The real cost of poor food hygiene
The importance of good food hygiene cannot be overestimated. Failure to maintain good food hygiene may have serious and even life-threatening consequences for your customers as well as having a detrimental effect on the reputation of your business. Statistics from the World Health Organisation state that almost one in ten people fall ill because of contaminated food each year, with 420,000 people dying as a result of this. Of these, 125,000 are children.
With food procured and produced all over the world, food hygiene testing is a growing industry. While food regulation is still developing in many parts of the world, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is an independent government department in the UK that works to ensure that food is safe and sets out the expectations of business. These include:
- Correct labelling and marketing, with food being what it says it is
- Traceability of food
- Withdrawing unsafe food, reporting it, and making the information available to the public
- Regulations on the use of additives
- Food contact materials such as packaging and utensils
- Keeping food safe from bacteria
The FSA also specifies the training required to ensure that all who work in the food manufacturing, retail and hospitality industries understand how to handle food safely so that there is no contamination that could cause food poisoning or allergic reactions. There are two levels in the training, with certification demonstrating the depth of the understanding covered.
Consequences of not meeting the standards
At best, food poisoning is an unpleasant illness. At worst, it can be deadly. For businesses, there can be serious consequences, with legal action taken against those who fail to meet the standards.
In a recent case, a Huntingdon takeaway owner was found to have low standards over two inspections. Issues were found with his management system, temperature control, lack of cleaning (including evidence of rodents), stock control and cross contamination control, as well as some necessary structural work that was not carried out. As a result, the owner faced costs of £4,450 and is prohibited from participating in the management of a food business (Huntingdonshire.gov.uk).
Council budget cuts have meant that many authorities are not as rigorous as they should be when carrying out inspections, meaning that poor food safety standards may not necessarily be dealt with officially. However, even without inspections and prosecution, any obvious signs of poor food hygiene can have a detrimental effect on your business. It is now easier than ever for customers to leave reviews on dedicated review sites such as TripAdvisor, Google and social media. While only 33% of customers are likely to review a positive experience, 56% will review a negative one, meaning that any signs of poor hygiene will be recorded for potential customers to view. Too many of these and a business’s ratings can plummet.
In order to correctly label food, it is important that food can be tracked. This ensures that the food that a business sells is what it claims it is and also is not misleading customers by labelling, for example, a food as organic when it is not.
It is vital for businesses to know where their food has come from and not fall victim to food fraud. Foods that are not legally supplied could include those that are:
- Past their use-by date or best before date
- Recycled animal by-products
- Meat from illegally slaughtered animals
- Food that has been smuggled into the country
It is particularly vital for food to be correctly labelled in order to identify allergens. Food allergies are becoming increasingly common, and it is a requirement for businesses to identify potential allergens in their foods. There are 14 major allergens that must be communicated to customers. These are egg, peanut, fish, walnut, trans fats, mollusc, crustacean, citrus, gluten, sesame, mushroom, celery, soya and corn. It is also necessary to label if a product has any genetically modified ingredients.
Two tragic cases of customers dying from an anaphylactic reaction after eating at the well-known chain Pret a Manger highlight the importance of correct labelling and information. This is not just to alert customers, but also staff, who may take part in food preparation. Good ways to allergy-proof a business include:
- Regular, updated training
- Colour coding system for allergens
- Trusted suppliers
- Readily available allergy information
It is also important to avoid cross-contamination, as even tiny amounts of allergens can be fatal.
Regulations around food hygiene and allergy management do change regularly and can vary across different local authorities. Keeping up to date with these is essential for food-based businesses to maintain their reputation.