It was a pleasure to be invited to run a break out session at this year’s ISBA Healthy and Safety Conference, held in the salubrious surroundings of the British Medical Association in Tavistock Square.
The turn out this year exceeded the organisers’ expectations, dozens of schools attended and a range of professionals were represented from Facilities and Compliance Managers to Bursars and Consultants.
The theme of my presentation was Managing Food Safety, and this is an area that I believe is under scrutinised by many schools’ Senior Management Teams. Often the assumption is that the responsibility is exclusively that of the catering manager, or the contractor if the catering operations are outsourced. However, ultimate liability does lie with the school, and the consequences of a serious incident can be severe.
Thorough and effective food safety management will help prevent outbreaks of food poisoning, injury through food contamination and allergic reactions. It is also good for your catering team’s morale, reassures pupils and parents, and will be commensurate with the undoubtedly excellent standards maintained in the other areas of the school’s operations.
I used some case studies to illustrate the potential impact of receiving a poor inspection report from the EHO, reminding the audience that the public have full on-line access and visibility to your school’s food hygiene rating, and that some prestigious schools have featured in national newspapers for achieving less than the 5 Star benchmark.
It’s not just the school’s reputation that can suffer. Other serious ramifications of poor food safety management can be the closure of your kitchens, a fine or even a prison sentence!
I suggested that schools’ management teams should at the minimum understand how their catering department is performing in this area. If meeting with the catering manager, do so in their office, chat to the team and show an interest in their due diligence paperwork. Take a weekly tour of the kitchen and adjacent areas to assess cleanliness, or pop in sometimes when you take lunch.
Fundamental to my presentation was explaining the importance of having a food safety system in place, and making sure it is being managed effectively.
So here are a few tips to help you and your team keep prepared for that knock on the door:
Have a food safety system
Under Article 5 of Regulation (EC) 852/2004, it is the law to have a food safety system based on HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point). Ensure that your team takes time to design the policy. It needs to be tailored specifically to your business, and not overly complicated.
Understand it and use it
It’s all very well having a system in place, but it is no use if the policy is gathering dust in the recesses of the catering office. Ensure that the budget and resources are in place to continuously train the team, not just on Food Safety, Risk Assessments and COSHH, but also specifically on HACCP. It is not the easiest system to understand, however it’s vital for everyone to at least have grasp of the main principles.
Nominate your HACCP team
It shouldn’t be the catering manager alone who manages HACCP. They should appoint a team of ‘HACCP Heroes’ (you don’t have to call them that though). Include key members of staff, for example; the Head Chef, Front of House Supervisor, Administrator and Store person, each with clear responsibilities over the various critical control points.
Keep it updated
Make sure that updating the policy is an integral part of your catering manager’s routine. HACCP should be on the agenda of every team meeting – address failings and praise compliance. The policy will require ongoing revisions when you introduce new equipment, staff or different production methods. Always update records and verification documents in real time, avoid lazy habits of filling out daily temperature sheets every Friday, or exchanging the date labels on food containers for nice shiny new labels (a practice recently exposed by the media with the 2 Sisters Group).
Audit and verify
Your catering manager should be checking that the system is working as it was designed to every day. Create a daily open and closing check list to review the CCPs and documentation, and take corrective action when failings are identified. It is also good practice to appoint a consultant to conduct the occasional compliance audit. This is useful for identifying areas you may have missed and highlighting new legislation. It also allows you to demonstrate to the governors and your school community, that your catering operation is indeed compliant and safe.
Remember you are not alone, the avisso team are uniquely qualified to assist you with the design and implementation of a HACCP system, or to conduct a due diligence audit.