Food Safety at Christmas – Don’t Fall Foul of the Law

Hospitality operators are being reminded to monitor food safety procedures during the festive period. With the busiest period for the hospitality calendar almost upon us with operators often at full stretch ,this is also the season where food poisoning cases peak. And while many cases of food poisoning can be attributed to mistakes at home, they can also go hand-in-hand as caterers operate at full stretch outside the scope of their normal day-to-day operations. According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), cross-contamination is one of the most common causes of food poisoning.

Consequences of not following food safety procedures can be catastrophic, a pub manageress and her chef were both jailed after a diner tragically died and 31 people suffered food poisoning after eating a four-course Christmas lunch at a pub/hotel in Hornchurch. The pub group was fined £1.5 million for having ‘manifestly inadequate’ food safety measures in place. Imposing the fine the judge said that the amount recognises the ‘seriousness of the offence’ and so its management and shareholders recognise the need to ‘operate within the law,’ the judge said.

The chef had failed to follow food safety procedures in preparation and storage, and both the manager and the chef then attempted to cover their tracks by falsifying records.

The tragic incident emphasises that effective management and regular food hygiene checks are imperative for food safety. All hospitality and catering businesses therefore need to maintain up-to-date and accurate safety records.

“Maintaining strict temperature parameters is vital to ensure safe fresh tasting produce says wireless temperature monitoring specialists Logicall, “Our robust data loggers are small enough to fit into any cold storage unit ensuring temperature data is recorded, monitored and analysed throughout the entire cold chain. All records comply to HACCP procedures and are accessible from anywhere, anytime. Perfect for a catering establishment with a clear view on food safety. Once installed our system will automatically record temperature data at intervals chosen by you. All the data is fully EHO compliant and will save you the constant headache of manually recording the temperature of each of your fridges and freezers. Live email or text alerts will be sent should a unit’s parameters be breached, meaning no matter where you are, you will have the time to eliminate any stock losses. Saving you both time and money.”

Fiona Sinclair, director of food safety consultancy STS provides insight on how to ensure that you have a trouble-free festive period

1 Staphylococcus (the party bug)

This naturally occurring food poisoning bacteria is present in about 40% of foodhandlers’ noses, mouths and throats, and on 15% of the population’s skin. Food that is handled closely during preparation, such as salads, sandwiches and canapés, can easily become contaminated if you have a food-handler with sloppy personal hygiene (unwashed hands, coughing and sneezing while preparing food, or uncovered cuts).

The key to avoiding contamination is good personal hygiene, alongside safe temperature and time control to limit the production of toxins. Points to consider include:

• Catering for larger-than-usual volumes of party buffets will require sufficient capacity of chilled storage space.
• Create additional space using extra shelves, trolleys in walk-in fridges or even hired units.
• Once food is on display or out for service, the law states that it can be kept out of chilled temperature control only once and for a maximum of four hours. We would strongly advise reducing this time as, not only has the food been in the temperature danger zone, it could also have been exposed to the risk of bugs, such as norovirus from guests’ hands.
• It’s not just chilled storage that needs attention; you should also ensure that here is adequate capacity for other temperature control, such as hot holding.

2 Proactive allergen management

Caterers have come a long way since the allergen laws were introduced in December 2014. However, collating allergen information for new and seasonal menus can be more of a reactive process than a proactive one. Suppliers can often be slow at providing allergen information, so make sure you get started early.

Another thing to consider is ensuring that you encourage guests and customers who have allergies to tell you. If you can capture their allergy information during the booking process – whether that’s on a booking form for functions, website booking or verbally over the phone – then you can prepare all the necessary precautions ahead of their visit.

3 Casual staff – avoiding ‘loose cannons’

Even when waiters are hired as socalled low-risk food handlers, the law for suitable food safety instruction, training and supervision still applies, whether or not they are directly handling food. Make sure you clearly set the standards and give straightforward, relevant instructions to casual food handlers on all the essential hygiene rules that they need to follow.
Take into consideration any language barriers and focus on what they really need to know. Retain written confirmation that each person has received this instruction for due-diligence purposes.

4 Law for temporary premises/equipment

Party catering may involve temporary kitchens in marquees, mobile stands, pop-ups or Christmas market stalls. Arrangements such as the removal of waste and effective temperature control will need to be considered, as will the supply of hot water Where high-risk, open food is to be handled, merely using hand sanitiser is not an adequate substitute for the correct handwashing facilities – even if the source is the hot-water urn.

5 Campylobacter (Christmas bug)

Research shows that about 70% of chickens are contaminated with campylobacter, and as another member of the poultry family, turkey may also be naturally contaminated with the so-called ‘Christmas bug’.

There are two main threats from campylobacter. The first is cross-contamination, so ensure you use separate areas and equipment for handling raw poultry. You should also follow cooking times closely.

Christmas food safety is all about the planning, the gift that nobody wants is poisoning. Keep the spirit of the festive season alive and well, review your food safety management systems and putting suitable controls and monitoring in place. This will leave you free to enjoy the party with complete peace of mind.