What is food hygiene and safety training? Why is it important?

Table of Contents

Food hygiene and safety training is the process of teaching people how to keep food safe to eat. People who work with food are food handlers. Working with food includes storage, preparation and service.

Food handlers need to be aware of the risks associated with handling food. They also need to understand what they can do to prevent cross-contamination.

Food handlers are responsible for ensuring that food is safe to eat and won’t make customers ill. Adopting good hygiene practices is essential.

Food hygiene and safety training will cover:

  • The basic principles of personal hygiene and,
  • How to maintain a clean and safe work environment.

Also, food hygiene and safety training will:

  • Help food businesses show they are complying with the law and,
  • Give confidence to customers.

Food hygiene & safety for your business

Good food hygiene practices apply to any food premises. This could be a:

  • restaurant
  • café
  • pub
  • takeaway
  • bakery
  • supermarket
  • hotel
  • school
  • nursery or
  • hospital

Good food hygiene practices include:

  • effective cleaning and disinfection
  • maintaining food temperatures within safe limits
  • personal hygiene and,
  • controlling pests

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says that food handlers must use good hygiene practices. Food handlers include anyone involved in preparing and handling food, such as:

  • chefs
  • cooks
  • bakers
  • kitchen assistants
  • baristas
  • sandwich makers and others

Knowledge of the principles of food hygiene is essential to success in a food business. And for Food Business Operators to meet their legal obligations.

Training your staff in food safety and hygiene is vital as a food business operator. It ensures they can serve safe food that meets your customer’s expectations. Untrained staff may not have adequate knowledge to serve safe food to your customers.

A food business has many benefits from having good standards of food hygiene. These include:

  • Satisfied customers and repeat custom
  • A good reputation
  • A good food hygiene rating
  • Compliance with food safety legislation
  • Increased staff morale
  • Reduced staff turnover

There are many costs to a food business with poor food hygiene standards. These include:

  • A bad reputation
  • Loss of custom
  • Reduced profits
  • Low staff morale
  • High staff turnover
  • Food poisoning outbreaks
  • Legal action and penalties
  • Increased food wastage
  • Increase in customer complaints
  • A low food hygiene rating

What is a food handler?

The term ‘food handler’ refers to people who directly touch open food as part of their work.  But it can also include anyone who may touch food contact surfaces or other surfaces in rooms where open foods are handled. Examples include chefs, cooks, bakers, waiters/ waitresses and kitchen porters.

Food hygiene training will need to cover the necessary food safety topics to enable each job role to be carried out safely.

What the law says

The law requires that food businesses provide food handlers with food hygiene training. This requirement is found in EC Regulation 852/2004, which states:

“food business operators are to ensure that food handlers are supervised and instructed and/or trained in food hygiene matters commensurate to their work activity”.

The easiest way to communicate food hygiene information is through staff training. New staff members must receive adequate training before they start working with food.

A good food hygiene training provider will issue certificates to staff after training. These certificates can be used to demonstrate compliance with the law.

It is recommended that food hygiene and safety training is refreshed every three years. This is to ensure food handlers and food businesses keep up to date with best practice and any changes in the law.

Anyone involved in developing and maintaining HACCP procedures must legally be trained in the HACCP principles.

Food hygiene & safety training courses

Food hygiene and safety training image

Not all food hygiene and safety courses are made equal. When selecting a course, it is essential to check that:

  1. the syllabus covers all the necessary elements for your type of business and,
  2. the level of training you require.

A good food hygiene and safety training course should cover the following:

  • Food safety hazards- what they are and how to control them
  • How to handle and prepare food safely
  • Safe food storage
  • Food handler responsibilities, including personal hygiene
  • Keeping the premises clean and pest-free
  • Principles of food safety management systems
  • Food safety law

By the end of a food hygiene and safety training course, food handlers should understand:

  • The four types of food safety hazards (chemical, physical, microbiological and allergenic) and why and how to control them
  • How to handle and prepare food safely- including how to safely chill, freeze, defrost, cool, cook, reheat and hot hold foods
  • How to monitor critical temperatures, including;
    • fridge/ freezer temperatures
    • cooked/reheated food temperatures
    • hot holding / cold holding temperatures
  • The principles of safe food storage including;
    • food preservation methods
    • effective stock control using a ‘First In First Out’ (FIFO) system
  • How to control suppliers and traceability procedures
  • The difference between Best Before and Use By dates
  • Their responsibilities including the importance of personal hygiene and hand washing
  • The importance of cleaning and disinfection and the two-stage cleaning process
  • The importance of waste disposal and control, pest control and awareness of pests
  • How premises and equipment should be designed with food safety in mind
  • The principles of food safety management systems
  • The law in relation to food safety
  • The role and powers of enforcement officers

Online courses or face-to-face food safety training?

Can online training (or e-learning) replace face-to-face food safety training?

E-learning training is comparatively cheaper than face-to-face training. Not just in terms of the cost of the course and trainer, but also considering that staff will have to be taken out of the business and be paid to attend a face-to-face training course. E-learning presents more flexibility to both the learner and the business.

Before we explore the pros and cons of these two types of training, let’s explore the differences.

The online training includes all training that is conducted in an online setting. This could be live virtual or e-learning training on a training platform. Online training is any type of training that can be done on a laptop, smartphone or tablet.

Face-to-face training is provided in person. This could be a one-to-one or a group session.

Let’s look at the benefits of online training courses:

  • Online training will save time and money. With the current challenges facing the hospitality industry, this is arguably the most significant advantage of online food hygiene and safety training.
  • Online training can be accessed by the learner whenever it suits them. This means they can learn anytime, anywhere, at whatever time suits them. It generally only requires an internet connection
  • Online training is scalable, and unlike face-to-face training, there is no limit on the number of people who can be trained
  • Online training is consistent, and everyone receives the same content. This removes any inconsistency between tutors in face-to-face training

The disadvantages of online training include:

  • Learners can feel isolated
  • Learners will need motivation and time management skills to complete the training
  • Technical issues could occur

Now let’s look at the benefits of face-to-face training:

  • Face-to-face training allows learners to engage with class materials and other learners simultaneously. This is known as ‘synchronous learning’.
  • Face-to-face training means that learners can discuss, collaborate, practice and exchange ideas with other learners with the guidance of the tutor.
  • Face-to-face training allows for more effective non-verbal communication, such as positive body language. This has the benefit of engaging, motivating and inspiring learners. The tutor can also read people’s body language, identify if any learners are struggling and adapt their delivery or content where necessary.
  • Face-to-face training enables learners to interact directly with the tutor. This means they ask questions and gain clarification on points

The disadvantages of face-to-face training include:

  • More costly than online training (in terms of time and money)
  • Some learners may dominate discussions, and quieter learners become limited in being able to participate
  • Less flexibility as a day and time has to be set, which may not suit everyone

What is a food hygiene certificate?

A food hygiene certificate is a document that certifies that food hygiene and safety training has been completed and the exam has been passed. The exam generally consists of multiple-choice questions with a set pass mark. Upon passing the exam, a physical or digital certificate will be received. Digital certificates will often be available to download immediately after passing the exam.

When a food business receives its food hygiene inspection from the local authority, it will often be asked to provide food hygiene certificates for its staff. A food hygiene certificate should clearly show the name of the food handler who has taken the course. Some food businesses proudly display their food hygiene certificates for their customers to see.

How often should I renew my food hygiene certificate?

A food hygiene certificate does not have an expiry date, but it is recommended that refresher training is undertaken every three years. This is best practice.

Why is the renewal of food hygiene and safety training important?

Renewal of food hygiene and safety training is strongly recommended because people forget things or become complacent over time. There are certain things that food handlers may need to be reminded of to ensure they follow safe practices and continue to serve safe food to customers. Renewal also means that food handlers will be more confident in food safety if the knowledge is fresh in their minds. This confidence will help if they get asked questions by an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) during a food hygiene inspection.

Legislation, guidance and best practice change over time. If food handlers have not undertaken refresher training, their knowledge could be outdated. This may mean that they do things which do not comply with the law and may be unsafe.

Refresher food hygiene and safety training reminds food handlers of:

  • Food safety hazards and how to control them
  • How to prepare food safely. Including how to safely chill, freeze, defrost, cool, cook, reheat and hot hold foods
  • The critical temperatures and how to monitor them
  • How to store food safely
  • How to control cross-contamination
  • How to ensure effective stock control
  • The differences between Best Before and Use By dates
  • Their legal responsibilities when it comes to working with food
  • How to clean and disinfect effectively
  • Food safety management systems
  • The most recent food safety legislation

What level of food hygiene & safety training is needed? And who needs training in food hygiene & safety?

A level 1 certificate in food hygiene and safety provides basic knowledge about how to keep food safe. Level 1 training would not cover food preparation and cooking in detail.

The following types of job roles may require Level 1 food hygiene and safety training:

  • Front-of-house staff
  • Checkout staff/ cashiers
  • Waiters/ waitresses
  • Bar workers
  • Kitchen porters
  • Food delivery drivers

A Level 2 food hygiene and safety certificate would provide more detail about how to keep food safe. Specifically with more detail on food preparation and cooking. Job roles that involve working directly with food in the catering industry may require Level 2 food hygiene and safety training. For example; chefs or cooks working in restaurants, cafes, takeaways, pubs, hotels, B&Bs, hospitals, care homes, nurseries, food vans, schools, universities or colleges. 

Level 3 food hygiene and safety training is necessary for anyone in a managerial or supervisory role where they need to communicate food safety information to staff in a food business. Also, for anyone who is involved in the development of food safety management systems. Job roles such as supervisors or managers would require Level 3 food hygiene and safety training.

The importance of food hygiene & safety training

Food hygiene and safety training should be part and parcel of every employee’s induction process. This includes those working in restaurants, cafes, hotels, catering companies, schools, hospitals, supermarkets and retail outlets. 

Food hygiene and safety training helps to ensure that food safety is maintained.

There are many reasons why food safety is essential, including preventing illness and saving money. For example, according to the FSA, there are around 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness in the UK each year. The estimated annual cost of food-borne illness is £9 billion.

Research shows that the cause of illness is often bacteria transferred onto food from the environment, livestock or people. The bacteria with the most significant economic impact are campylobacter and salmonella.

Food hygiene and safety training is essential to any food business operation. If a food business doesn’t take the necessary steps to produce safe food, it could cost the business its reputation and customers. When customers spend money, they expect a food business to provide them with safe, good-quality food that eliminates the risk of food poisoning. A study by the FSA found that 86% of consumers thought that food businesses should be required to display their food hygiene ratings. This helps to highlight consumers’ concern for food safety.

Employers must ensure that their employees receive proper food hygiene and safety training. This includes knowing how to wash their hands correctly, ensuring food temperatures are correct, storing foods safely, preventing food contamination by harmful bacteria and following the key food safety principles.

Let’s now look in more detail at the benefits of food hygiene and safety training:

To reduce the risk of food poisoning

If food handlers do not know how to prepare safe food, the risk of causing food poisoning will increase. A food poisoning outbreak has severe consequences for a food business. These include an investigation by the local authority and possible prosecution. There is also reputational damage leading to loss of custom and reduced profits.

Food handlers must have the necessary food hygiene knowledge to produce safe food.

To make sure food is safe to eat

Customers expect to be provided with safe food. When a customer buys from a food business, they are putting their trust in the business to provide them with high-quality food that is safe to eat. Customers do not expect poor food hygiene standards.

Food hygiene and safety training will help a business ensure that their staff are aware of food safety hazards and know what to do to prepare food safely.

To prevent cross-contamination

Cross-contamination happens when pathogenic bacteria (harmful bacteria) from one surface transfer to another. This can occur when food handlers do not follow safe food handling practices. For example; handling raw meat and then handling cooked food without washing hands. Another example is using the same chopping board to prepare raw meat and salad. To prevent cross-contamination, food handlers must know what it is and how to control it.

Training helps ensure staff know how to prevent cross-contamination and avoid poor food hygiene practices. Food handlers feel confident about following proper procedures when training is done well. Staff must understand how to clean and disinfect surfaces properly, wash their hands effectively, and avoid cross-contamination.

They must also have food allergen awareness and knowledge of allergenic ingredients. Allergenic hazards must be controlled because they can pose a potential risk to allergy sufferers. Tiny traces of allergens can spread onto other food when food handlers are not trained to control allergen cross-contamination. Even the slightest trace of an allergen can be fatal for an allergy sufferer.

To reduce food waste

Food hygiene and safety training helps reduce food wastage. This is because it teaches employees how to properly store, prepare and serve foods. Food which is not stored correctly will need to be thrown away.

Employees should know what the ‘Best Before’ or ‘Use By’ date means. This is important to ensure that food is organised correctly and a stock rotation system is in place.

Proper storage techniques help keep food fresher, maintain the quality and save time and money. 

To improve efficiency

Poor hygiene leads to inefficient operations. This reduces productivity and makes it harder to keep customers satisfied. Inefficient operations lead to lower profits. 

Training improves efficiency. Once employees are trained to use the correct procedure, they can work more effectively.  As a result, they’ll become more productive. Improved employee performance and increased profitability mean greater customer satisfaction.

To promote a positive food safety culture

Hygiene training helps employees understand the importance of keeping themselves and the workplace clean. It is essential to develop a positive food safety culture. Hygiene training shows employees precisely what happens if they do not follow safe working practices. Staff are more likely to feel motivated to follow the rules when they feel their employer takes food hygiene seriously and invests in their training and development. Eventually, this motivation and positive food safety attitude will be apparent across the company, resulting in a positive food safety culture.

To build a positive reputation

The most important thing to remember regarding food safety is that consumers are looking for companies that take their health seriously. No customer wants to spend money and get ill. Customers talk to their friends and family. They will be the first to tell people if they believe a business gave them food poisoning. 

A business wants its customers to see that they take food hygiene seriously, so they go and tell their friends and family. Food hygiene and safety training is essential in ensuring that food handlers follow good personal hygiene practices. The last thing a business wants is a customer telling their friends and family that they saw a food handler doing something unhygienic in a commercial kitchen. 

To ensure food safety management procedures are in place and followed

By law, all food businesses must have a food safety management procedures in place based on the principles of HACCP. This stands for ‘Hazard Analysis Critical Control point’. 

Once food safety management procedures are in place, food handlers must be trained to follow them. This includes knowledge of how to monitor critical control points in the food production process. For example; checking fridge/ freezer temperatures and hot food temperatures. It is essential that these checks are completed correctly and recorded.

If a business does not have documented food safety management procedures in place or they are not followed in practice, it will not achieve a good food hygiene rating.

To achieve a good food hygiene rating

A food hygiene rating scheme exists across all parts of the UK. This means that customers can see how well a restaurant, shop or takeaway is performing regarding food safety. A local authority will inspect food premises to ensure they comply with food safety laws and produces food that is safe to eat.

Eligible food businesses will receive a food hygiene rating after their inspection. The display of ratings is voluntary, but many businesses choose to display them anyway. Consumers can also check ratings on the Food Standards Agency website.

A food hygiene rating of 5 is a great way to promote your business. A rating of 5 indicates that a food business takes customer safety seriously. It gives consumers confidence. This is especially true for restaurants where people eat out regularly.

Many consumers look at food hygiene ratings before eating out. A rating of 5 will boost a company’s reputation among customers and potential clients. Some delivery platforms won’t list businesses with a low food hygiene rating. That’s a large customer base to miss out on.

Well-trained staff are vital in ensuring a business receives the highest food hygiene rating. Environmental Health Officers will look for key things during a food hygiene inspection. EHOs do not expect to find poor food hygiene standards. Staff need to be confident during a food hygiene inspection. If the EHO asks them questions, they need to feel confident to answer them. They also need to demonstrate they can work safely. It only takes one staff member to do something wrong during a food hygiene inspection, which could result in a low food hygiene rating. 

What have we learnt?

Food hygiene and safety training is essential to ensuring food safety and running a successful food business. It will help to ensure that food handlers know how to keep food safe by preventing bacteria from contaminating food. It will help Food Business Operators meet their legal obligations. Anyone who works with food must have food hygiene and safety training. This will help reduce the risk of food poisoning and ensure that food is safe to eat.

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“How to get your 5-star food hygiene rating.”

Written by Chartered Environmental Health Officer, Natalie Stanton.

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