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Is Masterchef setting a bad example of food hygiene?

Masterchef finalists 2013

The Masterchef 2013 Finalists

Masterchef – it’s one of the most popular shows on television, where talented amateurs compete to serve up restaurant-standard food. No doubt several thousands of people will be watching this week’s final to see whether Larkin, Natalie or Dale earn the coveted title. Lately though, it seems the programme has given some viewers a bitter taste in the mouth, particularly those working within the food industry themselves.

Masterchef - hair not tied back

Hair not tied back properly in the Masterchef kitchen

Recent episodes have seen a female chef’s hair escaping from her hat and dangling over a lamb tagine, contestants wearing jewellery and nail varnish, the wearing of chef’s whites en route to a restaurant challenge, sweat dripping into sauces, improper use of chopping boards, no hats, hairnets or protective clothing being worn in the studio… the list goes on.

Professional cookery is about more than recipes

Whilst most viewers watch Masterchef to see culinary creativity and the drama playing out of amateurs under pressure, either against the clock or in a professional environment, surely this should also be a platform for education – ensuring that all food is prepared in a safe manner to avoid contamination. Simple things like making sure long hair is tied back in the kitchen, knowing that  jewellery and nail varnish are unacceptable when preparing food, clean aprons must be worn and hands should be washed thoroughly are all things we learned at school. Why then, are we seeing simple food hygiene practices flouted on a programme about professional cooking?

Every person employed to handle food for public consumption is required by law to undertake basic food safety training as a bare minimum. This informs and guards against the dangers of potential contamination and cross-contamination. One of the best ways of reducing risk is to ensure that cooked food is handled as little as possible; when it is handled it should be done so only with clean hands or serving cutlery. Of course regular hand washing is only one aspect of acceptable personal hygiene for a kitchen…

Effective personal hygiene when preparing or serving food

Here are some personal hygiene rules which should always be followed in a kitchen environment:

Food handlers should NEVER lick their fingers, blow their nose, cough or sneeze when preparing food. If they do cough or sneeze they should always cover their mouth and then wash their hands immediately before returning to the task in hand. Likewise hands should be washed after blowing of the nose. Hair and fingernails must be kept clean.

Clothing and jewellery

Food preparation staff should wear clean protective clothing including hats and hairnets if applicable. This clothing should be donned within the work premises and should not be worn on the way to work as this could attract dirt and dust etc. from outside. Hats and hairnets should also be worn when preparing food, if applicable.

Watches and jewellery should not be worn since they are not sterile and could also potentially come loose and fall into food mixtures. Similarly false nails and nail varnish are unacceptable as nail varnish could chip, food could get stuck behind long nails and the nails themselves could become detached from fingers and end up in food. Even strong perfume or aftershave can taint food.

Illnesses, skin complaints and food

If staff are suffering from sickness, diarrhoea, stomach upsets, skin complaints, septic skin lesions, boils, infected cuts, discharge from the ear, nose or any other site the manager should be informed. These all have the potential to contaminate food. Cuts and abrasions should always be covered by an easily detachable waterproof dressing.

Hand washing

Hands should be washed before starting work or handling cooked food. Here’s how to wash your hands properly:

  1. Wet hands, apply soap and rub palms together until soap is bubbly
  2. Rub each palm over the back of the other hand
  3. Rub between your fingers on each hand
  4. Rub backs of fingers (interlocked)
  5. Rub around each of your thumbs
  6. Rub both palms with fingertips, then rinse
  7. Dry your hands well on a clean, dry towel or paper towels

Remember, no matter how tight the deadline, there is no excuse for sloppy hygiene practices in a professional food preparation environment. You want people to remember your food for the right reasons, not the wrong ones!

For more information about our range of food safety courses, including Level 2 Food Safety online, please click here.