Do I need a food hygiene certificate?

Whether you are an established cook or looking for your first role in catering, a food hygiene certificate is an important part of your toolkit. We look at the top 5 reasons for passing your food safety course before you apply for that dream job.

Training makes you a safer worker

This one should go without saying. The fundamental reason for taking a food hygiene course is to learn the principles of preparing safe food – it’s that simple! Understanding food safety challenges such as cross-contamination and knowing the difference between a Best-Before and a Use-By date are really important skills in a kitchen. Having an up-to-date certificate to show you have already mastered these skills gives an employer confidence before you even arrive for an interview and helps you hit the ground running.

A certificate sets you apart from other candidates

This one is especially important when you are starting out in the food industry, perhaps looking for your very first food industry job. A food hygiene certificate demonstrates that you are genuinely interested enough in the sector to invest in your own training. For an entry level job, you won’t need to break the bank –  Level 2 Food Safety (aka ‘Basic Food Hygiene’) is usually sufficient, and you can buy a single online course for £12+ VAT. BUT – there are lots of courses out there, and they vary in quality – make sure you look for a course that is accredited by a reputable body, such as Qualifi or CPD

Training gives you confidence to make the right decisions

Roles in catering and hospitality are generally busy and at some point you may be working without supervision. You need to be able to make the right decisions when working alone, and taking food related training courses, such as Food Safety, HACCP and Allergy Awareness, will help you to do that.

You need to understand your personal, legal responsibilities

This is the scary one. As a food handler, you have a legal responsibility to do everything you reasonably can to make sure the food you serve is safe to eat. A good food hygiene course will explain your legal responsibilities and those of your employers and supervisors.

Good food hygiene helps you prevent waste

The food industry is becoming increasingly focussed on the environmental impact of food waste. Having a good understanding of food safety practices – especially fridge and freezer temperatures, food labelling and hot-holding, cooling and reheating methods – will enable you to do your bit in the war on waste. And for your employer, that means cost savings too – a big win-win!

Food Safety courses are readily available online, and can generally be taken in your own time, at your own pace. Good training providers will allow you to sample course content before you buy to check it is right for you – so perhaps a better question would be: ‘Why wouldn’t I need a Food Hygiene certificate?’

What is Acrylamide and do I have to worry about it?

Food Safety Focus

What to watch out for when working with starchy foods

Acrylamide is a chemical that forms during a reaction between sugars and amino acids in starchy food, particularly when that food is cooked at high temperatures. Based on scientific studies, it is believed to be carcinogenic – that means, cancer forming – and therefore we should all be aware of its presence and understand what we can do to minimise its production when we cook.

Food handlers and food businesses have a legal responsibility to ensure that the food they produce is safe to eat. Therefore, all food businesses should be aware of and take steps to minimise the production of acrylamide when purchasing, storing, preparing and cooking food, and food handlers should follow any plans that are put in place. The responsibility of food handlers and producers to minimise acrylamide levels is specifically addressed in EU Regulation 2017/2158.

What foods may contain acrylamide?

  • chips, french fries, other cut, deep fried potato products and sliced potato crisps from fresh potatoes
  • potato crisps, snacks, crackers and other potato products from potato dough
  • bread, including loaves, rolls and baguettes, toast and toasted sandwiches
  • breakfast cereals (excluding porridge)
  • baked products including cookies, biscuits, rusks, cereal bars, scones, cornets, wafers, crumpets and gingerbread, as well as crackers, crisp breads and bread substitutes
  • coffee: roast coffee, instant (soluble) coffee, coffee substitutes
  • baby food and processed cereal-based food intended for infants and young children

What steps should I take to keep food safe in my business?

  • Understand your legal position – different types and sizes of food business have different legal responsibilities.
  • Use a reputable published guide to check if any of the foods produced within your business presents an acrylamide risk (links to FSA: SFBB and UK Hospitality guides are below).
  • If you do produce acrylamide prone foods, use those guides to establish safe ways to produce these, and include this information in your Food Safety Management System (e.g. SFBB or HACCP).
  • Ensure all relevant staff are trained in these safe production guidelines – make sure any guidance you produce is clear and easily accessible.
  • Include acrylamide in your regular FSMS review process.

What are safe production methods to reduce production of acrylamide?

The most obvious indicator that a food has been cooked at too high a temperature is its colour – make sure fried, toasted or baked products reach a golden yellow, or lighter colour. Other quick tips include:

  • Store potatoes in a cool, dark place above a temperature of 6 degrees C, to discourage production of sugars
  • Always follow manufacturers’ instructions on part and pre cooked products
  • Use cooking oils that perform most effectively at lower temperatures

However, there are many more steps within the purchasing, storage, preparation and cooking processes that you need to follow to stay safe – we recommend you refer to Safer Food, Better Business or your relevant industry guides for more detailed information.

Our Customers: Smith’s Community Support

Safer Communities – How CICs are empowering volunteers through training

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’… whilst the pandemic has been incredibly tough, it has also shone a spotlight on some brilliant volunteer work, undertaken by teams and individuals within communities across the UK, working hard to support community members who need some extra help. At The Safer Food Group, we are very lucky to work with some of these fantastic groups and organisations – including Smith’s Community Support in Ayr.

Smith’s Community Support is a drop-in centre and café, created by Agnes Smith and her team to provide a hub for those who need support and advice, cake and cuppa or just a chat and friendly face. Smith’s Community Support is based within the Tsukure Hub CIC, itself an innovative community project which takes a creative approach to engaging local people and giving them the opportunity to learn new skills. The centre has had many roles during the last year, including a food redistribution point, a cookery school for families on low budgets, an advice centre and a space for community members to volunteer and learn in a working kitchen environment.

The centre is financially self-supporting, running regular fundraising activities in order to continue providing its essential services – which is why The Safer Food Group were keen to help with training courses to enable the volunteers work safely in the kitchen. Once Agnes had tested our courses for herself, she set her team the task of passing their Level 2 Food Safety and Allergy awareness courses. These courses not only enable the team to operate safely within the centre, but they also provide accredited certificates for the volunteers to demonstrate their skills as they seek paid employment.

Like many volunteer organisations, Smith’s and Tsukure have grasped the opportunity to give something back to their volunteers, by focussing on the employment and life skills that they can pass on. We wish Smith’s Community Support , Tsukure Hub CIC and all our voluntary sector partners the best of luck with everything they do, and hope they can continue with the vital work they are doing in rebuilding and strengthening their community.

What are ‘scores on the doors’?

…and how do I get a 5 star food hygiene rating?

Otherwise known as The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (or Food Hygiene Information Scheme in Scotland), scores on the doors are the green stickers you see in the windows and doors of many food establishments throughout the UK.

Similar schemes trialled in countries including the USA, Canada, Denmark and Singapore had shown that a rating scheme that was visible to and accessible by customers significantly improved the hygiene standards of food establishments. Initial work began in the UK in 2005, leading to the eventual roll out by the Food Standards agency (FSA) of the 5 star rating system that still exists today (Pass / Improvement required / Exempt in Scotland).

How do food establishments get a good food hygiene rating?

Inspections are carried out by local authority Environmental Health teams, ideally every two years for food businesses with good hygiene standards and well trained food handler staff, or more regularly for those businesses that are struggling to achieve those standards. EHOs are trained to measure businesses against a set of criteria, including:

  • Maintaining a secure food supply chain – ensuring all suppliers deliver high quality food that has been stored and delivered safely.
  • Ensuring all food is sold within use-by dates.
  • Storing food in the correct manner, whether this is in a fridge, freezer or dry food store.
  • Storing dry food in cool, clean, well-lit and well-ventilated stores.
  • Keeping fridges operating at 5°C or below and freezers operating between -18°C and -22°C to stop bacterial growth.
  • Minimise time that high risk foods spend in the ‘Danger Zone’; between 8 °C and 63 °C
  • Rotating stock correctly.
  • Chilling hot food and thawing frozen food safely.
  • Storing and preparing raw and ready-to-eat foods separately to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting all equipment, surfaces, and clothing correctly.
  • Following all personal hygiene procedures including thorough hand-washing.
  • Ensuring that all staff are adequately trained for their role, whether handling food, or managing and supervising others to do so.
  • Making sure food is safe to eat by maintaining recommended core cooking and reheating temperatures.
  • Hot-holding foods at correct temperature and time.
  • Disposing of waste safely and hygienically and maintaining clean outdoor areas.
  • Keeping food equipment clean, free from damage, waterproof, and movable for easy cleaning.

As a customer, should I worry if I can’t see a food rating sticker?

The Food Standards Agency encourage food businesses to display their rating stickers – in fact, in Wales and Northern Ireland it is mandatory for food hygiene rating stickers to be displayed. You might wonder why a business would not want to display a rating sticker – do they have something to hide? The latest ratings for food businesses are also available online, via the FSA website; this is also the place to find out how to report a food business if you have concerns about their safety standards.

What can I do to make sure my food business gets a 5* star rating?

  • As an owner or supervisor, make sure you fully understand what good food safety looks like and how you can bring safe methods and process into your business
  • Make sure your team are fully trained in their roles – we recommend that all food handlers are trained to the standard of a Level 2 Food Hygiene Certificate / Food Safety Certificate at least.

If you are unsure about anything, talk to your local authority’s environmental health team. They are there to advise and would rather you asked a question and kept your customers safe than you make a dangerous, possibly even fatal, mistake

Our Customers: Farmhouse Biscuits

Safer Food manufacturing

Diversification from agriculture into food production and retail feels like a very modern way for farming businesses to adapt and thrive. However, the McIvor family of Higher Oaklands Farm spotted this opportunity in the 1960s, when Farmhouse Biscuits was born.

Growing successfully from tiny roots, Farmhouse Biscuits still operates using the same family values and traditional methods – and the manufacturing business has also embedded a culture of food safety, and a dedication to the wellbeing of its 300-strong team. The staff tell us it’s a great place to work, and their hard work is reflected in a Grade A+ Certification to the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety, for continuous  improvement in food safety, hygiene and quality procedure.

Carel van Bentum, Facilities Manager of the Lancashire based production facility explained how Safer Food Group training is woven into the working lives of their team members. Food Safety and Allergen Awareness are tackled as part of a comprehensive induction programme for new staff. Making use of the flexibility of Safer Food Group training, courses are delivered both online and with the help of tutors in a classroom setting.

And Safer Food Group systems benefit the management team too. Carel can keep a track on learners’ progress, as well as spotting certificates due for renewal using the admin system in his business account – vital when you have a big team to support.

It’s always rewarding to play a small part in the success of a brilliant business – and we love supporting Carel and his team almost as much as we love eating their biscuits! Why not visit their shop and make sure you’re stocked up for National Biscuit Day (yes, really!) on 29th May?

Food Safety Focus – Bacillus cereus

Information adapted from The Safer Food Group: Level 3 Food Safety (Supervisor) course

An aerobic, pathogenic bacteria that produces a heat resistant exotoxin (spore forming).

Description of Bacillus cereus

Bacillus coagulans is one of the good guys – a bacteria that forms the basis of some probiotic foods. Unfortunately, it has less friendly cousin; Bacillus cereus which causes food poisoning.
Bacillus cereus is a soil-dwelling, spore-forming food poisoning bacteria chiefly associated with cooked rice, as well as other starchy foods including pasta and potatoes. If cooked at less than 100°C, bacterial spores survive and germinate, releasing toxins which cause food poisoning.

Food sources of Bacillus cereus

Foods affected include rice, pasta, potatoes, cereals, and spices.

It loves inadequate cooking and poor refrigeration and hates good food hygiene practice. The best way to avoid food poisoning from B. cereus is to avoid reheating rice dishes.

FSA guidelines require cooked rice to be chilled/refrigerated and used within 24 hours.

Symptoms of Bacillus cereus poisoning

Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and occasionally diarrhoea.

Onset time: 1 – 5 hours
Duration: 12 – 24 hours
Carrier Status: None

How to control Bacillus cereus

  • Thorough cooking and rapid cooling of food; typically rice is cooked in boiling water – 100°C – for at least 10 minutes.
  • Following cooking, control bacterial multiplication by the reduction of time in the danger zone after cooking, i.e., control of time and temperature during hot holding, and rapid cooling before storage
  • Refrigerated storage at 5°C or less for no longer than 24 hours
  • Avoid reheating rice dishes if possible – if reheating rice is undertaken ensure recommended FSA cooking temperatures and times are achieved.
  • Take care to prevent cross-contamination

Our Customers: Jilly’s Cupcake House

Home based baking business

In our third post looking at food safety training from the perspective our customers, we talk to Jilly Shah, of Jilly’s Cupcake House, whose charity cake baking turned into a business more than 5 years ago. Jilly started raising money for the A-T Society in 2015, but as orders flooded in, her hobby became her business.

It was at this point, Jilly told us, “I realised I needed to get professional and get Level 2 Hygiene certified. I found the Safer Food Group in a Google search and I’m so glad I did. Studying the course videos gave me so much encouragement and motivation. Not to mention how entertaining Marcus and Nick were throughout the course; it was so enjoyable!

Completing the course helped me so much in my business. I run my bakery from home, so all the tips and guidance I learnt from the course really helped me to transform my home bakery into a professional environment.”

As someone affected by A-T, Jilly continues to run her business with all profits going to the A-T society. We’re glad we have helped just a little in Jilly’s journey, and wish her lots of baking success in the future.

Improving staff retention in hospitality

Employment within the hospitality industry is often regarded as a temporary arrangement, both by employees and employers themselves. What can we do to change this view, and why would it help both businesses and the people working within them?

According to a pre-covid survey commissioned by YouGov, staff turnover in the UK hospitality industry averages around 30% – twice as high as the national average. Some of this turnover is accounted for by seasonality of roles – employing temporary staff to cover busier periods – but the industry is often seen as one for young people and students, to tide them over before embarking on their long term career.

The YouGov survey listed key improvements that would be likely to encourage staff to remain including:

  • Better pay and benefits (63%) 
  • More control over work life and shift patterns (55%) 
  • More stable income and guaranteed hours (52%) 
  • Better career prospects (42%) 
  • More transparency from employers regarding shifts/scheduling (32%)

Why retention matters

In the post covid market, running an efficient operation will be a vital factor in the survival of hospitality businesses. Retaining good staff adds to your operating efficiencies by:

  • reducing recruitment costs
  • reducing training costs
  • improving team stability and morale
  • minimising payroll costs and potential salary errors.

By tackling some or all of the staff concerns listed above, you put your business in a better position to retain staff. Let’s look at three of the major concerns, and consider ways to make improvements.

Better working patterns and shifts

The great news is it is relatively cheap, quick and easy to address staff concerns regarding working patterns and shifts. Creating a system that allows staff to access shift information weeks in advance, and gives them regular, fair and predictable working patterns allows staff better control over their own lives and therefore reduces stress. This may encourage job applications from prospective staff who require stability from their employment – such as working parents or those with caring commitments – who would in turn be more likely to remain in a job that suits their lifestyle.

Consider using an online tool to give greater visibility of rotas to staff. Cloud based tools such as Google calendar or Doodle poll provide low cost and easy to use software which allows your team to view and even collaborate with your resource planners to find the best rota solutions for everyone. Organised forward planning is a very low cost, high impact way to improve your team’s working life.

Better career prospects

To offset the perception of hospitality as low skilled, temporary employment, consider creating a clear career path that staff can follow. Think about suitable training to help them increase the right skills as they follow that path – not just functional job related courses such as food hygiene or allergen training, cookery or sommelier courses, but training that incorporates invaluable softer skills, including team work, customer service and leadership skills. A recognised award programme such as the Catering Professional Award demonstrates that you value a team member enough to invest in their development and future, and can actually encourage new staff to seek employment with you.

Creating a defined career path adds to individual and team stability. Once you have a number of staff who have a good career record with you, they will be able to act as mentors for your less experienced staff and will demonstrate the real benefits in staying with you.

Winners of the 2021 ‘Best Pub Employer’ award, Brewhouse & Kitchen, were commended for their team first approach – this included their innovation training programme that was strengthened during the pandemic, reinforcing the importance the pub and microbrewing company places on staff wellbeing.

Better pay and benefits

Paying minimum wage to staff may look sensible in your budget planning, but it can be a false economy. A low wage is most likely to attract staff who are looking for a temporary, stop gap role while they look for something with better conditions. Also consider that they will attach similar value to their role as you do – so if you demonstrate that you consider your staff to have little value in the benefits you provide, your team will think similarly; this will be reflected in the time they spend in role before looking for a new opportunity.

When deciding on a pay and benefits package, do your research. Look at average pay rates of similar businesses in your area and ensure you don’t undervalue your team. Think about the wider package of benefits you offer – such as tips, staff discount, team meals, long service rewards and annual leave – and be clear about these right from the start.

And one last tip – don’t forget to say thank you! We are all human – the impact of being recognised for a job well done, keeping going through a difficult period, or just being a great colleague is huge.

Marketing your credentials – the hidden benefits of staff training

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. And in turn, this has prompted increasing numbers of consumers to consider whether the food products they buy from small online food operators is actually safe to eat.

Your legal requirements

Remember, 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

Registration as a food business is free in the UK.

As a food business, you are also legally required to ensure that you, and anyone else working with food receives adequate supervision, instruction and/or training in food hygiene for the work that they do.

Use your credentials as marketing tools

As a food professional, how do YOU judge a restaurant’s food safety standards? You know what to look for, so when you are visiting a new food business, you probably check out the FSA Hygiene Star Rating (Food Hygiene Information Scheme rating in Scotland) in the door or window, and seek evidence of staff training certificates once inside.

You can use the same tools to market your online food business. If you are paying for food safety training, as well as nurturing skilled, knowledgeable staff, you should also look for other ways of making a return on your investment; that is to say, use it as a marketing tool. Talk about any training successes you’ve had via your social media accounts and website. This proactive approach shows customers that you care about their safety, and your team’s development.

At The Safer Food Group, we love to see customers celebrating training success. Tag @TheSaferFoodGroup in your social media posts, and we’ll give you a virtual pat on the back – increasing your audience reach and underlining your commitment to producing food safely.

You can also promote your official food hygiene rating – especially effective if you gain a 5 star / Pass rating. The FSA have created a media page and resources to help you advertise your rating virtually – it includes a great little toolkit with some invaluable ideas

You can also provide a link to your official business rating, so your customers can see for themselves – click here for Welsh and English listings and here for Scottish listings

Be proactive – talk about food safety

You might feel uncomfortable talking about food safety on your social media page but remember – it shouldn’t be a taboo subject, and if you uphold high hygiene standards in your business, you should be proud to talk about them. You can guarantee that some of your potential customers want to know – and are too shy to ask – so make it easy for them to choose you!

Our Customers: Case and Brewer Fish and Chips

Takeaway Restaurant

Established in 1963, this independent chippy on the South Coast prides itself on quality – and this is reflected in their customer service, their 5 star hygiene rating – and of course their food! Staff training has changed significantly since those early days, but has always been a key factor in getting things right for their customers.

David, the shop owner told us, “When our local authority originally introduced food hygiene training, it was face to face – we rearranged rotas and spent afternoons in the classroom to get our certificates. Whilst it was great to know our staff were competent, it was always tricky arranging sessions around opening times.

Using Safer Food Group online training has be great for us – it’s much easier to fit in around shifts, and the video lessons feel similar to the classroom course we used to take. The SFG website gives us an up to date record of our staff training, which helps keep a track on our seasonal staff, and all the courses we need are available in one place, including the Level 3 Supervisor, Health & Safety and Allergy Awareness courses.”

Case and Brewer are justifiably proud of their team’s achievements; if you manage a trip to beautiful Dorset this summer, why not pop in and enjoy some freshly cooked fish and chips and some great customer service.