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

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!

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 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.’

Keeping your customers safe + Covid-19 Signage

Feedback from customers to shops open during the pandemic has proved that they appreciate businesses that take customer safety seriously. Thinking about the journey your visitors take, and how to make that journey as smooth and efficient as possible will help them feel valued and that can only be a good thing, for your customers, your staff and your business. A clear route with bold signage is the first step to bringing customers back onto your premises safely.

Free covid-19 signage, social distancing signage
Free COVID-19 signage / Social distancing signage to help you work within current government guidelines

Step 1 – Outside Spaces

Think about social distancing outside your premises. How do you encourage people to stay 2 metres apart? What are the best methods for you? Think about window posters, floor stickers, rope barriers or free standing frames and flags that can show the customer what is expected of them.

Step 2 – Entrances and Exits

Is it clear to the customer when and where, or even if, they can enter your shop? Think about the messages you want to place at the entrance. Do you need to specify the number of people allowed in at one time? Do you need to let them know which direction to walk in, and what to do once inside? Walk through the process yourself to spot the potential questions and pitfalls. A member of staff on the door to manage the queue can be a great asset, especially if they can chat to customers, lighten the mood and make the experience more pleasant.

Step 3 – Inside the shop

Your customer needs to know how to walk round the shop, where and when to stop, how to order and how to pay. Think about the best way to communicate – stickers on the floor or posters on walls or hanging from ceiling could indicate direction, whereas ordering and payment instructions are best both before and at the point of purchase. And while you’re thinking about signage inside the shop, if you’ve never got round to displaying your Food Hygiene Rating sticker and your team’s food hygiene certificates, now is a great time to get it done!

Design considerations

Do you want a quick and easy solution – if so, check out our free download, ready for you to print up to A3 size or on A4 on a standard printer.  Or do you have a ‘corporate image’ that you would like a designer to incorporate into your signage?

Think about suitable materials. Is paper sufficient – you can amend and replace it easily … or do you need to visit a specialist printer, who can print on longer lasting, weather proof or adhesive material, and provide you with hardware such as frames, screens and flags (N.B. – if you are thinking about floor or hanging signage, please ensure you visit a printer who understands and follows required health and safety guidelines). We’re happy for you to take our templates to a professional printer, but please ask them to drop us a quick line for permission if they’d like to adapt our designs in any way, on clare.grantham@thesaferfoodgroup.com.

Restarting a food business after a temporary shutdown

A quick internet search will reveal a whole raft of information and advice regarding food business operations during and after the pandemic. This checklist, written by the brilliant team at the Institute of Food Science and Technology, is the most comprehensive and easy to follow list we’ve found.

Restart checklist

Important Links

The IFST Knowledge Hub contains a lot of great resources to consolidate advice, practical guidance and links to resources to support individuals, smaller food businesses and larger food operations

IFST Covid-19 Knowledge Hub