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These are unusual times and many companies have been forced to adapt and diversify in order to survive. Food businesses which are part of the hospitality trade are now finding themselves reopening and selling directly to the public. Sit-down restaurants are offering takeaway food. Farm shops are offering deliveries or click-and-collect services…

If you are planning on reopening your food business, you will need to make sure that you have taken all reasonable precautions to produce food safely and to protect your staff and customers from COVID-19. There are quite possibly more elements to consider than you might have first thought.

Reopening checklist for food businesses

To make life a little simpler, the Food Standards Agency has produced a Reopening Checklist for food businesses during COVID-19. The first on the list is letting your Local Authority know that you are going to re-open your business. You also need to tell them of any change to the business activities you have registered. For example, if you are introducing a takeaway or delivery service for the first time, they should be informed.

Changing the way your business operates means that any new procedures need to be written into your Food Safety Management System and trained out to staff. Think about how you are going to manage food allergens, potential cross-contamination, temperature control during the delivery or collection of your products? Ask yourself if the packaging you are intending to use is fit for the job. Is it made from food grade materials and is it stored hygienically?

Ensuring staff safety in a food business

Before reopening, make sure that your staff have the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and that you have plenty in stock. If clothing is to be re-used, consider how workers can change out of it safely and launder it. Ensure that your staff are well and fit to work by conducting telephone interviews beforehand. Those staff that can come in to work should be trained in any new procedures before commencing work. Increased handwashing is of particular importance. Hands should be washed properly for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water and dried using disposable paper towels.

If social distancing is possible, try to ensure that staff keep a distance of two metres between them. Where it is not possible try to have the same teams working together, or put measures in place such as screens to minimise potential transmission of the virus. Additionally, procedures for visitors to site or for dealing directly with the public should be drawn up and implemented.

It’s not just about the products you are making. You also need to make sure that any waste is disposed of safely. Check to see that your waste carrier is still running and operating a regular service. If not, this could present a food safety hazard.

Check and clean everything

If you haven’t entered your premises for several weeks it’s a good idea to flush through taps and other equipment with water systems, to guard against the risk of legionella. Dishwashers and glass washers should also be run empty on a hot cycle. Obviously, it goes without saying that all surfaces and machinery should be deep cleaned.

Any fridges, freezers and chilled display cabinets need to be cleaned thoroughly and given the chance to reach temperature before filling. Re-calibrate equipment if necessary. Check all use-by dates on ingredients and ensure there is no damage to packaging.

The above are just some of the reopening considerations. At the end of the day, you need to ensure that your staff and anyone you deal with externally stays as safe as is reasonably practicable. You also need to consider the impact new ways of working could have on food safety and amend your food safety management systems accordingly.

We wish you the very best of luck and hope that your business gets back on track and continues to thrive.

If you’re used to attending classroom-based training, the idea of remote training through a computer screen might seem a little daunting. But there’s really no need to worry, it’s all quite straightforward and there are plenty of reasons why you should embrace the technology:

worried about online training

Firstly, there’s no need to travel anywhere. You can train from the comfort of your own home – or even your garden if the weather’s fine! Anyone, anywhere in the world, can book onto one of our live remote training sessions because distance is no barrier. This will also save you time and money!

Secondly, you don’t require any special equipment to be able to attend. All you need is your laptop, PC, tablet or even your smart phone! They just need to have a camera, microphone and speakers, which are generally built-in.  We send you a link via email to join the training session. Click on it and you’re in!

Remote but together

Thirdly, you can see, hear and interact with the trainer and other delegates on the course, whilst practising the ultimate in social distancing. The training is live, so it will start and finish at designated times, just like a regular course.

A member of staff from Verner Wheelock will also log in to welcome you and assist with any technical issues you might have. We generally use the Zoom platform, so many of you will already be familiar with this through keeping in touch with friends and family. Don’t panic if you’ve never used it before, we’ll take you through it. Or if you like, you can contact us before the course on 01756 700802 and one of the team will give you a demo and show you how easy it is.

Just like our regular training courses

Every remote session is delivered by an experienced and professional trainer from Verner Wheelock. You will be able to interact with them by asking questions directly or by messaging. You’ll also have the opportunity to do group exercises, just as you would on one of our classroom-based courses. This is one of the advantages traditional classroom-based training has over the usual ‘click through’ online courses, but now you can have the best of both worlds.

Essentially, we have done everything we possibly can to replicate our face-to-face training and it is working really well. Just look at some of the feedback we’ve received to some recent remote courses.

Plenty of remote courses on offer

Ready to take the plunge? Below is a list of our forthcoming live remote training courses. We look forward to seeing you on one of them.

Our next remote courses are:

To book your place, please contact Claire Lennon on 01756 700802 or email claire.lennon@vwa.co.uk

New look website www.vwa.co.uk

The Verner Wheelock website has undergone a complete makeover!

The new, modern design is clean, clear and easy to navigate. With drop-down menus and colour-coded sections, you’ll find it simple to go directly to the course or information that you want. Plus you’ll be able to see related courses at a glance.

Why not check it out? Visit www.vwa.co.uk and view our HACCP, Food Safety, Auditing and Specialist pages. There’s also a fresh new section on Ethical Audits with all the information you need to know about our SMETA ethical audit services and handy ethical trading resources.

We love the new-look website and hope you do too. Please let us know your thoughts by emailing office@vwa.co.uk

Great feedback to our remote training

feedback to remote training with Verner Wheelock

Verner Wheelock celebrates an amazing 30 years in business this year. One of the reasons why we have gone from strength to strength is that we have a culture of continuous improvement. In fact, we achieved ISO9001 certification in 2018 for our Quality Management System.

Much of this improvement is driven by adapting to changes in the food industry, market trends and listening to our customers.  Feedback on the courses we deliver is extremely important to us. We encourage delegates to complete a feedback questionnaire after each course they attend and ask them to be completely honest.

Feedback is important to us

We were, of course, very interested to receive feedback when we began delivering our HACCP, Food Safety, Auditing and specialist courses remotely in response to the COVID-19 lockdown. Verner Wheelock has strived to make the courses, which are delivered via the Zoom video platform, as similar as possible to the face-to-face courses we normally run in Skipton or in-house at customers’ own premises.

We’re delighted to report that the response has been very positive.  Here are just a handful of the responses we have received recently:

“First ever remote training I have attended. Absolutely fantastic! No different to being in the classroom. I think this is the way forward. Very clearly explained and good knowledge.”

“Thank you very much for the course. Joanne was a great tutor. Her delivery of the information was clear and at the correct pace. Zoom training worked very well. The course was very useful, and I hope to do more.”

“After the course I took this week with Peter, I’m more than happy to do another remote course.”

“The trainer was great. It was a good experience doing a course on Zoom.”

Hopefully, these comments will encourage you to try a remotely-trained Verner Wheelock course. They are highly interactive and are delivered live by our experienced Verner Wheelock trainers. If you have any questions at all, just call our office number 01756 700802 and a member of the team will be happy to provide the answers.  We are all practising social distancing and working from home but our VOIP phone system means we can easily be contacted, as normal.

Take one of our forthcoming remote courses

Our next remote sessions are taking place as follows:

To book your place, please contact Claire Lennon on 01756 700802 or email claire.lennon@vwa.co.uk

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, if anyone had said the word ‘furloughed’ to me, I would have assumed that it was some sort of farming term. Now, of course, I know that it refers to someone who is retained on a company’s books, but is on a temporary leave of absence. For example, it refers to an employee who cannot do their work from home, or a staff member whose company is unable to pay wages during the lockdown period.

Under the current Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, employers can claim a Government grant that will pay up to 80% of a furloughed employee’s earnings to a maximum of £2500 per month. At the time of writing the scheme is in place until the end of June, although this could change.

A furloughed worker is not allowed to do any work for their company. As I wrote in a previous blog post, he/she is however, eligible to do picking and packing work on farms to supplement their income.

You CAN train if you’re furloughed

Another activity they are permitted to undertake is training. According to current Government advice, “Furloughed employees can engage in training, as long as in undertaking the training the employee does not provide services to, or generate revenue for, or on behalf of their organisation or a linked or associated organisation.”

Appropriate training is an essential element for the success of the food industry. We provide all levels of Food Safety, HACCP and Auditing training, as well as specialist courses such as Legal Labelling, Managing Food Allergens and Root Cause Analysis. Thanks to the power of technology we can deliver most of our training courses using voice and video software. The courses are interactive and hosted live by our experienced tutors and there is the opportunity to ask questions and work in groups, just as you would on a regular face-to-face course.

Get ahead before you return to work

If you are on furlough, now is the ideal time to catch up with some training. You can do it from the comfort of your own home, without worrying about disrupting shift patterns or leaving an organisation short-staffed. You’ll also have the added benefit of being fully prepared for your role when normal working life resumes.

Often, it’s difficult for HR managers to organise ‘in-house’ training due to tight production schedules. However, if staff are furloughed, this is the perfect opportunity to get several employees trained at once. Verner Wheelock are currently offering online training through live remote delivery of their usual range of courses. The training works in exactly the same way as a regular VWA in-house course, but the employees and the VWA trainer join the training from their own homes via the internet.

Similarly, if it’s been a few years since you took a Level 3 or 4 qualification, why not use this spare time to update your knowledge? We run HACCP Refresher, Auditing Refresher and Food Safety Update courses, which only take a few hours to complete. They’ll also satisfy BRC requirements for refresher training every three years.

Find out more about our live remote training courses by calling our Business Development Executive, Claire Lennon on 01756 700802 or emailing claire.lennon@vwa.co.uk

For a full list of our training courses, please view our training calendar.

During World War Two people were encouraged to ‘Dig for Victory’. This encouraged Britons to be self-sufficient – to turn over their flower beds, lawns and back yards to the growing of fruit and vegetables.  In 2020 in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are being urged by the Government to ‘Feed the Nation’. The initiative refers yet again to the provision of fruit and vegetables, but this time UK residents are needed to help in the harvesting and packing of fresh produce on farms and its distribution to grocery retailers.

Foreign workers unable to travel

Why this urgent call to action? Put simply, the majority of these seasonal roles are normally fulfilled by foreign workers, who travel from Eastern Europe each year. Several have longstanding relationships with farmers and return year after year. However, travel restrictions because of coronavirus have dictated that they are unable to come here at the moment.

Of the 90,000 seasonal jobs available on farms, 70,000 are usually undertaken by migrant workers. As you might imagine, this leaves a huge shortfall. If the crops aren’t picked in time, they will rot and be unsaleable. Obviously this has a knock-on effect in terms of supply. Fewer crops harvested translates to a shortage on the supermarket shelves, not to mention the economic effects on the farmers.

It has been reported that around 450 Romanian nationals will be flying in from Bucharest this week, under strict travel controls. They will undertake social distancing on the flights and will be provided with masks and hand sanitisers. This will help to ease the situation a little in East Anglia where they have been allocated jobs to harvest and pack spring onions, peas and beans. Nevertheless, there are still hundreds of jobs to be filled, including pickers, packers, farm machinery operatives and delivery drivers.

Ethically sound farms

There are sometimes reports in the media of poor working conditions and excessive working hours in picking and packing operations. At Verner Wheelock we carry out SMETA ethical audits for a number of growers in the UK to ensure that decent working conditions, living conditions, pay, equality, and working hours are upheld. Recruitment for the ‘Feed the Nation’ initiative is via members of the Alliance of Ethical Labour Providers, so applicants can rest assured that the farms where they would be working meet the required standards.

In addition to receiving at least minimum wage and in many cases the National Living Wage (NLW), workers will receive free travel, health and dental care for the duration of their contract. They will also receive training for their role. This will include safe working practices in line with Government guidelines on social distancing, the wearing of appropriate PPE and should include food safety training.

Furloughed workers can now apply for farm jobs

The Government has recently announced that workers who are currently furloughed from their regular jobs because their employers have had to close due to coronavirus safeguarding, are eligible to apply to ‘Feed the Nation’ as long as their contracts allow it. Students are being encouraged to apply too. Anyone working on a farm will be classed as a key worker. This means they can travel to and from their place of work and their children can attend school.


For more information of how to apply and help the British farming industry in this time of crisis, please visit any of the following sites: https://hopslaboursolutions.com/seasonal-work/

Whilst many businesses have been forced to close for the duration of the COVID-19 lockdown, NHS workers, carers, delivery drivers and other companies providing an essential service, including food manufacturers and food retailers, are continuing to operate.

Many food and drink processors have seen an increased demand for their products, as the public stock up on goods for self-isolation. In fact, such businesses are now recruiting additional staff to be able to meet the requirements of the supermarkets.

Basic food safety training is a minimum requirement

Understandably food manufacturers need to recruit workers as quickly as possible, but it is extremely important that prior to starting work they have the food safety and HACCP training appropriate for their role. This means that food operatives should have basic food safety training as a minimum. Supervisors and team leaders, on the other hand, should hold a Level 3 Food Safety & Hygiene qualification and/or a Level 3 HACCP qualification or equivalent.

Cutting corners in training can result in the production of food that is unsafe to eat, which can lead to food poisoning. Many food manufacturers are seeing a spike in sales similar to that usually seen at Christmas. It is at busy periods such as this that it can be tempting to cut corners. It is essential that anyone handling food is trained to understand the importance of personal hygiene, regular and effective handwashing and the cleaning of surfaces, utensils and common hand touchpoints.

This is especially relevant during the coronavirus pandemic to avoid passing the virus on to co-workers. Although coronavirus cannot be transmitted through food, the above measures, wearing the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and distancing within the workplace will help to protect staff. Any food handler who is unwell should not be at work. If they have symptoms, they should follow government advice to stay at home.

Same great training, different formats

As providers of face-to-face training, we believe that this is the very best way to learn and retain knowledge acquired during a course. However, since social distancing and self-isolation measures came into play, we have been unable to deliver our classroom-based courses either at our centre in Skipton or in-house at customers’ premises. The safety of our customers, staff and trainers is paramount.

basic food safety training delivered online

Nevertheless, thanks to the power of technology, we are still able to deliver several of our food industry training courses over the internet. We can achieve this by using a video conferencing service.

All course attendees log in to a training session which uses the same PowerPoint presentation, with breakout activities and is hosted by the same trainer as they would have at a regular course at Skipton or at their own premises. Attendees can interact and act questions of the trainer either verbally or by texting.

Find out more

To find out more about training via Zoom, Microsoft Team, Skype or any other method, please get in touch with our Business Development Manager, Claire Lennon at claire.lennon@vwa.co.uk. You can see which scheduled courses are being delivered in this way by taking a look at our latest training calendar.

At Verner Wheelock we pride ourselves on delivering the very best training to the food industry even during these uncertain times like these. Stay safe, keep preparing safe food and we look forward to welcoming you back to our training centre sooner rather than later.

Revealed – Our Excellence Award Winners

2020 is an exciting year for Verner Wheelock. It’s the year we celebrate 30 years in business! It’s also our 5th annual Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards.

Over the past 30 years we have been privileged to train thousands of students from food and drink manufacturers, caterers, retailers and packaging companies both large and small. Training takes place here in our training centre in Skipton, or at customers’ own premises. We’ve even provided training overseas!

What are the Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards?

The Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards recognise delegates who have been outstanding in the fields of HACCP, Food Safety and Auditing during the previous 12 months. We also present a Company Award, Ethical Award and Individual Excellence Award.

What’s the criteria? Well, the HACCP, auditing and food safety students of the year 2019 have demonstrated an exceptionally high level of competence and understanding during advanced level training in their subject. The practical application of these skills will have made a significant impact on their day-to-day operations. This aptitude for HACCP, food safety and auditing skills is also reflected in impressive examination results.

This year’s winners are:

HACCP Student of the Year 2019

Kathryn Bird

Food Safety Student of the Year 2019

Chi-wai Man

Pictured with Claire Lennon, VWA Business Development Manager

Auditing Student of the Year 2019

Yibo (Becky) Huang

Tangerine Confectionery

Pictured with Alison Wheelock, VWA Managing Director

Individual Excellence Award 

To receive this award the individual has shown genuine enthusiasm and interest in the training provided. They may have overcome challenges to achieve their qualification and might not necessarily have attained the highest mark in the examination. However, they have an obvious passion for developing and maintaining a HACCP system or a Food Safety culture within their company and have participated fully in the interactive elements of the training, sharing their knowledge and experience with fellow delegates.

Individual Excellence Award 2019

Pio De Gama


All the above received a trophy, certificate and £250 off any open or in-house training with Verner Wheelock.

Company Excellence Award

The business receiving the Company Excellence Award has demonstrated a commitment to a culture of continuous improvement in food safety throughout their organisation. Their structured approach to training ensures that staff, from new starters to management, have an understanding of Food Safety, HACCP and Auditing skills at a level appropriate to their role. Delegates from the company have undertaken a variety of different training courses with Verner Wheelock to enable them to perform their jobs to the best of their ability and progress their careers within the food industry.

Company Excellence Award 2019

Morrisons plc

Ethical Excellence Award 2019

This award was introduced in 2018, as the number of ethical audits Verner Wheelock has conducted has grown exponentially over the past few years. As the title of the award suggests, it is given to a company which has really embraced the values of the Ethical Trading Initiative. It has performed extremely well in its recent ethical audit with few, if any, non-conformances and excellent examples of good practice.

Ethical Excellence Award 2019

Cranswick Gourmet Bacon

The Team with their award

The winners of the Company and Ethical Excellence Awards each receive a trophy, certificate and £500 to spend on training or audits with Verner Wheelock.

Could you be the next award-winner? Book a training course with us and you could be selected. View our latest training calendar here.   

It’s all a matter of taste

Think about the foods you eat. Fruit yogurts and desserts, steak pie, veggie burgers, crisps, soups, sauces, lasagne, cheese… the list is endless. Unless you have reared, grown or cooked everything from scratch, there’s a high likelihood that many foods you buy have been enhanced by flavour chemicals. This is especially the case where recipes have been amended to reduce sugar, salt or fat.

Chemicals can also be used to replicate natural flavours, such as chicken, bacon, cheese or fruit. They can be used to emulate the unique flavours created by different cooking methods like roasting, frying or barbecuing.  They can even boost natural flavourings themselves. Then there’s the magical effects of enzymes on ingredients…

An introduction to flavours

Flavour chemistry is a truly fascinating subject. I can say this with confidence because I have attended Verner Wheelock’s two-day Introduction to Flavours course myself. It takes you on a journey from how we perceive flavour (for instance, did you know that if you put a sweet in your mouth and then pinch your nose, you can no longer taste the sweet?) to actually creating flavours yourself. As a flavours novice I have to say that I found the course really, really, interesting and was astonished when my team were judged to have produced the best raspberry flavour, just through smelling our creation before we applied it to yogurt.

The course tutors are Professor David Baines and Richard Seal, both of whom are experts and highly regarded in their field. As a result, the course has attracted delegates from Germany, Poland, Belgium and India, as well as the UK. There were people from snack food producers, pork pie and pasties manufacturers, relish producers, cereal manufacturers, tobacco/vaping companies and additives and flavours companies. All were looking to have a greater understanding of flavours to assist them in their roles.

The full spectrum of flavours

The course lectures were on the following subjects:

  • What is flavour?;
  • Sensory analysis and flavour wheels;
  • Flavour deconstruction and reconstruction;
  • Flavour and culture;
  • Legislation;
  • Thermal process flavours;
  • Savoury ingredients;
  • Using enzymes to create flavours;
  • Smoke flavours;
  • New developments in flavours;
  • Evaluation of enzyme digests and encapsulation technologies.  

During the lectures, we were given different compounds and products to smell, taste and evaluate.  In practical sessions we took the knowledge gained from the lectures and used it to create a top note raspberry flavour, a savoury seasoning and to apply a thermal process flavour to a vegetarian burger.  

Suhail Master of flavour house, Irish Country Gold, said, “The workshop sessions were brilliant. It’s always good to put theory into practice.

Creating Thermal Process Flavours

The 2-day Introduction to Flavours course is of great value if you are in the business of creating flavours, or if you want to move into this area. It’s also a great springboard on to our 5-day Creating Thermal Process Flavours course, also delivered by Professor Baines and Mr Seal. This course is unique in the UK and continues to attract flavourists from around the globe.

The next Introduction to Flavours takes place on 26th – 27th May and the next Creating Thermal Process Flavours course is from 26th – 30th October. Both courses take place in Skipton, North Yorkshire.

Places are strictly limited, so it is advisable to book early. For more information, please contact Claire Lennon on 01756 700802 or email claire.lennon@vwa.co.uk

Why food allergen labelling is essential

woman looking at at food labelling

If you take a look at the Food Standards Agency’s Food Alerts page on their website, the majority of product recalls are due to incorrect labelling on packaging. Most of these are because they have omitted to state that an allergen is present in their ingredients list.

There have been several prosecutions of food manufacturers and caterers for just such a reason. The most recent high-profile case was that of a teenage girl , Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, dying from eating a sandwich from Pret a Manger. The allergen information was not visible and she died of anaphylactic shock as a result.

Under UK law at the time, food companies were not required to list the ingredients of food packaged and sold on the same premises. However following the above incident, ‘Natasha’s Law’ is to be introduced by summer 2021. This will make full ingredients labelling for foods pre-packed for direct sale mandatory.

There are 14 food allergens

There are 14 food allergens which you need to be aware of that must be listed on prepackaged food. These are milk, eggs, peanuts, fish, crustaceans, sesame, mustard, sulphites, molluscs, soy, gluten, tree nuts, lupin and celery. How they are labelled is extremely important. For example, previously you might have listed the allergens separately. Now there is a requirement to list the components of an ingredient.

So whereas before an ingredients list might have “wholegrain flour, eggs, butter, sugar” it now must be labelled with the allergens in bold type. For example “wholegrain flour (gluten), eggs, butter (milk), sugar.”

Do your labels tell the truth?

You must also be absolutely sure that if you’re claiming that a product is gluten-free, for example, it really is. So, if you produce large volumes of ginger biscuits, but you also produce a gluten-free version of your ginger biscuits, you need to take stringent precautions so that traces of the with-gluten product don’t contaminate the gluten-free version.

This might mean producing the two products in different buildings, but if they are produced on the same line or in the same production area, you have to be completely sure that everything has been cleaned down properly and that staff are briefed in allergen management.

Otherwise, you will need to add a disclaimer on your primary packaging which says something to the effect of: “Manufactured in an environment where products containing gluten are also produced.”

Make sure staff have the correct training

Some people are so sensitive to allergens that only a tiny particle can cause them to have an allergic reaction. Happily we deliver a couple of one-day courses that can help you to ensure that you manage food allergens effectively and label your products correctly and legally.

Our Managing Food Allergens in Manufacturing course is aimed at those who are responsible for designing, implementing and auditing allergen management systems. Using examples, it explains essential aspects of allergen control in food manufacturing. On successful completion of the course candidates will receive the FDQ Practical Allergen Awareness Certificate.

Our Legal Labelling course is particularly popular. It has been designed to give you a working knowledge of the legislative requirements for food composition and labelling. By the close of the course you should have the confidence to assess product specifications, pack copy and artwork for legality. The course is appropriate for Specification Technologists, Technical Managers, Product Developers, Label Designers and those responsible for approving artwork.

Both courses are tutored by industry professionals who have a wealth of practical hands-on experience in their particular fields.

Avoid costly product recalls

Any company which has ever had to recall products will tell you that it is a costly process, through lost revenue and wasted product. It can also have wider consequences in terms of customer confidence, particularly if the media become involved. However, with the correct training, such instances can be avoided in the first place.

To find out more about our Legal Labelling and Managing Food Allergens courses, please visit the Specialist Courses section of our website. You will also find other useful courses such as Root Cause Analysis and VACCP and TACCP.