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Food safety management systems: much more than a tick in the box for your food hygiene rating

What came first on the road to the five star Food Hygiene Rating? The adherence to food safety and hygiene procedures, pest control and the general cleanliness of the premises and equipment? Or the implementation of a detailed and well-understood food safety management system?

There’s a common misconception that an effective food safety management system arises as a result of other food safety and hygiene procedures already being in place. That it simply means having the right food safety management ‘paperwork’ to track these procedures and is mainly about protecting a business and its reputation. That a food safety management systems does not in itself significantly contribute to preventing food poisoning or stop other food safety issues arising.

It’s certainly true that safer operating practices – or a lack of them – do impact directly on the hazards that result from storing, cooking and serving food. However, it’s an effective food safety management system that creates and cements many of these practices within a business, making them easy to implement and second-nature to staff.

Confidence in management and control procedures is a crucial area assessed as part of the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, both at a local level, and, for larger businesses, at a corporate level. This not only assesses the track record of compliance, but also confidence in the management team and the likelihood of standards consistently being maintained.

However, it’s widely accepted by EHOs that where a good food safety management system is in place, which is well understood by the workforce, it is highly likely that a good standard in the other two areas; namely food hygiene procedures and other cleanliness requirements will follow.

I’d argue that investing in your food safety management system, thereby creating a positive health and safety culture and actively identifying hazards, is the key first step to better food safety, food hygiene, avoiding food-related heath incidents and so achieving a better Food Hygiene Rating. Here’s how a food safety management system, using a combination of hardware and software, can directly impact on the food safety and hygiene practices within a food business.

Firstly, the use of smart devices such as probes and temperature monitoring pods linked to cloud-based software, enable the automatic checking of foods from goods inwards – allowing kitchens to return products immediately to the supplier in the case of a problem – through storing and cooking, to hot service. Snap-on, snap-off probe needles eradicate contamination between raw and ready to eat foods.

Temperature monitoring devices stored in fridges, freezers and chiller cabinets, can monitor, record and report in real-time fridge and freezer temperatures. Readings can typically be measured to within 0.1°C, providing
confidence that food is stored at the correct temperature and immediate alerts in the event of an appliance failure or a drop or increase in temperature.

Secondly, there’s the software. Smart devices can feed their information to a database held in the Cloud, so that information can be accessed from anywhere. Combining this with the latest food safety management software adds another layer of safety checks. For instance, cleaning checklists and schedules; by detailing how and how often cleaning should take place, you can ensure that all tasks are completed, on a regular and recurring basis.

Such lists can be combined with sign off requirements for even greater oversight, so essentially once a task has been completed, the user is prompted to have a senior member of the team check and sign it off as complete. This gives management the opportunity to ensure that the task has been completed thoroughly and accurately. Any issues highlighted via such sign off requirements can be corrected by providing staff members with further training.

Finally, easily accessible reports on all of these elements ensure that key food safety metrics are instantly available and ready for a food hygiene inspection. This combination of hardware and software gives businesses a vital centralised overview and control of food safety in their kitchens that can be accessed around the clock and on the go.

Of course, no system is completely fail-safe. Some of the world’s leading restaurants – five-star food hygiene rated and no doubt with food safety management systems in place – have suffered from outbreaks of food poisoning amongst their diners in the past. However, these outbreaks can often be traced back to one isolated incident – for instance an issue with a particular ingredient or specialist food from a supplier – rather than a wholesale failure of food safety operating practices and their food safety management systems.

Investing in and embracing food safety management is more than a tick in the box for food safety and hygiene compliance purposes. Done properly, it is a way of not only identifying and actively controlling risks and hazards in the food process, but also preventing and eliminating them.

Ben Gardner is CEO of the Navitas Group, a leading provider of technology, training and consultancy services helping food businesses meet food safety and health and safety requirements.

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