≡ Menu

We are sad to report that one of our trainers, Liz Soutar, has decided to retire due to ill health. Liz, who many of you will recognise from our RSPH HACCP and Food Safety courses, made the difficult decision last week and has thanked “everyone at VWA for all the support over the years.”

VWA Trainer Liz Soutar

Liz became a trainer for Verner Wheelock in 2017, having spent almost 40 years at Scottish salmon and seafood processors, Pinney’s of Scotland as a Training & Recruitment Co-ordinator.  We have had a longstanding relationship with her over several years, as Pinney’s were one of our first clients when we started Verner Wheelock Associates in 1990.

Her wealth of industry expertise coupled with her training qualification and experience meant that she slipped into the role of trainer effortlessly and was popular with delegates.

This is typical of the type of feedback we received following one of her courses:

“Fantastic. Liz engaged well with the whole group. She clearly knows HACCP through and through and used her experience to enable me to feel at ease with the learning process. I would happily send further staff members onto this course as and when the need arises. I began the day with no real knowledge of HACCP and left the day confident I can play an active role in my HACCP team.”

“Liz is very knowledgeable, experienced, friendly and open.”

VWA’s Business Development Executive, Claire Lennon, said, “Liz is a lovely lady and very good trainer. Myself, Alison and the team at VWA want to thank her for her hard work and dedication over the years. We are sorry to see her go, but obviously her health must take priority.”

Liz lives in a beautiful part of the world, Dumfries and Galloway, and we wish her the very best in her retirement. She will be taking it easy and spending time with her husband, Rob, young granddaughter, Bethany and German shepherd dog, Sinika.

Remote food industry training from Verner Wheelock

Some people say that there is no substitute for face-to-face training, with all delegates and the trainer in a classroom environment. However these days remote training comes very close. As a forward-thinking organisation, Verner Wheelock already had the infrastructure in place for remote training even before the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns hit. In fact we had delivered some training to companies in Turkey and Holland via Zoom without our trainers having to leave their homes.

There’s no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote training throughout the food industry, but what initially began as a necessity has now become a preference for many organisations and individuals. There are several reasons for this.

Accessibility of remote training

All that students require to attend remote training are a stable internet connection, a webcam and a suitable device such as a PC, laptop or tablet. They can access the training course whether they are at work, at home or anywhere else for that matter. All they have to do is log in to the Zoom or Microsoft Teams platform using the information supplied by the Verner Wheelock Training Support Team.

Train from anywhere around the UK – or the world!

The beauty of remote training is that there are no geographical barriers. Delegates from across the globe can participate in Verner Wheelock’s courses without incurring hefty travel or accommodation costs. We have had delegates from as far away as Brazil and the Netherlands attending one-day courses – which is something that is just not practicable for face-to-face courses.

The option of remote courses has also opened up our training to delegates in the UK who might not have considered attending a face-to-face 1 or 2-day course because of the distance. Now we have delegates from Scotland, London and beyond benefitting from specialist 1-day courses such as Legal Labelling, Product Authenticity & Food Defence and the new Enabling a Positive Food Safety Culture course – as well as 2-day courses like Auditing Skills and Level 3 HACCP.

Remote in-house training is also available

Remote training can also be an ideal solution for companies needing to train employees from multiple sites in the same subject. Instead of each site sending one or two delegates to an open course, an in-house course can be arranged where they can log in to the training instead. As mentioned above, as long as all delegates are within a similar time zone, employees from overseas sites can also join the training course.

By eliminating the need for travel and accommodation, companies can save substantial sums of money. Another bonus is that they get to choose training dates that are convenient to them, rather than waiting for scheduled open course dates. Courses can also be designed bespoke to customer requirements if required.

How do remote courses differ from classroom courses?

The answer to this question is, aside from the fact that the delegates are not in the same physical place as the trainer, there is no difference. All course materials are the same for face-to-face and remote delegates. Face-to-face delegates have the course materials set out for them in the training room on the first day. Remote delegates have their course materials delivered to them by courier ahead of the training.

Remote courses are delivered live, so the trainer appears on screen in real time. Delegates are encouraged to interact throughout the course, in the same way they would within a classroom environment.

Often, our scheduled open courses are ‘hybrid’ meaning that delegates in the training room and remote delegates attend the same training course. The AV technology in Verner Wheelock’s training facility means that the remote delegates appear on a large screen and a set of cameras and strategically located microphones allow the remote delegates to see and hear the delegates in the training room as well as the trainer. All can participate and interact with each other easily.

Any course from practically anywhere

With the exception of our Introduction to Flavours, Creating Thermal Process Flavours and Delivering Training courses which all have practical elements, all Verner Wheelock’s training courses can be delivered remotely. Choose from RSPH certificated courses in HACCP and Food Safety from Levels 2 to 4 or our suite of Auditing courses certificated by FDQ. There are also several specialist and refresher/update courses available.

For more information about remote courses, please call 01756 700802 or email claire.lennon@vwa.co.uk

HACCP exam questions

Some delegates on our advanced level food safety, HACCP and auditing courses haven’t sat a written exam for years – sometimes even decades! They know their jobs inside-out but are worried about answering questions in a formal exam situation. Sometimes it’s as much about exam etiquette as it is about knowledge. You need a gameplan – that’s why we’ve put together these handy tips for exam success. You’re welcome!  

1 Read the questions

This might seem really obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of people who don’t read questions properly. They read the question quickly and then answer what they think the question is asking, rather than what it is actually asking. Take care. Read the question slowly and then read it again before answering. You could even highlight all the key words in the question to ensure that you are answering every part of it.

2 Answer all the questions

There’s no point in writing reams and reams on the first few questions and then finding that you only have 10 minutes left to answer the rest. Even if you score full marks on the first question or two, this will be unlikely to be enough to pass. Look at the number of questions and split your time accordingly.

3 Look at the available marks

Many examination papers will show the maximum number of marks achievable next to each question. It’s not rocket science to suggest that you should spend more time and give more detailed answers to those bearing the highest marks. In fact, if at all possible, you should aim to answer these questions first.

4 Understand the difference between ‘list’ and ‘describe’

If the question doesn’t have allocated marks, then you should get an indication of the number of marks from the type of question being asked. For example, if the question says to ‘list’ something, it requires a short answer. If, however the question asks you to ‘describe’ something, it is looking for a more detailed answer.

5 Be specific

Lack of answer detail is the main reason why candidates are marked down in examinations. Don’t generalise. Instead of writing ‘The product should be heated to the correct temperature.’ use ‘The product should be heated to a temperature of X? C for X minutes. This is to ensure that all pathogens have been destroyed.’

6 Give the correct number of answers

If a question asks you for 5 examples, then make sure you only give 5 examples. If you give fewer than 5 examples, you will miss out on marks. Conversely, if you give more than 5 examples you will not be given any extra marks. The examiner will only read the first 5 examples, even if you have better examples further down the list.

7 Can’t answer some questions? Don’t panic!

If your mind has gone blank about a question, don’t panic – simply return to it later on. Don’t waste precious time trying to rack your brain, answer the questions you know first.

8 Make sure you’ve revised any definitions

Knowledge of definitions and any relevant legislation will always stand you in good stead. Even if legislation isn’t mentioned specifically in a question, if it is relevant you will be demonstrating to the examiner that you understand its importance. For example, stating that the Due Diligence defence is in the Food Safety Act 1990 might give you an extra mark.

9 Don’t go off track

Make sure you stick to the subject of the qualification and the question being asked. Don’t go off on a tangent. If you are taking an exam about food safety and the question is about cleaning, don’t start talking about slips, trips and falls or working at heights – that is Health & Safety, not food safety, and will not score any points.

10 Read over your answers

Very few people enjoy sitting examinations, but as eager as you are to get out of the door, try to use the full time allocated. If you finish early, read over all your answers again and see if there is anything else you can add or clarify. Make sure your answers are legible and that any extra sheets of paper you have used are labelled correctly.

You will also be given sample questions to work through during your course, so practise answering some of these before the exam. Set a timer so that you know how long to spend on each question.

Good luck!

Food safety at barbecues

Perhaps it’s because we have so little of it, but as soon as the sun shows its face you’ll find we Brits donning our shorts and dusting off the barbecue.

According to an article in the Manchester Evening News, almost one-fifth of Britons (18%) have suffered from food poisoning following a barbecue. With the potential for salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli and listeria to breed, make sure that your barbecue party is memorable for all the right reasons.

Where does barbecuing originate?

The cooking of raw meat over fires has been practised for thousands of years. However the word ‘barbecue’ is thought to have originated in the Caribbean. The Taino people referred to their method of cooking meat over an open flame as ‘barbacoa.’ What started out as an ancient ritual has now become an integral part of summer gatherings.

Barbecue safely this summer

There are different types of barbecue available – from inexpensive basic versions to gas barbecues costing thousands of pounds. Whichever type you have, the fundamentals of food safety still apply.

Tip 1 – Clean the barbecue grill thoroughly

This might seem obvious, but if your barbecue hasn’t seen the light of day for a few months it could have attracted dust and rust. There may even be the remnants of grease and food particles which can harbour bacteria. Preheating the grill before adding new food also helps to kill bacteria and makes sure the food is cooked evenly.

Tip 2 – Safe Marinating

The smoky, chargrilled taste of barbecued meat, fish and plant-based alternatives is great, but the taste sensation can be enhanced by marinating first. The longer you marinate, the more intense the flavour. It’s essential to put the bowl of marinating meat, fish etc. in the fridge – don’t leave it out at room temperature. Also, just as you should never double-dip at a buffet, never re-use marinades that have come into contact with raw meat as they can introduce harmful bacteria.

Tip 3 – Don’t forget to wash your hands

Just because you’re outside, don’t forget the basics – wash your hands before handling any food.

Tip 4 – Barbecue food preparation and storage

When you’re preparing raw meat, raw fish or seafood and vegetables, there’s a high risk of cross-contamination. To combat this you should use separate chopping boards and utensils. Once the food is prepared, cover it and place in the fridge. Take care to ensure that the raw items are kept away from any ready-to-eat food.

Tip 5 – Cook the food thoroughly

Popular barbecue foods such as burgers and sausages are made from ground meat. This means that there is a much higher risk of bacterial infection. It’s therefore imperative that they are cooked all the way through. Always check the inside of the item to make sure it’s not pink – even if it’s charred on the outside. Likewise chicken and full cuts of beef, pork or lamb should be cooked all the way through.

You can use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food you are cooking. Burgers and similar items should have a core temperature of 71°C.  Chicken should be cooked to 74°C and beef, lamb and other full cuts of meat must reach at least 63°C. Allowing meat to rest for a couple of minutes before serving also lets it continue cooking.

Tip 6 – Let’s barbecue – NOT flambé

Barbecued food should be cooked evenly, so if your grill is looking more like a bonfire it means there is fat dripping onto the flames. To avoid any flare-ups make sure you trim as much fat as possible from meat or buy leaner cuts. Also, keep a spray bottle of water close by to dampen down any flames.

Tip 7 – The 4 hour buffet rule also applies

We have written about this in previous blog posts, but please remember that food such as salad, mayonnaise, coleslaw, dips, butter etc. should not be left out longer than 4 hours. That also applies to any cooked food from the barbecue.

If you follow the tips above you should ensure that any food you prepare cook and serve will be safe to eat. Here’s to several days of sun this year!

If you want more info on food safety training, check out our food safety courses here – available as both open and in-house training.

Food stall at festival

Glastonbury 2023 kicks off next week and heralds the start of a summer jam-packed with music festivals and events. This year audiences will be treated to headline performances from Arctic Moneys, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Sir Elton John on the famous Pyramid Stage. But it’s not just about the entertainment – there are hundreds of food stalls across the 900  acres site selling everything from hot dogs and burgers to gourmet street food.

Most common types of food poisoning at festivals

Large gatherings and temporary food set-ups can increase the likelihood of food-borne illnesses. The five most common are:


Most people associate Salmonella with eggs and poultry, but it is also found in raw and undercooked meat, unpasteurised dairy products and fruit and vegetables.


Escherichia Coli (to give it its full name) can cause severe food poisoning . It is typically transmitted through undercooked minced beef, contaminated water and contaminated fruit and veg.


Campylobacter infections are commonly caused by cross-contamination and insufficient cooking temperatures. This is another bacterium that is generally associated with chicken and other poultry.


Norovirus is highly contagious and can spread like wildfire at festivals as it thrives in crowded conditions with shared facilities. Contaminated food and water as well as poor hygiene practices can contribute to Norovirus outbreaks.


Listeriosis is caused by the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium and is extremely unpleasant. Those infected experience high temperatures, nausea or vomiting, chills, aches and pains and diarrhoea. It is most likely to be caused by consuming ready-to-eat foods such as cold meats, soft cheeses etc. and is of particular concern at festivals as it can even survive in refrigerated environments.

Show festival-goers you’re serious about food safety

To guard against any potential food poisoning events, it’s essential for food stallholders to prioritise  proper food handling and hygiene practices. If you’re a caterer lucky enough to secure a pitch at this year’s festivals, ensure you maintain a high standard of food safety at your stall at all times.

Food Hygiene Rating

If you have a good Food Hygiene Rating, display it prominently. It will give your customers confidence that not only do you prepare tasty, satisfying festival food, but you are committed to preparing and serving food which is safe.

(Image source: Food Standards Agency)

How to prepare and serve safe food from a kiosk or stall

In a kiosk or stall, your working space will be limited, so it’s important to follow some simple food hygiene rules. Let’s start with personal hygiene. Over the course of the festival you’re almost certain to encounter revellers who haven’t been near a shower or facecloth for days. However, personal hygiene is of utmost importance when you’re preparing and serving food for public consumption. So:

  • Ensure all staff wear clean and protective clothing, such as aprons
  • Tie back long hair and cover with caps or hairnets to avoid hair coming into contact with food.
  • Use disposable gloves when handling food to prevent direct contact and minimise the risk of contamination or wash hands regularly
  • Remove gloves before handling money or engaging in non-food related tasks

Keep it clean!

  • Don’t stack food containers on the floor, ensure they are in plastic bags or dry cardboard boxes
  • Clean and sanitise all utensils and equipment thoroughly between each use, especially when switching between raw meat and other food items.
  • Wipe down and sanitise surfaces regularly
  • Try to use individual sauce sachets instead of bottles. If you do use bottles, clean them regularly.
  • Keep the tray for cutlery and stirrers clean
  • Place waste food in tightly tied plastic bags and dispose of them in the appropriate lidded waste bins

Keep food at the correct temperature to avoid food poisoning

food thermometer in chicken
  • Regularly replace items like rice and chips to ensure they are at optimum quality
  • If you’re serving hot food, make sure it’s kept above 63? C to prevent bacterial growth
  • Store raw meat products, ready-to-eat foods and salad separately to prevent cross-contamination
  • Cover and refrigerate salad, grated cheese and other perishable items to maintain freshness

Make sure all staff have food safety and allergen training

Of course it’s a legal requirement that all food handlers have at least basic food safety training. However did you know that if you’re selling food which is pre-packed, you need to ensure that it carries a label listing all the ingredients? Not only that, but any food allergens need to be highlighted in bold.

Common allergens include peanuts, milk, gluten, egg, ground nuts and soya, but there are in fact 14 food allergens in total which need to be declared. Make sure that your staff are aware of any allergens in the food they serve and display a notice encouraging customers to ask about allergens.

To help you prepare, Verner Wheelock runs regular courses on food allergens and food labelling. We even have an online course about the requirements for pre-packed food for direct sale (or Natasha’s Law as it is commonly known). We also provide training on managing vegan requirements for food manufacturers.