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.

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

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.