Food pests and how to control them effectively

mice are food pestsNot so long ago we had an adorable House Martin family nesting outside the window. It was super cute, but what wasn’t not so great is the build-up of droppings on the window sill.  Bird droppings and the faeces of other animals are highly toxic. It’s bad enough outside a domestic property but you can imagine the damage that this type of mess can make in a food processing, preparation or packing environment.  That’s why food manufacturers and caterers need to take steps to keep food pests away from their premises.

Food pests carry pathogens

The trouble is that pests are resilient and persistent critters, they travel easily and they breed like crazy. Allow pests into your premises and they have the potential to spread such pathogens as listeria, Salmonella, E.Coli, toxoplasmosis, tuberculosis and gastroenteritis.

The main pests are rats, mice, birds and insects.  They spread disease by defecating and urinating, regurgitating food, and by shedding casings and dying.  The discovery of rat droppings, roosting birds or an infestation of flies can spell disaster for a company if they are discovered during a third-party audit.  The risk to food safety is extremely serious too.

Were you aware, for example, that filth flies can carry over 100 pathogens that can cause disease in humans. Filth flies include drain flies, flesh flies and house flies.  As their name suggests they move from filth to food indiscriminately. They feed on decaying and rotten food, carcases of animals and faecal matter as well as on fresh and stored food and ingredients.

Mice can squeeze through holes the size of a pencil and under the smallest gaps in doorways or skirting.  Rats can gnaw through hardwood wires and cabling (as well as cardboard boxes and other packaging).  Pigeons can get into premises and build roosts. Insects can fly into premises through minute spaces and make themselves at home in nooks and crannies behind and under equipment or in drains.

Warning signs that you might have a pest infestation

Even if you can’t see the pests (many are nocturnal) there are various tell-tale signs that you have unwelcome visitors:

Droppings and urine

Rat and mouse droppings are small, dry and look like brown grains of rice.  Vermin such as these urinate frequently when eating, so the chances are you’ll smell that they’re about too.

Grease marks

Greasy smears and paw prints are another sign of rodent infestation.

Evidence of nesting

Pests build their nests from whatever is to hand e.g packaging. So look for signs of this.

Structural damage

As I mentioned before, they can gnaw through wood and plaster, so look for gnaw and scratch marks.

Damaged goods

Look for signs of nibbled packaging on raw ingredients and spillages. Certain pests, such as weevils, can live within dry ingredients, so always give a good visual inspection before adding to product mixtures.

You know some of the signs, but how do you keep food pests out?

There are some simple things you can do to try to discourage pests in your facility:

  • Make sure all doors to production areas are secured. This means at all times. If you need to go out, close the door behind you. In addition, you should ensure that any doors leading to outside remain closed.
  • Keep insects out by installing window screens. If the window is open to let air in, that’s the only thing it should be letting in.
  • Cover all bins, especially any containing food waste. Empty bins regularly and tie bin bags securely before taking them out to external bins – which should have closed lids.
  • Check the building regularly for any holes and plug them up to stop rodents having access.
  • Make sure any vegetation around the building is cut right back. This will discourage rodents ad insects
  • Don’t allow birds to nest under the roof or eaves of the building.
  • Don’t put fly units over food surfaces. If they are too shallow the insects will drop out of the tray.
  • Ensure that you clean down equipment properly. Remember insects thrive in damp environments and will breed in the smallest of spaces.

Call the pest professionals

You can find out more about pests and pest control on our Level 3 Food Safety and Hygiene or Level 4 Food Safety and Hygiene courses.  If you think you have a pest problem, it’s often best to call in a professional pest control company.  The majority are aware what BRC auditors and Environmental Health Officers are looking for.

Following an initial visit, the contractor will produce a report of their findings.  This will detail current and potential sites of breaches or infestations and their recommendations.

Many also offer comprehensive silo cleaning and deep cleaning of food equipment and production spaces as well as the supply and fitting of insect screens, PVC curtains and doors, brush strips and other proofing solutions such as electronic rodent capture and electronic fly killers.  Given that they will be operating in a food production environment, many also offer pesticide-free solutions to pest control and chemical-free fumigation services.

 

Norovirus and Shigellosis – what causes these illnesses?

cruise ships have been linked with Norovirus

There have been more than six outbreaks of viruses, especially Norovirus, on cruise ships so far this year.  This might seem a large number, but in actual fact the likelihood of contracting Norovirus on a cruise ship is just one-eighteenth of a percent. You are far more likely to contract Norovirus on dry land.

Nevertheless, cruise liner operators are particularly scrupulous about hygiene.  Ascend or descend any of the stairways and you will find staff cleaning the handrails.  Walk into a restaurant or buffet area and there are hand sanitation stations.  On some ships, they even have a member of staff standing at the entrance with spray gun dispensing sanitiser directly into guests’ hands.  It’s a similar situation before you board the vessel.

To illustrate the point; I was having dinner on a cruise ship recently. The lady on the table adjacent was about to order, but just before she did, she sneezed.  The waiter immediately whisked the menu out of her hands, put it in a cupboard, sanitised his hands and handed her a new menu. The woman was astonished at his reaction, but he was, of course, quite correct to do so.

Norovirus spreads rapidly

Why are they so hot on hygiene? The answer lies in the fact that there are thousands of passengers and staff in close proximity.  An illness such as Norovirus, which causes sickness and diarrhoea, can therefore spread rapidly.

toilet rolls for diarrhoeaNorovirus can be transmitted directly or indirectly.  In other words, person-to-person, or through contaminated water or food.  So, for example, if you touch a door handle, surface or utensil (or menu for that matter) of someone who contracted the virus, you can become infected yourself.  It can also spread through eating contaminated food prepared by infected food handlers.  Norovirus can become airborne via toilet flushing or you can catch it by being nearby somebody vomiting. It takes fewer than 20 virus particles to cause an infection.  Scary stuff!

 

Which foods are best to avoid?

shellfish and saladFood-wise the most likely candidates to be implicated in a Norovirus outbreak are salad ingredients and shellfish.  If shellfish have not been heated above 75?C, they pose a serious risk.  If infected water is used to wash fruit and vegetables, or to make ice, that will also cause the virus to spread.  But it’s not only potable water that can become contaminated.  Waterborne outbreaks of Norovirus have also been sourced in swimming pools and recreational lakes.

Norovirus can survive for long periods outside the human body. Contaminated fabrics can hold the virus for up to 12 days.  It can live for weeks on hard surfaces and potentially for years in contaminated still water.  So, food safety and general hygiene are obviously of paramount importance.

How can we protect ourselves against contracting the virus?

One of the most effective things you can do is wash your hands properly with soap and water. This is actually more effective than using an alcohol rub. You can also ensure all surfaces are sanitised with a solution of bleach and water or other disinfectants. You might also want to side-step the salad and shellfish to be absolutely sure.

What is Shigellosis?

Shigellosis, a highly contagious diarrhoea caused by Shigella bacteria, is often confused with Norovirus. It also has a similar make-up to E.coli bacteria.

Shigella can spread in schoolsShigella bacteria is most commonly seen in schools and child care environments.  It can spread quickly and is generally spread through people not washing their hands after using the toilet or changing a nappy.  They then touch other surfaces or food. All someone has to do is touch the same surface/utensils and then touch their mouth and they can fall victim to Shigellosis.  It can even be spread via sex with an infected person.

The bacteria can affect any food which has been washed in contaminated water.  That’s why it is often referred to as ‘travellers’ diarrhoea’, since it is contracted through contaminated food and water in developing countries.

Did E-Coli kill holidaying couple?

Post-mortem tests carried out on the bodies of a couple from Burnley who died suddenly whilst  holidaying in Hurghada, Egypt, showed high levels of E.Coli  The E.Coli bacteria causes very similar symptoms and is transmitted in similar ways to the Shigellosis virus.

E. Coli is present in the guts of humans and animals and can be transferred through not washing hands after using the toilet, eating undercooked meat, drinking unpasteurised milk and fruit juices or drinking contaminated water etc. You are also more susceptible to illness from E. Coli and other bacteria if you have a weakened immune system; are elderly or very young; or are taking medication to decrease stomach acid levels.

Most strains of E. Coli are harmless and may cause a little discomfort. However severe strains can cause fever as well as stomach cramps, diarrhoea and nausea and can lead to a condition called Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). In HUS the red blood cells are damaged and this can lead to kidney failure. This can occur in 5 -10% of people infected with E. Coli.

Learn about food poisoning bacteria and their control

You can find out all about cross contamination and the various bacteria which cause food poisoning on our Food safety courses.  We offer all levels from basic Level 2 Food Safety & Hygiene, Level 3 Food Safety & Hygiene for supervisors to advanced Level 4 Food Safety and Hygiene. All are available as open courses at our training facility.  Alternatively, if you have 5 or more people to train, a cost-effective option is the same course run in-house at your own premises.

 

Click here for more information.

Exam techniques – 6 tips for improved performance

exam techniques

If you left school, college or university several years ago, the chances are you won’t have sat an exam for a very long time. However, exams are a necessary evil if you want to gain qualifications for career progression; or improve your skills in your current role.

It’s natural to feel a little anxious before your exam or test, so here are some top tips to help out.

1) Read the questions

This might seem really obvious, but before you put pen to paper, make sure you read the question. Not just once, but 3 times. This should ensure that you have understood it correctly. When you’re nervous and up against the clock, it’s easy to misread something. For example, if the question says ‘Which of the following are not food safety prerequisites?’, you don’t want to read it as ‘Which of the following are food safety prerequisites?’

Some of the questions in HACCP and Food Safety examinations can seem ambiguous and there can seem to be more than one relevant answer. Reading through carefully often helps to clarify this.

2) Understand what is required

It’s a good idea to search Google for ‘exam questions glossary’ before the big day. This will tell you what is meant by particular words and phrases and what the examiner will expect to see in your answers. E.g. “List the 7 principles of HACCP” is a very different question from “Describe the 7 principles of HACCP.” The first will have fewer marks and you will just be able to provide a simple list. The second will carry more marks and requires a more detailed answer.

3) Allocate your time efficiently

Level 4 Food Safety, Level 4 HACCP and Lead Auditor exams are written papers rather than multiple choice. Each question shows the maximum amount of marks awarded. It’s common sense that you should spend more time on the questions for which you can get more marks.  Don’t waste time writing hundreds of words on a question worth a few marks, even if you could wax lyrical about pests for hours. Spend more time on a question worth 10 or 20 marks.

If you know that the exam is 2 hours duration, allow 5 to 10 minutes reading time and the same again at the end to go over your answers. Then split the remaining time according to the marks structure. Don’t feel you have to answer the questions in the order they appear. It might be sensible to answer the high-ranking questions first, then tackle the rest.

4) Tips for a multiple choice exam

Exams such as Level 3 HACCP, Level 3 Food Safety and Auditing Skills are in multiple choice format. You have a separate answer sheet which is marked electronically. A good tip is to go through the question paper and mark all your answers on there first. You can tick the answers to the ones you know and for ones you’re not sure about you can eliminate the answers you know are correct. Then, once you’ve made your choices, carefully transfer the answers to the answer sheet. You can use a sheet of paper or ruler under the corresponding questions and answers to make sure they’re entered correctly.

5)Blue or black ink?

The answer to this one is that we would always recommend that you use black ink. Exam papers are scanned for marking, so black is much clearer and easier to read. When you sit an examination at Verner Wheelock we provide black pens as standard.

On the subject of writing, try to make your handwriting as clear as possible. If your handwriting is difficult to decipher, you could print instead.

6) Make sure you’re prepared

One of the best ways to prepare for an exam is to try to replicate examination conditions. Make sure you are somewhere quiet with no distractions, then attempt a mock paper within the given time. Study in short bursts of 20 -30 minutes at a time and memorise facts using mnemonics wherever possible.

What if English is not your mother tongue?

You need to let the examination centre know well in advance if English is not your first language. In some cases the examination paper might be available in different languages. Remember that this will need to be ordered in specially, so give them plenty of notice. If the examination paper is only available in English you will be allowed to take a dictionary and thesaurus in with you (paper version only) and you will probably be allowed extra time.

After the exam

Don’t overanalyse the questions and your answers with your colleagues. What happens in the exam stays in the exam. Just take a deep breath and enjoy the rest of the day. The chances are you’re worrying about nothing. As long as you’ve listened to the tutor during your training you should do fine. For example, the pass rate for Verner Wheelock delegates is 98% for Level 3 Food Safety and 97% for Level 3 HACCP.

Good luck!

Don’t overload the fridge! Plus other food safety rules this summer

ice cream coneWell, it looks like this current heatwave will continue for a couple of weeks. I, for one, am not complaining. It’s nice to have some heat after months of feeling like you’re living in a fridge. Unsurprisingly sales of beer, cider, sun lotion and insect repellent have increased over the past week. So too have sales of ice cream and barbecue food, such as burgers, sausages and chicken, as well as salad ingredients.

Good weather means the opportunity for alfresco dining. But it also means that we need to be particularly mindful when it comes to food safety. Here are some tips to keep you on track.

Wash your hands

It might seem an obvious one, but always wash your hands before handling food. You also need to be mindful of washing them after you cough or sneeze into them. Or after touching pets or using the toilet.

Don’t overload the fridge

fridgeDon’t overload the fridge. If the air in the fridge isn’t allowed to circulate, it won’t keep the contents as cool as intended. If the salad and meat is fighting for space with a crate of beer, remove the beer. You can always put this in a bucket of ice to stay chilled. Cold beer is a ‘nice-to-have’ rather than something which is safety-critical.

Another point about temperature control in the fridge – if you’re planning on reheating hot food, keep it in the fridge before you do, but allow it to cool down first. Putting hot food straight into the fridge will raise the temperature.

Ensure food is cooked properly

barbecue meatIf you’re having a barbecue, be sure that the food is cooked all the way through. Always check to see if burgers, sausages, chicken etc. is not pink on the inside. Don’t give in to pressure to get food on the plates. If it takes a few minutes more, people will just have to wait – better to be safe than sorry.

 

Keep raw and cooked food separate

You also need to avoid the danger of cross-contamination by keeping raw and cooked food separate. Don’t offer up a cooked burger to somebody on a plate that previously held raw chicken, for example. The same rule goes for vegetables – wash them first and prepare them on a clean chopping board with clean utensils.

Keep it refrigerated until you need it

Additionally, I know it’s tempting to be well prepared, but don’t get things out of the fridge until the very last minute. Cheeses, anything containing cream, and raw meat should not be left out in the sun for longer than is necessary. Once outside, cover it until you need it. Also, check ‘use by’ dates before serving food up to your friends and family.

And finally…

sausages on barbecueDon’t forget to make sure that the barbecue grill is clean before you cook! Nobody wants to eat food cooked on a rusty dirty barbecue coated in last year’s grease. Give it a good scrub with soapy water and rinse and dry the grill well before you begin.

OK food safety lecture over! (But if you do want to know more about the basics of food safety, why not take our online Level 2 Food Safety course? It’s just £15 plus VAT and you’ll get a certificate at the end of it).

Enjoy the sunshine!

Fruit, food poisoning and food safety #foodsafety

fresh fruit

It’s finally summer time, so it’s out with the stodge and in with the fruit and salad!

When you’re preparing lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries and the like, you might encounter the odd creepy crawly. However, these can be removed easily. it’s the microscopic bacteria you can’t see that can cause serious food poisoning. That’s where having food safety and hygiene knowledge is important.

Contaminated fruit causes death

pomegranate Hepatitis AThere were reports in the news recently that eating contaminated fruit had killed a 64 year-old woman in Australia. She and 24 others had contracted Hepatitis A from consuming frozen pomegranate seeds. The virus takes around 15 to 50 days to develop. Symptoms include nausea, fever, vomiting and yellowing of the skin.

Hepatitis A and other types of illness linked to fruit and vegetables is often caused by traces of faeces. These can be transferred to the food from a number of sources. Generally it is in the water used to wash the produce. It can come from manure which has got into the water stream if fresh water has not been used.  Alternatively it can come from the hands of staff at the processing facility.

Continual re-use of processing water can result in a build-up of microbes (including pathogens) which have been left behind in the water from the previous load. Therefore final rinse water should always be of drinking quality.

The importance of personal hygiene

hand washingGood personal hygiene is vital if you are involved in processing, packing or handling produce – and also if preparing it at home. You should wash hands thoroughly including under your fingernails and between your fingers. Cough or sneeze away from food and always cover your mouth. Then wash your hands immediately.

If you have cuts, sores, or lesions on your hands, make sure that they are effectively covered and wear clean gloves. Finally, if you are suffering from a virus or diarrhoea, don’t handle food – it’s just not worth the risk.

Cantaloupe melonMelons and Listeria poisoning

One fruit which seems particularly prone to harbouring food poisoning bacteria is cantaloupe melon. It has been responsible for numerous cases of Listeria food poisoning, especially in the USA. Reasons why include the number of times they are turned during maturation. Another is the potential for human pathogens reaching the flesh via the stem scars.

If you’re preparing a melon you should clean the skin using fresh water and a clean scrubbing brush. This is to prevent bacteria from the outside from reaching the flesh when you cut into it. In fact you should wash all fruit, even if you plan to peel it.

raspberriesIf you can’t scrub the skin of a fruit, for example berries, the best thing to do is rinse then in fast-running water. This is better than soaking them since the friction helps to remove bacteria more efficiently.

It goes without saying that you also need to follow the usual food safety rules.  Wash your hands. Prepare it with clean utensils on a clean surface which has not been in contact with raw meat to avoid any danger of cross-contamination and potential illness.

For more information about food safety and hygiene, please click here.

BRC Issue 8 – what’s new?

BRC Issue 8 auditingThe much-anticipated BRC Global Standard for Food Safety Issue 8 is published in August this year. It is 3 years since the Standard was last updated and there have been a few major changes in that time. The new Issue 8 is still in draft format although it’s likely that most of the changes put forward will be adopted. This includes greater focus and responsibility on Senior Management. Managers will need to demonstrate a commitment to continual improvement through the establishment of a strategic plan for a robust food safety culture.

What other changes will there be between BRC Issue 7  and BRC Issue 8?

In addition there will be new environmental monitoring clauses and a requirement for root cause analysis procedures. Following the 2 Sisters scandal, companies will also need to implement a confidential whistle-blower reporting system.  This will enable staff to report concerns relating to product safety, integrity, quality and legality.

Other changes likely to be approved concern the creation of a new section where all high-risk, high-care and ambient high care requirements are centralised. There will also be a focus on cyber security and greater clarity for sites manufacturing pet food.  Another area concerns global applicability and benchmarking to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).

Where can I find the BRC Global Standard documentation?

You can view both the current BRC 7 and the draft version of BRC 8 by using the links below.

BRC Global Standard for Food Safety Issue 7

BRC Global Standard for Food Safety Issue 8 DRAFT

BRC 8 will be effective from February 2019. Therefore, anyone who has an audit after the end of January 2019 will need to familiarise themselves with the differences between BRC Issue 7 and BRC Issue 8.

For information on all our auditing courses, please click here.

Food safety culture – it’s not enough to do ‘just enough’

training for food safety cultureIf you work in the food industry, it’s essential that you have the correct training. As a minimum, anyone handling food for public consumption needs to have basic food safety training. Poor food hygiene can lead to unsafe food being sold or served. Unsafe food can result in serious illness or, in extreme cases, death. In addition, it can damage your business reputation, incur hefty fines and even put the future of the business in jeopardy.

In some instances training is simply seen as a box-ticking exercise. But what’s the point of that? Sure, you can demonstrate that the training has been undertaken, but how is that really of benefit?

Training is only truly effective if you understand the reasons why you need to perform a particular task in a certain way. It’s also only effective if you take what you have learned and use it in the workplace. Doing ‘just enough’ doesn’t really help anyone, and now business managers are realising there is a case for going ‘beyond compliance‘.

Create a food safety culture within your company

The ideal situation is to achieve a food safety culture where food safety and continuous improvement are a way of life. To achieve this you need buy-in from all members of staff in every department. It needs to be led and championed by senior management. They need to demonstrate that food safety is of the utmost importance and must be taken seriously. As seriously as productivity and profits. That means by everyone in the company, during every shift.

You should write the importance of food safety into the company’s mission statement. Ensure it is part of the company’s vision to continually improve. Encourage staff to be proactive rather than reactive. For example, has a prominent food manufacturer had a serious food safety recall recently? Keep abreast of the facts. Also keep your ear to the ground for any industry innovations and any updates in legislation.

handwashingIn a busy and competitive working environment there are inevitably production pressures and tight deadlines. However, it’s vitally important that employees follow SOPs correctly. Failure to do so can compromise food safety.

That’s why as part of a training programme it should be explained clearly not just which tasks need to be performed, but the consequences of not performing them, or of performing them out of sequence. Supervisors need to be trained to ensure that SOPs are being followed and to monitor performance. Ongoing staff training is important, but so is the provision of the correct tools to do the job – and the requisite PPE.

Ensure all staff are engaged in making food safety a priority

One of the major hurdles to be overcome when developing a food safety culture is staff engagement. If the staff currently have no say in decision-making, or are disengaged from work in any other way, they are likely to have the ‘not my problem’ attitude when things go wrong. The way to counter this is by involving them in decisions regarding food safety policy.  Make them feel valued, give them ownership of their tasks/area and providing training. You can reward them for positive food safety behaviour and get them to realise that food safety is an important part of their jobs.

Feel comfortable during audits

Another positive to come out of a food safety culture is that you should feel comfortable during an unannounced audit. You can enrol some staff in  Auditing Skills or Lead Auditor training to ensure you’re fully prepared and carry out regular internal audits and inspections.

It should get to a point where food safety protocol is followed as a matter of course. It just becomes part of a daily routine. Going over and above to ensure food safety should become the norm instead of doing the bare minimum and hoping for the best.

Have you considered in-house food industry training?

UK MapSo, you’ve been on Google, found the training course your staff need, but there’s a problem. You’re based in the South East and the training provider is up in North Yorkshire. It’s a two-day course, so the expense of travel and accommodation is fairly prohibitive for the 7 staff you want to train. That’s on top of the cost of the training itself.  However, there’s no need to despair – simply book an in-house course instead.

At Verner Wheelock we can run any of the courses we advertise at our Skipton training centre at your own premises. We can even develop bespoke courses too, relevant to your own products or sector, or to resolve problems and ongoing issues.

In-house courses are cost-effective – ask for a quote

moneySeveral of our customers take advantage of the fact that in-house courses can be particularly cost-effective and make their training budget go further. For example, to send an individual on our 5-day open Level 4 Food Safety course would cost £895 + VAT. However, when you have 5-12 staff that need training, one of our trainers could visit your premises and deliver exactly the same course which could save several hundred pounds.

Plus, the more people you train, the lower the cost per person. We recommend a maximum of 15 for basic level courses such as Level 2 Food Safety or Level 2 HACCP. For more advanced courses such as Level 4 Food Safety or HACCP or Lead Auditor we stipulate a maximum of 12 people – the same as at our open courses.  As we charge an overall course fee, it means you get value for money if you can fill an in-house course with 12 delegates.

Train at a time to suit your staff – flexible dates

planningFrom a scheduling point of view in-house courses at your site are also a good idea. You can choose the dates that are the most convenient for you and your shift schedule. Perhaps you have a quieter time of year when more staff are available, or there are certain days of the month that are less busy? We will always do our utmost to fit in with your requirements – we can even train on the night shift!

Also, our 5-day Level 4 Food Safety course, for example, could be delivered in one week, or as 1 day per week for 5 weeks, or over 2-3 weeks or any combination to suit your staff.

There is plenty to commend open courses in terms of interaction and shared ideas with others working in different environments. However, when you book an in-house course, all the focus is on your own business and how the training can be applied internally. Delegates will be able to ask plenty of questions on relevant issues and receive guidance that can readily be put into practice.

We’ll come to you wherever you’re based – UK or overseas

Training sessionVerner Wheelock trainers are based nationwide, so we can always find the most suitable trainer for the subject within your area. You can also rest assured that all our trainers have previous hands-on food industry experience, so understand your industry inside-out.

So if you have five or more staff to train, it’s certainly worth enquiring about in-house courses. Claire will be happy to give you more details and provide a quotation.  Or you can find out more here.

Excellence Awards winners announced

So, the time has finally come. After much ‘deliberating, cogitating and digesting’ (as Lloyd Grossman used to say on Masterchef), we have pleasure in revealing the winners of the 3rd Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards. They have been chosen from nominations by our course tutors and as ever it has been a very difficult decision to make.

Awards recognise excellence

trainingThe Awards recognise the hard work, enthusiasm and flair of our delegates and their respective companies. All individual winners attended our classroom-based courses here in Skipton during 2017. All have achieved outstanding grades in advanced level exams.

There were  5 awards up for grabs: HACCP, Food Safety, Auditing, Company Excellence and Individual Excellence.

So, without further ado, the winners of the 2017 Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards are:

Verner Wheelock Excellence AwardsHACCP Student of the Year – Nattakan Pinyopat, Warburtons

Food Safety Student of the Year – Kerrie Borthwick, Loch Fyne Oysters Ltd

Auditing Student of the Year – Julie Ryan, CSM Bakeries

Individual Excellence Award – Brandon Green, Ornua Ingredients

Company Excellence Award – Shepherds Purse Cheeses

 

As well as receiving a trophy, the winners also get a voucher for £250 against any future classroom or in-house training with Verner Wheelock. The winner of the Company Excellence Award receives a voucher for £500.

Previous  winners have included delegates from PAS Grantham, F Smales & Sons, Symingtons, pladis and Harper Green School. Also Bakkavor Desserts, Taylors of Harrogate, New Ivory and Sykes House Farm.

Verner Wheelock MD, Alison Wheelock said, “There are always certain people  attending our courses who stand out as being exceptional. The Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards are a great way of recognising these talents. Our delegates continue to achieve excellent examination results and we’re very fortunate that we have  longstanding relationships with so many companies within this industry. Huge congratulations to all our winners! “

We will be posting pictures of the winners with their awards in the next few weeks, so watch this space!

Party food safety at Christmas – what you need to know

It’s Christmas party season! You’re in your finery, you’ve booked the hotel or restaurant and you’re in a festive mood – what could possibly go wrong? Without wanting to be a party pooper, there’s plenty that could be going on behind the scenes, including issues with Christmas party food.

Did you check the Food Hygiene rating of the venue?
Food Hygiene Rating
Displaying the Food Hygiene Rating of an establishment is compulsory in Wales, but not elsewhere in the UK. Many eateries proudly display their rating if they have a score of 4 or 5. However others with lower scores may not be so forthcoming.

A rating of 3 or above indicates that the premises and practises are hygienic. Two and below should be cause for concern. If the venue isn’t displaying their Food Hygiene Rating in a window or other prominent place, you can still find out what it is. All you have to do is visit www.food.gov.uk/ratings

Christmas party with buffet-style dining

food safety at buffet

Some Christmas buffets look absolutely amazing. The tables are groaning with the weight of various sandwiches, seafood, quiches, sausage rolls and pork pies, vol-au-vents, cheeses, quiches and desserts. Being the first in the queue not only means you get first pick of the goodies. Assuming it’s been prepared properly, it also means you’re more likely getting the party food at its safest.

Food which needs to be kept chilled in a fridge should not be left in ambient temperature for longer than four hours.  So if you’re peckish at midnight and there are still a few curly smoked salmon sandwiches left from a 6 o’clock buffet – don’t be tempted.  After four hours there’s the chance that bacteria will begin to multiply on the food.

hot food safetyAny hot party food should be kept hot – i.e. at a temperature of at least 63 degrees Celsius.  It should also be replaced regularly and not just topped up.

Remember, there’s also huge potential for cross-contamination at a Christmas party with so many people using the same utensils and picking up food with their hands. Think on –you might wash your hands before meals and after using the toilet, but not everyone does…

Double-dipping and trying other people’s drinks

You know when you see chefs on TV and they’re tasting the sauce? They don’t use the same spoon they’re stirring it with. Neither do they use the testing spoon again. If they did, bacteria from their mouth would be transferred to the sauce.

Christmas buffet party food safety

For the very same reason, you should never double-dip a breadstick or crudité into a communal bowl of dip. Instead either dip once only, or transfer some dip to your plate, where you can dip to your heart’s content.

Trying other people’s drinks isn’t the most hygienic practice either. If you are going to do it – use a clean straw.

Let guests know what’s in your Christmas party food        

My friend once went to a wedding where the mother of the bride had made the cake herself. When the time came for cutting the cake, the restaurant where the wedding was being held refused to serve it. This was because they had not prepared it themselves and could not be sure that it was safe to eat.

Naturally this caused a lot of upset, but the restaurant was following its own food safety guidelines. They also didn’t know what the cake contained, so would not want to be liable for any allergic reaction, should the cake contain unknown allergens.

slice of pizzaIf a Christmas party buffet is catered, there should be clear labelling of any allergens contained in food. Any food deemed gluten-free should be kept apart from other food containing gluten. It should also have been prepared separately to avoid cross contamination. For example, you cannot class a pizza as ‘gluten-free’ if it has been cooked on the same tray, in the same oven as other regular pizzas, even if it is made with gluten-free dough.

Make sure any casual Christmas staff are trained in food safety

Anyone preparing or serving food needs to hold a Level 2 Food Safety certificate as a minimum. That also applies to casual or temporary staff.  Two of the most common forms of food poisoning are campylobacter and staphylococcus which can originate from poor hygiene practices by food handlers.

Coughing or sneezing on food, uncovered cuts, not washing hands, using the same chopping boards for raw and cooked foods are all simple ways of contaminating food. All staff should also be aware of the correct storage of food.

Have a safe Christmas everyone!