Designing and maintaining your food rooms is important in building the foundations of safe food production.
If the EHO walks in and finds a tired, falling apart, mouldy, dark, or dirty kitchen, you are immediately looking at a long and painful inspection. The chances of getting a five star hygiene rating will evaporate within seconds of the inspection starting.
Let us take a look at all the critical things we need to consider when designing and maintaining a food premises.
When you design or make changes to your kitchen, always make sure you think about how you will keep it clean. Too many food businesses put the kitchen together and find there are places they simply can’t get to and clean.
Over time, food debris builds up in these areas, or paint starts to get mouldy, or tiles get damaged, and they can’t get in to sort it without significant disruption. You can’t just shrug your shoulders and say you can’t reach this area to sort it out – it is your food business and the layout is your responsibility.
Well-designed kitchens consider this from the start. Equipment is placed on wheels, cookers have extendable cables/piping, etc., and food business owners are able to make sure every section of all food rooms can be maintained and kept clean.
Rusty pizza trays and a rusty microwave, heavily scored chopping boards and dirty equipment – these were all guilty offences found by food safety officers from East Lindsey District Council during an inspection of Oceana takeaway. The food business operator ended up with a bill of over £6,000 after an appearance in court as a result.
Make sure you keep up with maintaining your structure and equipment so that it does not create a food safety risk. If equipment becomes too damaged to clean effectively, or becomes a physical contamination risk due to pieces of rust, plastic etc., potentially shedding into food – throw it away immediately.
Construction materials must be cleanable, not made of toxic materials and not lead to shedding of particles. There is no specific requirement on what your kitchen is made out of, but choosing materials that will last and not cause you too many problems makes obvious sense.
Stainless steel worktops are popular because they are easy to clean and very resilient to damage – they will last a long time! Domestic wooden worktops are perfectly legal, but a kitchen producing more than a couple of meals a day will soon wear this type of material and lead to problems which will need repair and before long, replacement.
Similarly, for walls, there is nothing illegal with painted walls (with paint designed for washing of course), but in a commercial kitchen you will have to continually wipe them and they will be subject to all sorts of knocks. It will not be long before you will need to repaint. Tiles have historically been used on walls but food businesses have long since realised that these also get easily damaged. The simplest solution is therefore plastic cladding, easy to clean, easy to maintain, problem solved!
If you are serious about your food business being successful and being a five star food safe business, it is strongly recommended you invest in good quality materials for your structure. It will be more expensive at the beginning, but you will save ample money in avoiding constant repairs and perhaps even more importantly, you will save days and days of your life not having to maintain and clean them.
Ventilation has to be adequate for what foods you are preparing. Poor ventilation will lead to mould growth, increased grease build-up, as well as impacting on the temperature within the room and potentially leading to unsafe smoke/gasses.
If you have separate areas for raw and ready-to-eat food, make sure you do not draw dirty air from your raw section and blow it into your ready-to-eat section. You also do not want to draw dirty air from bin rooms or equipment washing areas for example.
If you have ventilation you will need to put in place a regular routine for cleaning the filters. How often you need to do this will really depend on the type of food you produce. If you are cooking fatty foods such burgers, bacon or chips, the filters will likely need cleaning weekly. If you are just making sandwiches or boiling vegetables, you may only need to clean them monthly or quarterly.
If you are not carrying out any cooking, you may rely on windows for basic ventilation. If this is the case you will need to install fly screens to prevent flying insects entering your kitchen.
Lighting has to enable you to clearly see all areas. This doesn’t catch food business operators out too often, but nonetheless, some businesses fail to install decent lighting and as a result do not have a five star food hygiene rating.
Essentially lighting needs to be sufficient to be able to see clearly in all areas to work and clean. For example, if you have a dark recess in the building and you wish to use it to store food, you need to light it sufficiently so that you can clean that area, check for any pest activity and generally see what you’re doing.
When installing lighting, make sure you use shatterproof designs. Your worst day will come if you accidentally hit a light bulb in the kitchen with the mop handle, sending thousands of shards of glass over your equipment and food.
You can use shatterproof diffusers or shrouds to protect bulbs and your food business!
All water has to be potable. This one shouldn’t even really need stating, but food businesses have been found using untreated spring water before, so it appears it does need stating after all. Any water you use must be of potable standard. This means it must be safe to drink. 99.9% of food businesses can achieve this by using water from the mains supply.
Be careful if you have any water storage tanks, as these will need to be maintained to keep them safe. The other 0.1% of businesses must ensure their water is potable too, whether from a private water supply or wherever. This will usually involve additional water treatment prior to its use.
There is one caveat to this rule, and that is for live seafood which may require clean seawater, i.e. for live bivalve molluscs, echinoderms, tunicates and marine gastropods.
You need to make sure your food business has adequate drainage to get rid of dirty water, whether that’s from your sinks, floor, toilets, etc. It’s rare to find a food business who isn’t at least connected to the mains drainage system (excluding mobile caterers of course), but it is fairly common to find food businesses who do not look after their drains and end up in trouble.
To be a five star food safe business you need to keep your drains clean from build-up of fats and food debris. Make sure you prevent food waste going down the drain by scraping plates first, putting oils and fat drippings into the rubbish bin and having a contractor to regularly collect your used oil. If you have a particularly greasy business install grease traps.
Food businesses who don’t take these steps often end up with waste water backing up and sometimes overflowing into their toilets and kitchen, at which point you need to close and get ready for expensive repairs.
Also remember that drains are a perfect way for pests to access your kitchen, so make sure any drains have suitable covers to prevent pest access.
If you have an inspection chamber located inside your building, make sure you keep it accessible and tightly sealed. It needs to be accessible as you never know when it might be needed. It needs to be sealed to stop nasty smells or overflows coming up into your kitchen. If you do have to open it, make sure you take any food out of the room first.
Food waste needs to be stored and disposed of in a way that doesn’t compromise food safety. In the kitchen, ideally use foot operated lidded bins. If bins are in constant use and turnover is frequent, you do not need to have a lid.
When bins are full, and at least daily, clear the kitchen of food waste. Ideally you will have a secure external lidded waste bin to keep waste for collection. If you do not have external waste bins, you will need to dedicate an internal room as your waste room, well away from any food. This must be regularly disposed of.
Waste smells, can be full of harmful micro-organisms, and can attract pests. You need to keep it secure and not allow it to build up to un-manageable levels. Failing to keep on top of food waste will lead to you failing to get a five star food hygiene rating.
Typical problems food businesses run into with waste are:
Many a food business falls foul due to inadequate hand washing facilities. Food handlers must carry out effective hand washing and this means regular hand washing.
In order to do this there must be enough basins and they must be suitably located. Businesses who do not take this seriously do not get a five star food hygiene rating and can easily find their business being closed until it is sorted. It is easy for an EHO to close a food business because it does not have enough wash hand basins, or because it does not have a supply of hot water (sometimes no water at all!) or soap.
There are a number of cultural misunderstandings about the importance of hand washing but rest assured the EHO is aware of the importance and to be a top food business you need to be too.
Every hand wash basin must:
Alternatively, you may only need one in total if you are a simple operation. There is no standard answer to this, but it can be easily worked out by looking at your kitchen and thinking through how food and food handlers move around the space.
The only way you can guarantee it will be free is by designating it for “hand washing only”. Stick a sign up to prove it and make sure you stick to it. Too many times an EHO will walk into a kitchen, go straight to wash their hands and find a bowl or something chucked in the basin. Not a good start to the inspection and you are well on your way to not getting a five rating and the EHO has only been on site about two minutes...
So, by now you hopefully realise the importance of hand wash basins and have designated hand wash only basins that are appropriately placed. You now need to think about any sinks you need for washing equipment or food preparation.
Unless you have a huge commercial dishwasher (usually found in schools and care homes), you will probably need a sink to wash up pots, pans and trays. Depending on what type of food you provide, you may also require a sink to wash your salad items, or somewhere to peel the potatoes, etc.
Do not wash raw meat, such as game or poultry. It is completely pointless as you are going to cook it and kill any pathogens through the cooking process. Even more importantly, all you are doing when you wash raw meat is splashing harmful micro-organisms all over the area, leaving you with a cleaning headache and absolutely nothing gained!
The best solution is to have separate sinks for washing equipment and for food. If you prepare raw foods it’s even better to have separate sinks in your raw area and in your ready-to-eat area. This all helps minimise the risk of cross contamination, and makes your job of keeping food safe so much easier.
Nonetheless, if you have space difficulties you can use one sink for everything (apart from washing hands of course!), but you will have to be extra careful how you do this. Planning when you will use the sink for which task is important, and cleaning properly in between uses with two stage cleaning is vital.
Don’t leave yourself short on sinks, it will only cause you grief in the long run. There is nothing worse than being overrun with customer orders to find yourself unable to find a clean knife and potatoes soaking in the only sink.
For the sake of a bit of extra money on an extra sink or two, you will have a much more efficient kitchen and make the money back ten-fold in time saved trying to juggle using too few sinks. It will also improve your chances of getting a five star food hygiene rating as food safety will be easier to manage!
The presence of any living thing - other than a human of course - in a food business has to be controlled. There is no saying what the family dog has been rolling in on its morning walk, or what that fly has decided to land on before landing on your vanilla cheesecake.
Then there are the obvious living things that most people are definitely aware shouldn't be there; your mice, rats and cockroaches.
Whatever it is, we don't know that it is not contaminated and therefore we need to control its presence around our food. Let's start with the most common question EHOs get asked by food business owners: pets!
Customers with dogs is a fairly common scenario nowadays. It is also not uncommon for a food business owner to have a pet too. The rules with animals in a food business are fairly simple. You do not want them to have any opportunity to contaminate your food.
Keep them out of any food areas. This includes the kitchen, the bar area (yes alcohol and soft drinks are food too!), food store rooms (dry stores, cellar, etc.), buffet areas, and anywhere else you store, prepare or cook food.
Ultimately everywhere else is up to you – it's your business. You can allow animals in the customer seating area (as long as you are not carrying out any food preparation there), the garden, conservatory, etc. You may wish to keep animals in a certain part of the customer seating area and keep them out of others. You may decide to ban animals completely. It’s your choice and comes down to how you wish to promote your business. Bear in mind that those with assistance dogs are protected and should be catered for whenever possible.
Some people love animals and will happily eat their food around them, others find them disgusting or are allergic to their fur and do not want to be anywhere near them. This is a business decision, but not a food safety issue as long as you follow the rules above!
OK, that's pets dealt with. Now to those little things we know shouldn't be present. Food business owners know they do not want pests in their business, but some are not aware of what attracts them there in the first place.
It's quite frustrating when an EHO is told that, "pests are going to be there, it's a food business ain't it!" Yes, sometimes, despite all the right actions, a food business has a pest problem - then it is all about how we deal with it and that is covered in a bit.
But in the vast majority of cases, correct pest control by a food business owner will stop pests in the first place!
Marston’s pub chain was fined a massive £180,000 with £5,854.88 costs after the Porter and Sorter pub in Croydon was found in filthy condition with mouse droppings among utensils and on towels.
Pest infestations are one of the most likely reasons you will be prosecuted. If you have pest activity, don’t ignore it – act straight away. Contact a reputable pest control company and get it sorted. Keep the kitchen and food storage areas clean to minimise the likelihood of rats and mice visiting you.
Food debris and grease build-up under equipment and shelving can be a fairly minor concern in terms of it contaminating food. After all, the food you serve is never going to come into contact with that area underneath your oven. But this food debris is absolutely perfect for pests. Mice, rats, cockroaches, flies, etc., will find this food an absolute goldmine, so you need to clean it up! Not only is it a food paradise for pests, it also makes it very difficult to monitor for pest activity. The signs of pests you are looking for cannot be seen if the area is covered in food or grease.
If done daily, or in difficult to reach places weekly, the build-up will be fairly minor and take no time at all to clean. Let it build up over weeks of months however, and it can take hours and days to clean properly. Sometimes grease builds up to such a level equipment needs industrial cleaning to sort out. So, make sure you clean in these difficult places to prevent pests having an easy food source and a reason to make your kitchen their home!
Mice can fit through a gap the size of a pencil. You should check all around your building for any gaps that may allow rats or mice into your premises and if they exist, get them blocked with a suitable material that will not be chewed through.
Key points to think about are gaps leading to cellars or ceiling voids as pests often travel around buildings using these areas. This might be due to pipework or cables being run. Also think about any access to the outside, around doors and windows in particular. Turn the lights off and if you can see sunlight coming from outside there is a good chance the hole/gap is big enough to cause you a problem. For those final gaps at the bottom of doors you can fit bristle strips.
Keeping pests out of any food areas is critical to your food business, but good pest control starts outside your building. Explore the external area for any signs of an ideal pest environment. Vegetation near the building, unprotected drain covers, food or bird feed debris; these all raise the chance of pests coming to your business. Keep the outside clean, tidy and secure and you will dramatically reduce the risk of pests turning up.
If you wish to open windows or doors for ventilation (not just for access and egress), you need to protect them from flying insects. Fly screens are the best method of doing this and when maintained are an excellent solution.
Note that things can go wrong when fly screens become damaged by accidentally hitting them, or dirty due to lack of cleaning. The fly screens then start to become a food safety hazard, as they may break away and contaminate food or harbour pathogens. If you have fly screens, put them on your cleaning schedule and make sure they are maintained in good condition.
The electric fly zapper is highly effective. Any EHO or seasoned food business owner can tell of the amount of flying insects that end up in these machines. Good pest proofing through use of fly screens will stop most entering your kitchen, but with the best will in the world you can’t stop all of them. Doors will be opened regularly for deliveries, food service, etc., and this will inevitably lead to some getting through.
Enter the electronic fly killer to your rescue. Just be sure to locate it away from any food handling parts of your kitchen as some insects will be zapped and fall out and down onto what’s underneath. Make sure you clean it out regularly (or have your pest contractor do this for you), and make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions for replacing the bulbs – otherwise it will stop working effectively.
If you are finding insects piling up in your machine, have a think about why this is happening. If too many insects are getting into your kitchen this is a sign of a bigger problem that needs resolving.
If you find yourself with pests infesting any food areas, you cannot ignore it for a second. Typical situations you may be unlucky enough to find are rats, mice or cockroaches in your kitchen or store rooms, either visibly, through finding droppings, or finding chewed foods.
Things can go wrong with pests and as long as you don’t ignore it, you will be fine. Regular pest checks will enable you to catch it early and act early. Contact a pest contractor to come and see you straight away. Throw away any potentially contaminated food and thoroughly clean any area the pests may have been.
Do this before serving any customers as you need to make sure any food you prepare will be safe. If it is not possible to guarantee the food you are going to prepare is safe, close the kitchen until you can get the situation resolved. It only needs to be short term. Failing to act and carrying on as normal will not only mean you will not have a five star food hygiene rating, you could also land up in jail.