What is glycerol and is it safe to consume?

Image shows plastic cup containing very colourful, iced slushy drink with a yellow straw sitting on a wooden table
Photo by Natalia Marcelewicz on Unsplash

What is glycerol?

Glycerol is an ingredient that is added to some food and drink, to keep products moist, preserve them, to change their texture or to sweeten them. Glycerin (or glycerine) is a very closely related ingredient.

It is also widely used in pharmaceuticals – for instance in cough syrups and topical treatments such as wound and burn creams.

Following a number of cases of glycerol intoxication in children, the FSA have issued guidelines to food manufacturers and retailers regarding levels of glycerol in food and drink and how to serve specific products.

What foods and drinks contain glycerol?

Because it is used to sweeten and to moisten, glycerol is found in a small quantities in many processed foods. Check your packet of tortilla wraps, chewing gum, cake icing or cereal bars – you can expect to find glycerol towards the bottom of the ingredients list, showing that a small amount of it has been used in that product.

The FSA has released guidelines that relate specifically to slushy drinks, because of the levels of glycerol in some of these products and the way they are sometimes consumed. In some slushie drinks, glycerol is used both to create the slushy texture and to sweeten the drink, so can appear in relatively high levels compared to other foods and drinks. It can sometimes be sold as a ‘bottomless’ drink, particularly in family orientated venues, leading to high levels of consumption over short time periods.

What age groups does glycerol pose a risk to and why?

Glycerol intoxication can happen in children aged about ten and under, causing them to develop headaches, sickness, and in extreme cases, shock, hypoglycaemia and loss of consciousness. This is because their smaller bodies cannot break glycerol down as efficiently as an adult or older child.

Because some slushy drinks contain particularly high levels of glycerol, the FSA recommends that children under 10 only consume limited amounts and are not offered free refills by retailers.

Regarding children and babies under 4, the FSA say,

“The FSA’s risk assessment considered a worst-case exposure scenario in which a child consumed a 350 ml slush drink containing the highest level of glycerol used (50,000 mg/L) and compared this to a threshold above which adverse effects could occur. Children aged 4 or below would exceed this threshold.

Their recommendations are that slushy drinks are therefore avoided for this age group.

What should food businesses do to prevent harm?

The FSA have made four recommendations to food businesses regarding slushy drinks:

  1. “Brand owners will ensure that their customers are fully aware of the FSA’s risk assessment of the use of glycerol in slush ice drinks.
  2. Brand owners will formulate products to contain glycerol at the minimum quantity technically necessary to achieve the required ‘slush’ drink effect.
  3. Brand owners will advise their customers that sales of slush ice drinks containing glycerol should be accompanied by a written warning visible at point of sale – “Product contains glycerol. Not recommended for children 4 years of age and under’”.*
  4. The business model of free refills is not recommended in venues where children under 10 years of age will consume them.”

Future guidelines on the use of glycerol may be altered accordingly if levels of the ingredient are found to have reduced significantly at future investigations by the FSA.

What help is available for parents and other consumers?

As well as the guidelines issued to food businesses, the FSA have updated their Food Additives page for consumers to include specific advice regarding glycerol. It states:

“Slush ice drinks can contain the ingredient glycerol as a substitute for sugar, at a level required to create the ‘slush’ effect. At this level, we recommend that children aged four years and under should not consume these drinks.

This is due to their potential to cause side-effects such as headaches and sickness, particularly when consumed in excess.”

About us

The Safer Food Group offer food safety training for food businesses in the UK. As food safety experts, we seek to inform our customers of the latest news, advice and guidance within the industry and help them understand the implications for their operations. For more information about The Safer Food Group training, please visit www.thesaferfoodgroup.com

Resources:

* Using the FSA recommended wording, we have created free product signage for you to download

References:

Medicines containing the active ingredient glycerol – (emc)

https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/approved-additives-and-e-numbers

https://www.food.gov.uk/safety-hygiene/food-additives#glycerol

The importance of safe allergen management in Health and Care settings

Unlike catering and hospitality settings, where it can be optional to serve those with food allergies, healthcare catering has a duty of care to provide substantial and suitable food, for all dietary requirements whilst a person is in their care. Clare Grantham, Operations Manager at The Safer Food Group, discusses the key hygiene factors to consider when managing allergens in healthcare settings.

Approximately two million individuals in the United Kingdom are living with a food allergy, whereas 600,000 individuals have been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, according to the Food Standards Agency. With an increasing number of service users and patients presenting food allergies and intolerances, it has never been more crucial for healthcare professionals to be up to date in their knowledge of allergy awareness.

The phrases ‘food allergy’ and ‘food intolerance’ are frequently used concerning one another, despite their major differences. A food allergy is characterised by an immune system reaction to proteins found in food, which can result in serious reactions such as anaphylaxis. On the other hand, food intolerance triggers a reaction in the digestive system and can be life altering.

The occurrence of food allergies in the UK has been steadily increasing, which has become a major public health issue of growing significance. Within healthcare environments, this increase raises the likelihood of unintentional contact with substances that cause allergic reactions, which might result in life-threatening situations for patients who have recognised or undiagnosed food allergies.

There have been notable advancements in UK food allergy regulation in recent years. The implementation of Natasha’s Law plays a key role in regulating the management of allergies in healthcare settings. These standards require that allergenic substances in pre-packed foods be clearly labelled. They also require healthcare caterers to have the skills to handle, communicate, and avoid the spread of allergens. This legislation emphasises the importance of comprehensive allergen management in healthcare catering, whilst ensuring patient safety and promoting informed decision-making around food choices.

Another campaign, which is currently being backed by the Food Standards Agency, is Owen’s Law. This campaign is calling for a change in the law for non-pre-packed food retailers to state the 14 food allergens in writing at the point of sale. If this legislation comes into effect, then the FSA will provide guidance to the industry in advance, which we should have more details on later in the year. 

Identifying and managing the 14 allergens

The UK legislation identifies 14 allergens that require special attention in healthcare catering. These allergens include cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soybeans, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seeds, sulphur dioxide and sulphites, lupin, and molluscs. For healthcare professionals involved in food production or distribution, an understanding of these allergens is a regulatory requirement and an essential aspect of patient care.

Each of these allergens poses unique challenges in a healthcare setting. While some, like nuts and shellfish, are easily identifiable, others such as sulphites or gluten may be present in less obvious forms or as additives in processed foods. The skill lies in not only recognising these allergens but also in effectively managing them to prevent exposure. This involves a thorough examination of product labels, understanding all aspects of food preparation, and establishing effective communication with both kitchen personnel and patients of potential allergenic hazards.

Cross-contamination and safe storage

In a healthcare environment, where the consequences of allergen exposure can be particularly severe, preventing cross-contamination is paramount. Cross-contamination occurs when allergenic substances are transferred to an allergen-free product, making it unsafe for consumption by individuals with allergies.

The key to preventing cross-contamination is clear storage and handling processes. This includes designated storage areas for allergenic ingredients, separate preparation areas, and the use of different utensils and equipment for allergen-free cooking. Regular training sessions for kitchen team members on the importance of these practices can reinforce the seriousness of allergen management and ensure that processes are consistently followed.

Healthcare caterers must ensure that even the smallest quantities of allergens do not come into contact with allergen-free meals, a task that demands a high level of attention to detail and a deep understanding of how allergens can be transferred in a kitchen environment.

Labelling and communication

Effective communication about allergens is a critical component of healthcare catering. Natasha’s Law mandates clear labelling of allergens in both pre-packed foods, which helps healthcare professionals make informed decisions about meal planning for patients with allergies.

The process of labelling and communication begins with the procurement of ingredients, where healthcare caterers must be knowledgeable in interpreting food labels and identifying the presence of allergens. This knowledge then needs to be effectively communicated to the entire catering team, as well as to patients and their families.

To ensure this, healthcare facilities should consider developing extensive communication strategies, including training for staff on how to convey allergen information accurately and sympathetically. Clear, accessible information should be available not just on food packaging, but also in menus and through digital platforms used within the healthcare facility.

Allergen training for healthcare teams

Effective allergen management in healthcare settings relies on expert training for all staff members. Given the variety of roles within a healthcare facility, training should be tailored to each role, ensuring that everyone from kitchen staff to ward personnel understands their part in allergen management.

For kitchen staff, training should focus on identifying allergens, understanding labelling, preventing cross-contamination, and safe food preparation practices. For those delivering care, including nurses and ward managers, training should emphasise the importance of communication about food allergies and the procedures to follow when an allergic reaction is identified.

Regular refresher courses are essential to keep all staff members up-to-date with the latest allergen information and management techniques. The Safer Food Groups offers both Level 2 Allergy Awareness and Level 3 Food Allergy Training for Managers and Supervisors, available to complete online and approved to EHO standards.

Following regulations is not the only objective of allergen awareness and management in healthcare settings; it is crucial for guaranteeing the safety and well-being of patients. In a sector where the consequences of mismanagement can be severe, an in-depth understanding of allergy risks is essential.
Healthcare professionals who have the knowledge and skills required to effectively manage these risks have increased confidence and efficiency in their roles. This confidence translates into a more efficient team, competent in providing consistent, dependable, and safe services to patients. For more information on The Safer Food Group’s training courses, please visit: https://www.thesaferfoodgroup.com/

Food safety and hygiene in hotel buffets

As outlined by the Food Standards Agency, buffets can present challenges in terms of temperature control, cross-contamination, and allergen management. To mitigate these risks, hotels must implement a comprehensive food safety management system that includes regular staff training, clear standard operating procedures, and robust monitoring and record-keeping protocols. This should also include measures such as regularly checking and maintaining food storage and display equipment, providing allergen information for all dishes, and ensuring that all food is properly cooked, stored, and labelled.

Hotels should consider implementing additional measures to address the specific challenges of buffet service, such as monitoring food temperatures regularly and replenishing dishes regularly to avoid prolonged exposure to ambient temperatures. When we look at the specific risks hotel buffets can present in regards to food safety, there are also possible mitigations for these risks:

Cross-contamination

Hotel buffets often have shared serving utensils and dishes, which can lead to cross-contamination between different foods. For example, if a guest uses the same utensil to serve both chicken and vegetables, it could potentially contaminate the vegetables with harmful bacteria. If the chicken has not been properly prepared, then any danger presented by harmful bacteria will be more widely spread.

Hotels can implement separate utensils and serving tools for different dishes, especially for allergen-free options or to accommodate other dietary requirements. They can also provide clear labels for all dishes and ensure staff are trained on proper handling and cleaning techniques.

Temperature control

Buffet food must be kept at the correct temperature to prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. Hot food at buffets must be kept at 63℃ or above. If this is not possible, you can remove food from hot holding and display it for up to two hours, but only once. Food not used within two hours should be reheated until steaming hot and returned to hot holding, or chilled as quickly as possible to 8°C or below. Throw it away if it has been out for more than two hours. Remember not to mix new food with food already on display if you take food out of hot holding to display it. This could result in older food being left out for an extended period.

When displaying cold food, such as on a buffet, use suitable chilled display equipment to keep it at 8°C or below. If this is not possible, food can be displayed out of chilled storage for up to four hours, but only once. Check the temperature of the food regularly and make sure you know how long it has been on display or kept out. Food that has not been consumed within four hours can be returned to the refrigerator and kept at 8°C or lower until it is consumed. It should be thrown away if it has been out for more than four hours. If the food is not stored at the correct temperature or is left out for too long, it can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

Hotels can use hot holding equipment that maintains food temperature at 63℃ or above, or chilled display equipment to keep food at 8℃ or below to ensure that food is kept at the correct temperatures. They can also regularly monitor the temperature of the buffet and the food items, and discard any items that have been left out for over 2 hours for hot food, and 4 hours for chilled food.

Staff hygiene

The hygiene of the staff preparing and serving the food is also critical. They must follow proper hand washing protocols to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses, with designated areas for hand washing.

Hotels can ensure that staff are properly trained on safe food handling techniques and that they wear gloves where appropriate and hairnets when handling food. They can also regularly check the hygiene of the staff and encourage them to wash their hands frequently.

Allergen control

Buffets can also pose a risk to guests with food allergies. If a guest accidentally consumes an allergen due to cross-contamination or improper labelling, it could result in a severe allergic reaction.

Hotels can provide separate serving tools, dishes and utensils for allergen-free options. They can also ensure that all dishes are properly labelled with any allergens present and that staff are trained on how to handle allergen requests and questions. Additionally, they can consider offering pre-packaged options for guests with severe allergies.

At The Safer Food Group, we work closely with hospitality businesses to help them develop the skills they require to design and implement robust food safety management systems that meet legal requirements and industry best practices. With the right systems in place, hotels can provide their guests with a safe and enjoyable dining experience while protecting their reputation and ensuring compliance with food safety regulations.

A gluten-free Christmas: Understanding and Catering for Coeliac Disease

Image shows colourful chopped vegetables on a chopping board, including red chillies, green spring onions and white leeks, alongside a chef's knife
Max Saeling on UnSplash

Following a discussion on This Morning on Tuesday, the topic of catering for individuals with coeliac disease during the festive season has gained significant attention – and not all for the right reasons. Whether you’re cooking for your loved ones at Christmas, or working in a professional setting, catering for those with dietary requirements is such an important aspect of food safety and, when handled properly, can be done with little impact on the food you serve this festive season.

What is Coeliac Disease?

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition triggered by the consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Unlike food allergies, coeliac disease can cause severe long-term damage to the digestive system. Even trace amounts of gluten can provoke an autoimmune response, making strict dietary adherence essential. Understanding this distinction is key to catering for those with coeliac disease during Christmas.

The high level of gluten in processed foods poses a significant challenge. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley, with wheat flour being commonly used in food production. Wheat flour is not just in bread, pasta, and pastries but is also used as a thickening agent in sauces and a coating in processed snacks. When planning a gluten-free Christmas menu, it’s vital to check ingredients for hidden gluten sources – it should be highlighted as an allergen in the ingredient list.

Cross-contamination with gluten

Cross-contamination in domestic kitchens can easily occur when gluten-free foods come into contact with gluten-containing foods. This can happen through shared utensils, cutting boards, or even toasters and air fryers. Understanding and preventing cross-contamination is crucial in a gluten-free kitchen.

If a guest has asked you to keep your house free from gluten, they are likely concerned about the effects of consuming even small traces of gluten. That is not to say that they think you have poor hygiene standards – cross-contamination happens more than you imagine in most domestic kitchens.

When baking or cooking in the oven, place gluten-free items on the top shelf to prevent crumbs or particles from gluten-containing foods above from contaminating them. Deep-fat fryers previously used for gluten-containing foods should be avoided, as they can be a significant source of cross-contamination.

Catering for a gluten-free Christmas

Creating a gluten-free festive menu doesn’t mean compromising on tradition or taste. When planning your festive menu, start with fresh, whole foods like meats, vegetables, and fruits, which are naturally gluten-free. Traditional roasts, such as turkey or ham, are excellent choices for the main course. Be cautious with processed foods; hidden gluten is often found in sauces, dressings, and seasonings. Reading labels is crucial, as gluten can lurk in unexpected places.

For stuffing, explore alternatives like quinoa, rice, or gluten-free bread, enhancing them with herbs, chestnuts, and gluten-free sausage meat for flavour. Gravy can be thickened with cornflour or a gluten-free flour blend instead of regular flour. Desserts don’t need to be a challenge either; gluten-free flour can be used in your pudding and pies, and many supermarkets offer gluten-free mince pies and Christmas pudding options.

Serving a gluten-free Christmas dinner is as much about the presentation and communication as it is about the cooking. For starters, consider options like stuffed mushrooms or the classic prawn cocktail. When it comes to the cheese board, traditional crackers can be replaced with gluten-free alternatives, cucumber slices, apple wedges, or gluten-free crispbreads.

Most beverages are gluten-free, with the exception of beer which is usually brewed with wheat, but it’s always good to double-check, especially with flavoured spirits or pre-made cocktails. Importantly, communicate with your guests about the gluten-free options available, and don’t hesitate to ask them directly about their dietary needs and preferences.

For those looking to deepen their understanding of coeliac disease and gluten-free catering, resources such as Coeliac UK provide invaluable information. Additionally, we offer comprehensive courses on food allergies and intolerances, equipping you with the knowledge to cater safely and confidently.

Cross-contamination: How to avoid it in food preparation and handling

Image shows chopping board, full of chopped vegetables including red peppers, green spring onions and leeks, and a large chefs knife
Photo by Max Saeling on Unsplash

Understanding and implementing proper food safety practices is key to safeguarding both your customers’ well-being and your business’ reputation. A crucial aspect of this is preventing cross-contamination, a widespread risk that can lead to serious health issues and legal complications. Here, we will explore what cross-contamination is, the various types of contaminants, the associated risks, and, most importantly, how to prevent it.

What is food cross-contamination?

Cross-contamination occurs when biological, physical, chemical, or allergenic contaminants transfer from one source to another, posing significant health and safety risks, especially in businesses involved in the storage and preparation of food.

Types of contamination

Biological contamination

Biological contamination involves the presence of harmful microorganisms that can compromise food safety and human health. The main types include:

Bacteria

Bacteria are microscopic organisms that can lead to food poisoning. Common sources of contamination include undercooked food, improperly cooked raw meat, unpasteurized milk, and inadequate fruit and vegetable preparation. For example, salmonella bacteria, residing in the intestinal tract of animals, can contaminate meat when the animal is infected.

Viruses

Viruses in food can cause diseases, often resulting from undercooked seafood or contaminated raw produce. Viruses may also be introduced by infected food handlers. As an example, Hepatitis A is an example of a virus that can contaminate food, if the food handler is already infected.

Parasites

Parasites can enter the food supply through various means. Some parasites come from the soil, contaminating fresh produce, while others, like tapeworms, are transmitted through direct contact with animals and food. One example is soil-borne parasites, which can contaminate fresh produce, posing a risk to consumers.

Prions

Prions are infectious agents formed from misfolded proteins. They pose a high risk of neurodegenerative diseases if contracted. A well-known example is ‘mad cow disease,’ which originated in cattle and transferred to humans through contaminated meat.

Physical contamination

Physical contamination occurs when foreign objects inadvertently enter food, posing potential harm to consumers. Common sources and examples include:

  • Packaging materials: Pieces of plastic, glass, or metal from packaging processes
  • Equipment parts: Breakage or wear and tear of equipment used in food processing
  • Foreign objects: Insects, hair, or other extraneous matter that may find its way into food during handling

Physical contamination can present choking hazards and other serious health risks.

Chemical contamination

Chemical contamination involves the presence of harmful chemicals or toxins in food, whether natural or artificial. Common sources and examples include:

  • Pesticides: Transfer from the soil where food is grown or during the manufacturing process
  • Cleaning products: Residues from improperly cleaned surfaces and utensils
  • Food additives: Improper use or contamination during the manufacturing process

Chemical contamination can lead to poisoning, and its effects can be severe and challenging to treat.

Allergenic contamination

Allergenic contamination occurs when allergens find their way into foods that shouldn’t contain them. The most common allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. For those with allergies, even tiny traces of these allergens can lead to adverse reactions. The most common sources of allergenic contamination include:

  • Shared equipment and surfaces when not adequately cleaned between uses
  • Improper storage practices where allergens are stored near items they shouldn’t come into contact with, leading to cross-contamination
  • Insufficient handwashing and cleaning practices, which can lead to cross-contamination after handling allergenic ingredients into dishes which should be allergen-free
  • Using the same cooking methods, for example, using the same cooking oil for gluten-free chips that has been used for battered fish

Food businesses should take every precaution to avoid cross-contamination in food preparation and handling to protect customers with food allergies. There are several ways to prevent cross-contamination with allergens, including:

  • cleaning utensils before each usage, especially if they were used to prepare meals containing allergens
  • washing hands thoroughly between preparing dishes with and without certain allergens
  • storing ingredients and prepared foods separately in closed and labelled containers
  • keeping ingredients that contain allergens separate from other ingredients

If you can’t avoid cross-contamination in food preparation, you need to inform customers that you’re unable to provide an allergen-free dish.

Understanding these types of contamination is the first step in creating effective prevention strategies. Food handlers must be vigilant to ensure the safety and well-being of consumers by addressing each contamination type appropriately.

Where cross-contamination can occur

Food-to-food contamination

Contamination between food items is a recurring risk, particularly when handling raw and ready-to-eat foods in close proximity. This occurs when harmful microorganisms are transferred from one food item to another, often through contact between raw and cooked foods, where juices from raw meat come into contact with ready-to-eat items. Shared utensils can also be a common cause when food handlers use the same chopping board or utensils for both raw and cooked foods.

Person-to-food contamination

Food handlers, while crucial in preventing contamination, can inadvertently become sources if proper hygiene practices are neglected. Common scenarios include inadequate handwashing, leading to the transfer of bacteria and viruses from the food handler to the food, as well as when food handlers are working while ill. This can lead to the introduction of harmful microorganisms into the food, especially in the case of viruses.

Object or surface to food contamination

Surfaces and objects in a food preparation environment can serve as breeding grounds for contaminants, posing a risk when they come into contact with food. Untidy workspaces can lead to the accumulation of contaminants on countertops, chopping boards, and equipment. Inadequate cleaning can also be a cause when not thoroughly sanitising surfaces after handling raw meat or other potentially contaminated items.

Food serving

Serving food to consumers introduces its own set of potential contamination risks. Using the same serving utensils for different dishes can transfer contaminants, as can failing to adequately sanitise surfaces between servings.

Cleaning processes

While cleaning is pivotal for maintaining hygiene, improper cleaning processes can inadvertently lead to contamination. The use of cleaning agents that are not food-safe may introduce chemicals into the food preparation area. Furthermore, if surfaces and utensils are not sufficiently rinsed after using cleaning products, they can leave a residue, contributing to contamination.

The risks of cross-contamination in food

Foodborne illnesses

One of the most immediate and common risks of cross-contamination is foodborne illnesses. When harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or prions are transferred from contaminated sources to food, consumers are at risk of developing illnesses. Common symptoms of foodborne illnesses include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and, in severe cases, hospitalisation.

Legal consequences

Failing to prevent cross-contamination can have serious legal implications for food businesses. Adherence to food safety standards and regulations is not only a moral obligation but a legal requirement. If a business is found negligent in preventing cross-contamination and subsequently causing harm to consumers, it may face legal action, including fines and potential closure.

Reputation damage

Cross-contamination incidents can significantly damage the reputation of a food business. News of foodborne illnesses linked to a particular establishment can spread rapidly through social media and reviews, leading to a loss of customer trust. A tarnished reputation may take a considerable amount of time and effort to rebuild, affecting customer loyalty and business sustainability.

Consumer health risks

Certain groups, such as pregnant women, elderly people, and individuals with weakened immune systems, are at higher risk of severe health consequences resulting from cross-contamination. For example, listeria infection, a type of bacterial contamination, can lead to miscarriage in pregnant women. Negligence in preventing cross-contamination not only jeopardises the health of the general population but poses greater risks to vulnerable groups.

Financial impact

Dealing with the aftermath of a cross-contamination incident can have a significant financial impact on a food business. Costs associated with legal battles, compensations, increased insurance premiums, and the need for extensive corrective measures can place a heavy financial burden on the business, potentially leading to financial instability.

Operational disruption

In very serious cases and usually, as part of a broader set of operational issues, discovering cross-contamination issues may call for the temporary closure of a food establishment for thorough cleaning, disinfection, and corrective measures. This operational disruption can result in financial losses, staff inconvenience, and a decline in customer confidence.

How to prevent cross-contamination in food

Preventing cross-contamination is essential in maintaining food safety standards in any professional kitchen or food-handling environment. Comprehensive practices and adherence to guidelines significantly reduce the risk of harmful microorganisms or substances transferring from one source to another. Here are key measures to prevent cross-contamination in your food business.

Ensuring proper food storage is a fundamental step in preventing cross-contamination. Raw and cooked foods should be stored separately in the refrigerator. Raw meats, poultry, and fish must be placed on the bottom shelf to prevent potential drips onto other items. Additionally, utilise airtight containers to seal and separate different food items, preventing the spread of bacteria and odours.

When it comes to utensils, it’s good practice to designate them for specific tasks, however, this doesn’t need to be the case when thorough cleaning practices are maintained. In large businesses, separating utensils can maintain a clear system for all team members. Implement a colour-coded system for utensils, chopping boards, and other tools to easily identify those used for raw and cooked foods. Establish a rigorous cleaning routine for utensils, ensuring they are thoroughly washed after each use to prevent cross-contact between different ingredients.

Maintaining cleanliness in the food preparation area is essential. Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces, especially those in direct contact with food, to eliminate potential contaminants. Immediate disinfection is crucial after surfaces come into contact with raw meat or other potential sources of contamination. Regularly audit cleanliness standards to identify and rectify potential issues promptly.

Hand hygiene is a fundamental preventive measure. Emphasise the importance of thorough hand washing for all individuals handling food. Encourage staff to wash their hands frequently, especially after handling raw ingredients. Provide easily accessible handwashing stations with soap and disposable towels. Consider the use of disposable gloves, changing them regularly to prevent the transfer of contaminants.

Implement safe shopping practices to prevent cross-contamination before reaching the kitchen. Use separate bags for raw meat to avoid bacterial contamination. Regularly replace plastic bags and promptly discard any with meat juice spillages. Ensure that shopping bags designated for raw meat are cleaned and sanitised regularly.

Following food safety regulations is non-negotiable. Adhering to strict guidelines for covering raw and opened food products, keeping them separate from sealed or ready-to-eat items, and storing meat and fish on the bottom shelf of the fridge are crucial practices. 

Education and training are key components. Ensuring all staff members are thoroughly trained in proper food handling techniques, with regular refresher courses, reinforces best practices and addresses emerging issues. Our Level 2 Food Hygiene course provides team members with a foundational understanding of food safety, covering topics such as cross-contamination, personal hygiene, and safe food handling practices. The Level 3 Food Hygiene course, designed for supervisors and managers, offers a more in-depth exploration of these topics, providing the necessary knowledge to implement and oversee robust food safety measures within the establishment.

Monitoring and enforcing hygiene practices are ongoing efforts. Regular audits help identify and rectify potential sources of cross-contamination, and enforcing hygiene procedures can ensure staff are constantly aware to minimise the risk of cross-contamination.

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a systematic approach to identifying, evaluating, and controlling potential hazards. Develop and implement a HACCP plan tailored to your specific food handling processes. This involves analysing each step of food preparation, identifying critical control points, and establishing procedures to ensure food safety at each stage. Regularly review and update the HACCP plan based on changing circumstances and feedback.

By understanding the risks, adhering to food safety guidelines, and implementing preventive measures, you can contribute to creating a safe and hygienic environment for both your customers and your business. Stay informed, stay vigilant, and prioritise food safety at every stage of your food handling process.

Frequently asked questions

What are the main causes of cross-contamination in food?

The main causes of cross-contamination in food are typically associated with the transfer of harmful microorganisms or substances from one source to another. This can occur through various means, such as when raw meats come into contact with ready-to-eat foods, leading to the transfer of bacteria. Additionally, using the same chopping boards, knives, or utensils for both raw and cooked foods can contribute to cross-contamination. Inadequate hand washing or handling food without proper protection further increases the risk of introducing contaminants.

How do you avoid food cross-contamination?

Avoiding food cross-contamination involves implementing several proactive measures. To prevent bacterial transfer, it is crucial to store raw meats separately from ready-to-eat items. Using separate utensils, chopping boards, and knives for raw and cooked foods helps avoid cross-contact. Regular and thorough handwashing, especially after handling raw ingredients, is a fundamental practice. Considering the use of disposable gloves and changing them regularly adds an extra layer of protection against contamination.

How do you prevent cross-contamination in food storage?

Preventing cross-contamination in food storage requires careful attention to practices. Covering raw and opened food products and storing them separately from sealed or ready-to-eat items is essential. Storing raw meats on the bottom shelf of the fridge helps avoid drips onto other ingredients, and sealing containers securely prevents the spread of bacteria and odours between different food items.

Can cross-contamination occur during delivery?

Yes, cross-contamination can occur during food delivery if proper precautions are not observed. Inadequate temperature control during transportation can lead to bacterial growth, and rough handling or contact with unsanitary surfaces during delivery can introduce contaminants.

Can cross-contamination occur during serving?

Cross-contamination can occur during serving if proper processes are not followed. Using the same serving utensils for different dishes can transfer contaminants, and failing to sufficiently sanitise surfaces between servings can contribute to cross-contamination.

Can cross-contamination occur during cleaning?

Yes, cross-contamination can occur during cleaning if proper hygiene practices are not maintained. The use of cleaning agents that are not food-safe may introduce chemicals into the food preparation area, and leaving residue from cleaning products on surfaces or utensils can contribute to contamination. It is crucial to follow rigorous cleaning procedures to maintain a safe and hygienic food handling environment.

Can cross-contamination cause food poisoning?

Yes, cross-contamination is a common cause of food poisoning. When harmful microorganisms are transferred from contaminated sources to food, consumers are at risk of developing foodborne illnesses with symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to severe cases requiring hospitalisation.

Is cross-contamination dangerous?

Yes, cross-contamination is dangerous as it poses significant risks to public health. It can lead to foodborne illnesses, legal consequences, reputation damage, financial impact, and operational disruption for food establishments.

Is cross-contamination difficult to prevent?

While preventing cross-contamination requires diligence and adherence to proper procedures, it is not inherently difficult. With thorough education, training, and the consistent implementation of food safety measures, businesses can significantly reduce the risk of cross-contamination and ensure a safe food handling environment.

Effective Cleaning in a commercial kitchen

Image from UnSplash

As anyone in a food industry role knows, cleaning is the most powerful tool in the fight against cross contamination. Cleaning is not just about keeping up appearances – efficient and effective cleaning eliminates breeding spaces for harmful bacteria. In its absence, pathogens multiply to dangerous levels, can spread widely within their environment and create a very real risk of food poisoning.

What are the principles of good cleaning practice?

As they are the cornerstone to kitchen hygiene, it is worthwhile taking the time to recap the principles of good cleaning practice.

Cleaning is vital to food safety for the following reasons:

  • Removes food waste and dirt that can harbour pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
  • Reduces the likelihood of a range of food safety hazards contaminating the food.
  • Makes the premises less attractive to pests.

The key principles of good cleaning practice are:

  • Clean surfaces, utensils, equipment and hands between every different task.
  • Clean as you go – don’t let waste and used equipment pile up in the prep area, and clean spills immediately.
  • Use suitable cleaning products and methods for a commercial kitchen and always follow the manufacturers instruction.
  • Follow the process set out in your HACCP plan and cleaning schedules to ensure you get it right consistently.
  • Pay attention to common touch points – regularly touched doors, handles and fridges etc. should be sanitised every 1-2 hours.

When cleaning work surfaces and equipment, two cleaning chemicals are required. Detergents (or degreasers) are used first to remove waste and grease. Disinfectant is then employed to kill pathogens. Some cleaning products combine both detergents AND disinfectant – but in all cases, the manufacturer’s instructions must be followed. These include ‘contact time’ – the time the product must be left on the surface before wiping – and dilution. This is important not only to ensure efficacy of the product, but also to provide some residual protection against bacteria after the product has been used.

In the UK, cleaning products meeting the BS EN standards (BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697) are suitable for use in commercial kitchens.

How do Cleaning schedules support good hygiene?

Cleaning schedules are a crucial part of any food business’ HACCP plan, and, if created using a comprehensive risk assessment approach, form a suitable framework to ensure both front of house and food service personnel perform required cleaning tasks regularly. Cleaning schedules often form a visible indicator of hygiene standards to customers, when displayed in public areas that need very regular cleaning, such as bathrooms.

Some larger companies are now turning to tech solutions for completing cleaning schedules, alongside other HACCP paperwork. Online FSMS solutions are currently early in their development, but no doubt will develop over the next few years to provide a streamlined alternative to paper-based records.

Where does cleaning go wrong?

So where are our cleaning ‘blind spots’? According to our consultant EHO, a number of areas are often overlooked when it comes to cleaning, including:

Manual Tin Openers – often used and then thrown straight back in a drawer, tin openers can harbour moisture and protein, and make and ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

Wire Safety guards on food mixers – whilst bowls and whisks are removed and cleaned, the equipment itself is often neglected, and food residue left behind.

Vacuum pack machines and wet bains-marie – the liquid left in the bottom of these machines is sometimes left at the end of service; the warm, contaminated water forms an effective bacteria soup.

Handwash basins – these are often neglected. By nature of their use, handbasins present a high risk of cross contamination, and should be treated as a common touch point for cleaning purposes.

Deep cleans – this is one of the jobs that is often neglected. Cleaning underneath cupboards, behind equipment and inside cupboards should take place weekly in a busy commercial kitchen.

How did the pandemic affect cleaning practice?

One positive outcome from the pandemic period has been an increased awareness of the importance of good cleaning practices, both front of house and in the kitchen. Whilst levels of cleaning activity have generally reduced since the height of the pandemic, businesses with a good safety culture, managers who lead by example and comprehensive food safety training programmes are typically demonstrating better cleaning practice than in pre-pandemic times.

Good hand hygiene unsurprisingly increased in both staff and customers during the peak pandemic period. According to reports by the FSA (Consumer Handwasher Tracker, The Food Standards Agency, August 2022), handwashing has slipped somewhat from the public’s priorities, but still remains higher than reported pre-pandemic behaviour.

The early stages of the covid-19 pandemic saw a period of uncertainty, where information about preventing the spread of the covid virus was scarce and often conflicting. This period saw a rise in use of chlorine-based products, including bleach, as disinfectants – partly due to misinformation, but also in response to supply issues. Unfortunately, this practice has remained in some commercial and domestic kitchens. Bleach (and other chlorine based products) are corrosive, potentially harmful to health and dangerous when used in combination with other chemicals – and as such should not be used as a disinfectant in food production environments.

Are ‘gentle’ cleaning products effective?

Environmental concerns have led to an increase in development of ‘eco’ cleaning products, and a wide range of these products are now available for domestic use. For commercial kitchens, there are now a small number of environmentally responsible cleaning products available from wholesalers, including the ChemEco range, that meet the necessary BS EN standards.

As with any chemical product, cleaning products should never be mixed with other chemicals, should remain in original packaging where possible, and if diluted and decanted, users must have access to the manufacturer’s instructions.

What new cleaning technology is on the horizon?

Surprisingly, the pandemic has not left a raft of new, improved cleaning tech in its wake. However, one key move in the market – the restriction of single use plastics due to come into force in October 2023 – may have a positive influence. Retailers are being encouraged to accept customers’ containers for take-away foods; however, this presents an obvious cross contamination risk. Could we see a development in UV technology that provides a quick, effective method of sanitising take-away tubs for reuse?

This information post has been compiled by The Safer Food Group, leading training provider to the food industry. For more information about our courses, please visit www.thesaferfoodgroup.com or email [email protected]

Single-Use Plastics Ban – Info for Cafes, Restaurants, Take-aways and Street Food vendors

Is your food business ready for October 2023?

Following the success of the plastic bag charge, the Government is set to introduce a ban on the sale and use of many single use plastic items from October 2023. According to figures released by Defra at the end of July 2023, the use of single-use supermarket plastic bags has fallen 98% since retailers in England began charging for them in 2015.

How will food businesses be affected by the single use plastics ban? And what items will be included in the new legislation?

The October 2023 ban will include many single-use plastic and polystyrene items, including: cutlery, balloon sticks and some plates, trays, bowls, polystyrene cups and food containers. From the introduction of the ban, food businesses in England including retailers, takeaways, food vendors and hospitality outlets will not be able to offer these products to their customers. This brings businesses in England in line with those in Scotland and Wales, who have complied with similar laws since 2022.

Plastic stirrers and straws are already restricted, following laws introduced in 2020.

What plastic products will not be covered by this ban?

A temporary exemption will apply to plates, trays and bowls that are considered to be packaging and cannot be replaced with a non plastic alternative – for instance, pre-packaged salad bowls, soups, desserts, or bowls or trays that are filled with food at the counter of a takeaway. Polystyrene cups for food that will be heated after purchase will also be exempt. These products will all be subject to different legislation at a later date, as part of the Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme (details to follow when available).

Can I replace my plastic items with biodegradable plastic?

No – the legislation applies to all types of single use plastic, even biodegradable or compostable versions.

I have loads of plastic cutlery in stock, can I use them after September 2023?

No – after the legislation comes into force, you will not be able to use any banned plastic products, even if you have already purchased them. So, before the ban comes into effect, you’ll need to think about all the products you need to use up and research the alternatives to replace them. Don’t forget to consider the difference in cost of these alternatives, and potential supply issues, especially as many businesses will be switching at a similar time. Alternative solutions you may consider include:

  • using biodegradable alternatives (e.g. bamboo or cardboard)
  • encouraging customers to bring their own reusable containers and cutlery, perhaps by offering an incentive or discount.

As we’ve already discussed, alternatives to single-use plastic may be more expensive and you may need to pass these costs onto your customer. If this is the case, make sure you communicate with your customers in advance. Highlighting the environmental benefits of your new packaging can be a great way to get them on board, and it’s very likely that they will see similar changes in competitors and other food businesses.

What are the implications of the ban on food safety?

One concern for food safety experts is the potential use of customers’ own containers for takeaway and retail food. Where does the responsibility for food safety sit with food that is produced, then placed into a container that is potentially contaminated, damaged or unsuitable for the food that is placed with it?

Although use of customers’ own containers is currently being mooted as a potential method, unless the cleanliness of these containers can be guaranteed, it is unlikely that many food business owner will feel happy to sell food in this way. We could see the development of quick, efficient sanitisation methods that facilitate this – perhaps UV sterilisation? A better alternative might be investment into deposit and return schemes, which enable regular customers to pay a deposit for containers, then return them to the business for thorough cleansing and later reuse. Perhaps a universal container deposit scheme may emerge as a result of the single use plastic ban?

Ideas for alternatives to single use plastic are suggested by environmental campaigners, Rewrap https://www.refill.org.uk/alternatives-to-single-use-plastic/

This information post has been compiled by The Safer Food Group, leading training provider to the food industry. For more information about our courses, please visit www.thesaferfoodgroup.com or email [email protected]

Treat or Trick?

Make Hallowe’en allergy-safe

October 2021 marked significant changes in food labelling legislation throughout the uK. The introduction of Natasha’s Law, in response to the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laprouse, imposed additional labelling requirements onto foods classified as PPDS – pre-packed for direct sale.

One year on, have these changes led to an improved situation for customers? YouGov research suggests that almost two thirds of consumers are still unaware of the stricter rules now followed by food outlets. More significantly, 45% of respondents to the survey said that lack of confidence in food handlers’ allergy awareness prevented them from buying food from certain outlets.

What can we do to improve this situation in our food businesses?

  • Be aware of all relevant food legislation

For instance, do the latest legislative amendments apply to your business? PPDS is food that is produced and packed on site for later sale, so your Hallowe’en range might introduce items such as pre-packed cakes and biscuits, wrapped toffee apples, and sweet cones. Do you know how to label these foods, and how this differs to other food in your range? Take time to understand your legal duties and make sure you’re fulfilling them in your business

  • Take a proactive approach

Don’t wait for a customer to ask you about allergens – ask them first. Some customers, especially younger or less confident ones, may hesitate to ask, even if they know they have a specific allergy. Giving them an opportunity to tell you about allergies increases their confidence in your professional approach to food safety

  • Train your team

Allergens can be a scary subject. Getting it wrong can be fatal, so it’s no wonder some food handlers are not confident about talking to customers about their needs. Help your team out by getting them properly trained – a Level 2 course will give them the fundamental understanding of allergenic ingredients and how to deal with them, as well as equipping them with the skills needed to communicate with customers. Level 3 training is suitable for supervisors required to risk assess their food business, and implement suitable systems, processes and communication methods, to ensure they are both legally compliant AND safe for customers with allergies.

When you understand allergenic ingredients and how to deal with them in your business, it’s not such a spooky subject! Let’s keep everyone safe this Hallowe’en and beyond.

Further Reading

‘One year on from Natasha’s Law consumers are still in the dark about allergy labelling’ – BSI, October 2021

Food allergy management for community groups and charities

Challenges for community groups serving food

Community organisations often face unique challenges when serving food. These can include:

  • Sourcing safe food – food may be donated from various sources or homemade, so accurately monitoring ingredients and potential for cross contamination may be tricky or even impossible
  • Inexperienced teams – food handlers may be volunteers without food industry experience or training, and the team may not be consistent from event to event. They may not be confident to deal with difficult questions and potentially too eager to answer with a positive message, rather than an accurate answer
  • Inexperienced supervisors – those supervising food production may themselves be inexperienced and may not have adequate understanding to put safe processes into place and ensure they are carried out.

The key factors to managing allergens safely in a community organisation setting are the same as in a commercial setting: accurate risk assessment, easy to follow processes and clear communication.

Food allergen legislation for community groups and charities – how does the law apply to us?

Unless your organisation is registered as a food business, you will not be subject to many of the food allergen laws, including the latest ‘Natasha’s Law’. Organisations that supply food on an occasional and small-scale basis usually do not need to register as food businesses; however, if you provide food on an organised and regular basis, you’ll need to register with your local authority – Follow this link to the FSA guidance

Whether or not you are a registered food business however, food legislation provides a good framework to help you operate safely. Here is some key information about food allergy law that will help you operate safely:

 There are 14 allergenic ingredients that are listed by the Food Standards Authority. These ingredients – or ALLERGENS – are those most likely to cause an allergic reaction. In law, registered food businesses must declare their use to their customers. Here’s a useful poster of those 14 listed allergens.

Other ingredients can also be allergens, even if they don’t appear on the list. Ingredients such as strawberries, kiwis, and peas are increasingly causing allergic reactions, so it is always useful to have a list of all ingredients contained within any food you offer.

Food ingredients labelling depends on how the food is packaged. Food classified as ‘pre-packed’ has a different labelling requirement from food ‘pre-packed for direct sale’, which is different again from food sold ‘loose’. For further information, see our post about Natasha’s Law

Do I need to worry about allergens if I’m not a registered food business?

Even if your organisation is not required to follow food allergy legislation, it is still within your interests to take sensible precautions in order to keep your customers and supporters safe. Training all of your volunteers in food safety and allergen management may not be an effective or proportionate solution – but it is often reassuring to have one or two experts trained up and ready to advise. The Safer Food Group offers cost effective, flexible, online training, with discounts for larger organisations – get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

Whether or not you have a trained expert on your team, it is sensible to risk assess your food operations and make any necessary adjustments. Think about the journey your food products take, from ingredients through production to serving. Do all of your food products take the same journey? (for instance, do you produce all your food in house, or do you also accept ready-to-sell donations?) If not, you’ll need to run through this assessment for all different categories of foods.

Here’s a simple matrix that can help you start to think about the journey your food takes, and the risks that might be introduced along the way. This matrix is based on a real example, but it is important you consider your own organisation carefully and make adjustments for the way you operate. At this stage, just concentrate on allergens, but you could use a similar approach to general food hygiene and safety. To keep things clear, you should undertake this process for each different type of food you serve:

The next stage is to think about whether you can eliminate those risks, whether you can minimise the risks, or whether the risks are impossible to mitigate. Taking donated cakes as an example:

Looking at the risks and measures you’ve identified, come up with an achievable plan and think about the way you will communicate the plan with everyone involved – in this case, donators of cakes, those preparing and serving the cakes, and your customers. Don’t forget, if you are working with inexperienced volunteers, you will need to consider what actions may be too complicated or onerous.

In this example, you’ll see that the risk has not been eliminated completely, but steps have been taken to minimise allergen contamination and the risks are communicated clearly with customers. As a minimum, we must enable allergy sufferers to make an informed choice about whether or not they can safely eat our food.

Once you’ve risk assessed and created a plan, do a ‘dry run’ to check your thinking – and go back and adjust any areas that haven’t worked out as you expected.

Getting volunteers on board

Dealing with food allergies can be daunting for a food professional, let alone a volunteer who is serving cakes at a jumble sale. Some may be reluctant to change from current methods, whilst other may struggle to acknowledge the seriousness of food allergies. It is important for those in leadership roles to convey the importance of good practice whilst being sympathetic to those who are reluctant to change.

This can be made easier by asking a small team of volunteers to become food safety experts within your group. Both food hygiene and food allergy management training can be easily accessed and flexible – The Safer Food Group offers basic online Food Hygiene Level 2 or Food Allergy Awareness Level 2 for £12 + VAT per course. For larger groups, volume-based cost savings can reduce course prices to £6 per course – ideal if you can purchase on behalf of a larger district or region. Once you have experts in place, they can take an active role in creating safe processes as well as disseminating key information to other group members.