volunteers on board

Dealing with food allergies can be daunting for a food professional, let alone a volunteer who is serving cakes at a jumble sale. Some may be reluctant to change from current methods, whilst other may struggle to acknowledge the seriousness of food allergies. It is important for those in leadership roles to convey the importance of good practice whilst being sympathetic to those who are reluctant to change.

This can be made easier by asking a small team of volunteers to become food safety experts within your group. Both food hygiene and food allergy management training can be easily accessed and flexible – The Safer Food Group offers basic online Food Hygiene Level 2 or Food Allergy Awareness Level 2 for £12 + VAT per course. For larger groups, volume-based cost savings can reduce course prices to £6 per course – ideal if you can purchase on behalf of a larger district or region. Once you have experts in place, they can take an active role in creating safe processes as well as disseminating key information to other group members.

Keep Kids Fed with the Summer Food Scheme

Small food businesses – local cafes, restaurants and pubs – are at the heart of their communities. They understand their customers and provide more than just food and drink: a meeting place, a listening ear, a social routine.

During the pandemic, many local food businesses became a source of help to those in need, and with the school summer holidays looming, they look set to do the same again.

The Safer Food Group offers a package of support to all of those food businesses that offer special deals to families during the summer holidays. We’ve created a set of free marketing materials and a logo, to help you advertise your ‘Summer Food Scheme’ offer to your community. And to help with your business costs, we’d like to offer free Level 2 Food Hygiene Courses* to any company or organisation who puts a Summer Food Scheme in place.

To use our marketing materials – a poster, logo and social media image – click on the images below, download the resources and add your own details. Use them to advertise your scheme online and in your outlet.

And to claim your Level 2 Food Hygiene courses, complete this form, with evidence of your Summer Food Scheme (such as a link to your SM or website, or photos of your advertising). Organisations offering a Summer Food Scheme will be able to claim up to 5 course codes, for Safer Food Group online training courses, to distribute to their teams. Course codes are valid for use within a year.

Don’t forget to use the #SummerFoodScheme when posting on social media – and tag us too, we’d love to follow your stories!

*Free course codes available only as described, 5 courses available per business / organisation. Course codes can be distributed by the applicant to employed staff or volunteers associated with the organisation, allowing them to undertake required learning and exam for Level 2 Food Hygiene award. The Safer Food Group reserve the right to withdraw offer of free codes if applicants appear not to offer a genuine, value added offer in keeping with the Summer Food Scheme principles.

Further information

The Safer Food Group Training

Food Safety Top Tips #5: Safer Foods for little ones

Bright image of banana and bowl of food for a child
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash        

Learning about a range of new foods is great for the development of young bodies and brains but exploring safely should always be first priority.

There are some really well known food safety tips for under 5s, including:

  •               Cut small fruits such as grapes, berries and tomatoes lengthways, then into quarters
  •               Steam or boil firm vegetables like carrots, yams or broccoli
  •               Remove bones from meat and fish
  •               Don’t give whole nuts

But did you know that foods that foods such as bread, jelly and marshmallows could also could create choking hazards? We’ve created the free ‘Guide to Early Years Catering’, for advice about safe foods for little ones, nutrition for under 5s, menu planning and much more

Food Safety Top Tips #4: The 5 second rule

A packet of broken biscuits dropped onto the floor
Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

Everyone knows the 5 second rule – as long as you pick it up in less than 5 seconds, it’s safe to eat food you’ve dropped on the floor.

Let’s set this one straight – that’s outrageous! Good food hygiene is all about keeping dangerous pathogens out of the food we eat. And however hard we try, no-one’s floor is genuinely so clean you could eat your dinner off it. So, don’t rely on the 5 second rule.

There are lots of great rules you can use in your kitchen though. It’s worthwhile knowing the key facts and figures; and if you work in a commercial kitchen, you’ll need to work these into your HACCP plan.

Some effective rules are:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly for 2 minutes before each new kitchen task
  • Avoid the pathogenic danger zone of 8-60 oC
  • Cook food to 70 oC for at least 2 minutes

For more info, have a look at our Level 2 HACCP course, and learn about setting up a Food Safety Management System for your kitchen

Food Safety Top Tips #3: The Killer in your Kitchen

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

What’s the most deadly tool you use in your kitchen?

Kitchen knife? No

Mandolin? It’s tricky to handle, but no.

The kitchen mixer with the dodgy electrical cable? We don’t recommend using this one – but it’s not as deadly as….

Your mobile phone!

Repeated studies have shown that most mobile phones carry a zoo full of germs, including nasties such as Streptococcus, Staphylococcus and E.coli. But we scroll without thinking in between cooking tasks, running the risk that we spread these pathogens through our food to the people we cook for.

Ideally, to cut the risk of cross-contamination, keep your mobile phone out of the kitchen, but if that doesn’t work, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly every time you pick it up. To learn more about the hidden dangers lurking in your kitchen, have a look at our Level 2 Food Hygiene Course

Food Safety Top Tips #2: Can I freeze food past the use by date?

Image of frozen berries
Illustrates article by thesaferfoodgroup.com describing safety regarding freezing food
Photo by Devin Rajaram on Unsplash

With rising food costs and threats of supply issues, we’re all becoming increasingly aware of food waste. So making best use of your freezer makes good sense.

But what are the rules on freezing food? What are the deadlines you must stick to in order to keep food safe?

Freezing food prolongs its use by pausing the effects of harmful bacteria – most bacteria cannot be destroyed by the freezing process. Use-by dates indicate food safety; a product that has passed its use-by date could already be unsafe to eat so you cannot freeze food after the use-by date has passed.

When freezing foods, use information on the product label to work out how long it can be frozen. Defrost in the fridge, then cook thoroughly using safe times and temps and eat within 24 hours. Have a look at our Level 2 Food Hygiene course for more info about the rules for cooking safely