What food safety documents and records does a food business need?

Table of Contents

In this blog, we’re going to look at what food safety documents and records a food business needs to have and why documentation and record-keeping are important for a food business. This is something I’ve been asked many times in my career working as an EHO for local authorities. Food businesses want to serve good food to their customers and ultimately, like any business, make money. For some, documentation and record-keeping can seem like an unnecessary burden. For others, they are simply not sure where to start. 

Either way, the food safety officer or EHO from the local authority Food Safety team will expect to see some sort of documentation and records when they carry out a food hygiene inspection. Without any paperwork in place, most businesses will struggle to achieve a food hygiene rating greater than 1 out of 5 under the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme.

Why food safety documents and record keeping are important for a food business

Having the right food safety paperwork and records in place provides many benefits for a food business. Firstly, the right documentation and records can protect the business in the event of civil or criminal matters.

Food safety documentation allows a business to show that food safety hazards are being controlled and helps the business clearly demonstrate that they know what they are doing. This gives the food safety officer or EHO a lot of confidence in how the business is being managed and this is one area that they will score on during a food hygiene inspection to determine the food hygiene rating. Businesses with the right documentation and records in place should receive a better food hygiene rating, provided their systems are being followed in practice.

The other benefit to a business of having the right food safety paperwork and records in place is that it allows the business to discover any potential problems and take action to prevent them from reoccurring. This can have cost-saving implications. For example; the refrigerator could keep exceeding the legal temperature of 8°C meaning food has to be repeatedly thrown away. Doing these checks and keeping records allows management to take corrective action such as getting the refrigerator repaired.

When an EHO or food safety officer has confidence that a business has everything under control, they don’t need to visit as much. In general, businesses with a higher food hygiene rating are visited or inspected less often than those with a lower rating.

The exception to this rule is for businesses that serve food to vulnerable groups (i.e. care homes, nurseries, and hospitals). Even if hygiene standards are good in these premises, they will still be subject to more regular inspections.

The food business operator is responsible for ensuring the right documentation and records are in place. 

Food safety management procedures

A food business operator must put in place food safety management procedures that are based on the principles of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP). These procedures must cover a business’s food operations.

What is HACCP?

HACCP is a way of managing food safety hazards. It is an internationally recognised system that is used in the food industry. It helps food businesses to identify, assess and control significant hazards that could affect food safety.

It is actually a requirement of U.K. food law for food business operators to put in place, implement and maintain permanent food safety procedures based on the principles of HACCP. Everyone who works in a food business has a responsibility to follow and maintain the procedures. 

HACCP requires a food business operator to:

  • look closely at what happens in their business, think about what could go wrong and identify any food safety risks/ food hazards
  • identify any ‘critical control points’ (CCPs). These are the areas that the business will need to focus on to ensure the food safety risks are removed or reduced to a safe acceptable level
  • make sure food safety procedures and food hygiene practices are being followed in practice and that they work in practice
  • decide what corrective action must be taken if something goes wrong
  • keep records to show that the procedures are working

Now it may sound like HACCP involves a lot. You may even be thinking “where should a small business even start with this?”

First of all, each food business should have food safety management procedures that are appropriate. This means that they cover all of the activities that take place in that business.

A business that has simpler and less risky processes (i.e. making cupcakes) will not need as detailed procedures as a business that has more complex processes (i.e. a restaurant with an extensive menu or processes such as vacuum packing or sous vide cooking).

Safer Food Better Business

For businesses with simple food production processes the Food Standards Agency’s Safer Food Better Business (SFBB) pack may be suitable. This is free to download here. There is also the Safe Catering pack for businesses in Northern Ireland. These are essentially food safety management guidance documents to help catering businesses and food retailers comply with legislative requirements.

The pack contains information on cross-contamination, cleaning, chilling, cooking and management. It also contains a daily diary. The relevant sections must be completed.

The SFBB pack is available in the following formats:

  • caterers 
  • retailers (for retail food establishments)
  • Indian cuisine
  • Chinese cuisine (in English)
  • Chinese cuisine (in Cantonese)
  • childminders
  • residential care homes

If a business decides that SFBB is suitable for them they must personalise the pack to their business. This means it must reflect the food operations that take place in the business. I have inspected many businesses over the years that have the SFBB pack on site. But on many occasions, I found it was not filled in. Until the pack is filled in it is generic. The EHO or food safety officer will expect to see that the relevant sections have been completed. They will also expect to see it being followed in practice.

Where a food business repeatedly fails to put in place or follow food safety procedures enforcement action may be taken.

Let’s now explore some of the records a food business may need to have.

Staff training records

Anyone responsible for developing or maintaining a food safety management system or HACCP procedures should be suitably trained in food safety to be able to do this.

The law requires that food business operators provide food handlers with food hygiene training before they start working with food. This includes allergens. The Food Standards Agency offers free online food allergy training here.

It is recommended that a food business operator keeps a record of the training they have provided their staff. That way they will be able to show it to the food safety officer or EHO when they visit. Food hygiene certificates can be used to demonstrate compliance. It is recommended that food hygiene refresher training is provided every 3 years.

Traceability records

A food business must keep records of all their suppliers and also all of the businesses they supply food or food ingredients to. It is important to have traceability records in the event that unsafe food needs to be recalled from the market.

Temperature records

The type of temperature records will vary depending on the business. But they may include:

  • temperatures of foods delivered by or collected from suppliers 
  • temperatures of fridges, freezers and chilled display units
  • temperatures of cooked/ reheated food
  • temperatures of foods that have been cooled down
  • temperatures of hot-held foods. This is food that is kept hot after cooking. Food may be kept hot in equipment such as a soup kettle, bain-marie or hot cabinet.

Calibration records

Where a digital temperature probe is used to check temperatures it is important to check from time to time that the probe is working properly. This is known as calibration. It can be done using ice water or boiling water. The reading in ice water should be between -1°C and +1°C. The reading in boiling water should be between 99°C and 101°C. Probe calibration should be carried out regularly (weekly or monthly) and should be recorded.

Some businesses may have other equipment that requires calibration (i.e. metal detectors or pH meters). Where this is the case, appropriate calibration records should be kept.

Cleaning schedule

It is important for a business to write down how they clean. This will enable staff to know what should be cleaned and how.

A cleaning schedule should set out:

  • what needs to be cleaned
  • what needs to be disinfected
  • how often it needs to be done
  • the method for cleaning/ disinfection

Pest control records

Daily visual checks should be made for signs of pests. These should be recorded and if any pests are sighted then the food business operator or manager should take the necessary action.

It is not a legal requirement to have a pest control contract in place. However, some businesses may choose to do so. Where a business chooses to have visits by a pest control company, records of these visits should be kept.

Maintenance records

Food premises and equipment should be maintained in a good condition. Where maintenance is carried out records should be kept.

Stock control information

It may be necessary to keep records of stock control information to help keep track of when food needs to be used by or thrown away. This information may include stock records of the type of stock, use by or best before dates and batch codes.

Staff sickness records

When it comes to food safety it is important to keep records of staff sickness absences. If a food handler is suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea they must notify their employer. It is essential that they do not return to working with food until they have been clear of all symptoms for at least 48 hours.

Customer complaints

Keeping a record of customer complaints or food safety incidents can allow for detailed investigations to take place. This can assist in taking corrective action to prevent a recurrence.

Audits/inspections

Some food businesses may choose to have in-house audits or inspections by a food auditor. Where a food auditor conducts inspections or audits records should be kept.

Allergens

A food business must have accurate allergen information relating to all of its products. 

Summary

We have explored the main food safety procedures and records that a food business may need. These can be available as paper records or as electronic records. They must be available for inspection at all times and they must be followed in practice and maintained.

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