A business’ food hygiene rating is one of the main concerns for diners looking for somewhere to eat out – that’s according to the latest public survey by the Food Standards Agency (FSA)*.
Achieving and displaying a good hygiene score is a commercial necessity for a food-serving venue or a catering business. But, that’s not the only reason why good food hygiene processes are vital. Cutting corners, or not putting robust systems in place, puts customers at risk and could lead to serious damage to a business’ reputation or the health of a customer.
Adhering to the standards
When it comes to securing a five-star hygiene rating from the FSA, businesses need to be able to show that a reliable stock-rotation regime is in place, guaranteeing that safe timescales are always strictly adhered to at every stage of the process. Without this evidence, a kitchen will find it difficult to show full compliance with the hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) policies which set out the acceptable timings in food management.
In a busy kitchen, there might be hundreds of different items being removed from freezers or arriving as fresh deliveries every week. It is vital that these don’t spend too long in storage before being prepared and served to customers, and clear labelling is the only way to ensure this is the case.
Despite this, in our experience talking to kitchen managers from businesses across the hospitality and catering sector, at least two in three are still using handwritten labels for this process.
The most common approach is for colour-coded labels to be used to denote different days of the week, a method known as day-dotting. This means that staff can easily identify how long a product can be used for before it needs throwing away if still unused.
The big problem with this way of working is that it relies on the accuracy and readability of staff handwriting. The reality is that if a member of staff is writing hundreds of labels per day by hand, mistakes are easily made.
The risks are exacerbated by the skills shortages currently affecting the sector, as kitchens are increasingly reliant on unskilled or unqualified employees to label products and keep paperwork up to date. In some extreme cases, we’re aware that senior members of staff end up carrying out the labelling process themselves because of the importance of getting it right.
Of course, there are other disadvantages to using handwritten labels, including the risk of poor legibility, smudging and the sheer amount of time it takes up.
A better alternative
For such a critical function, businesses shouldn’t be relying on an approach with such a large number of built-in flaws.
Instead, implementing a process that uses automatically printed stickers can solve these problems by providing highly legible and long-lasting food labels that remove the risk of errors while also consuming much less employee time.
These allow staff to produce a label containing all of the relevant information at the touch of a button, which can be stuck straight onto the product. The label doesn’t even need to be peeled off a backing sheet, making the process even easier for those wearing gloves.
With the capability of also storing a pre-loaded database of all possible ingredients used in the kitchen, catering companies have complete control over the allowed perishable time periods for any given product. This will save them time, cut the risk of staff errors being made, and provide evidence of good practices for food inspectors.
On top of this, the labels can also provide more detail than the day-dot approach in terms of how long any given item can spend in storage by displaying the exact times rather than just days of the week. This means a product’s shelf life can be maximised, and food waste can be reduced.
Ultimately, a well-designed food-labelling system gives kitchen owners the ability to safeguard the commercial benefits of a good food hygiene rating while also increasing efficiency in the kitchen, allowing them to deliver a better, safer service to customers. It’s an opportunity not to missed.