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.

1. 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.

2. 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

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

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

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

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?