There were officially 2000 cases of foot and mouth disease in the UK in 2001, but in reality, more than 6 million cattle, sheep and pigs were culled to control the disease. Food Safety is supposed to be one of the EU’s core competencies. Yet once again, with recent news of toxic eggs being distributed across the continent, we are being brought news of a food safety crisis playing out in EU countries which raises a question mark over how safe our food really is. Combine this with ongoing questions surrounding the impact of Brexit on food safety and the many unknowns regarding what standards the UK will adhere to after Brexit, we can see that food safety remains an active, if sometimes controversial topic. And so it should be; what we ingest into our bodies has a huge impact on general health and wellbeing.
There is little which café’s, bars and restaurant can do in real terms to protect against the examples above. They need to be dealt with through avoidance and monitoring at source. However, the lowest standard expected by modern consumers is for premises to ensure that the highest levels of hygiene are maintained through the use of reputable suppliers, and after delivery to the premises.
Closer to home, July 2017 saw nine closure orders being issued by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland; the highest number in any month so far this year. Here’s an outline of the food safety process in place in Ireland, which is similar to many other EU countries:
The Health Service Executive and Food Safety Authority in Ireland are responsible for ensuring the safety of food consumed. They do this through inspections and enforcement actions.
Environmental Health Officers (EHO) have the power to legally enter any premises where food is handled to carry out inspections, and operators of food service businesses are required to ensure that they and their staff have received food safety training. Inspections are carried out without any advance warning to the premises.
EHO’s are intended to be educators and advisors, who can help a business ensure compliance with the law. In the case of breaches however, they have a number of options from verbal warnings to issuance of a Closure Order.
In general, an EHO who visits your premises will send you a written report after an inspection, outlining required improvements and a timeframe for same. In more serious cases an improvement notice may be served. If necessary this can be followed with an Improvement Order from the District Court, and ultimately a Closure Order. There are also Prohibition Orders and an option to Prosecute.
All businesses are required to conduct a risk assessment for their operations and premises, and to generate a safety statement. This should include evaluation of risks surrounding food. The HSE BeSMART website provides a useful online tool to help small businesses with this process.
Safefood.eu provides a variety of reports on food safety and explains the 4 C’s; Chill, Cook, Clean and Cross contamination. Campylobacter food poisoning is the leading form of food poisoning in Ireland, with 3,722 cases in 2015. This exceeds either salmonella or e-coli contamination.
So with the above in mind, and an awareness that a food-borne illness outbreak could cost your premises tens of thousands of euros, or result in closure, here are some tips to help you ensure food safety:
- Maintaining a clean and sanitary kitchen is a critical aspect of ensuring you do not run fowl (Pardon the pun) of food safety legislation. Consider colour coding equipment and training staff to help prevent cross contamination.
- Promote frequent hand washing amongst staff, especially those employed in the kitchen. Hands must be washed at a designated sink every time they use the bathroom, sneeze, cough, handle raw meat, clear tables or dirty dishes, handle money etc.
- High-touch items should be cleaned daily. These include laminated menus, digital menus, condiment containers, tablecloths, door handles etc.
- The cleaning procedures should be operational and systematic. Staff should know what items have to be cleaned, and when. You should also have a register to sign-off on this process which will serve as evidence of proper procedures should such proof ever be needed.
- Ice is consumed by your customers. It should be prepared with a designated scoop, which is stored outside the ice supply. Ice for drinks should always be separate from ice used to keep food cold, and if glass ever breaks anywhere in the general vicinity of exposed ice, the ice must be thrown out.
- Drink garnishes such as lemon slices are considered consumable items and must be correctly and safely handled.
- Ensure that allergen information is at your guest’s fingertips at all times. This is a legal requirement in many countries. If the contents of dishes are changed, the information must be updated. A digital tabletop ordering system simplifies the provision and updating of this information.
What are your thoughts on food safety in the EU or specific premises?