Food Safety FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions – helping to make sense of food safety.

Why have food allergies increased in the last few years?
Food Allergies have been described as the modern epidemic, thought to be due to several factors including, increased public awareness and reporting of allergen incidents and complaints; increase in the consumption of processed food and ready meals and eating new and alternative ingredients in our diet.
What is Gluten Free and Very Low Gluten?
In legislation ‘Gluten Free, is defined as >20ppm (parts per million) of gluten in a product; and ‘Very Low gluten’ as <100ppm in foods with cereal ingredients that have been specially processed to remove the gluten.
Is Coeliac disease an allergy or an intolerance?
Neither, it is an auto immune disease where the body is intolerant to gluten and causes damage to the gut lining; customers with Coeliac Disease must avoid foods with gluten including wheat, rye and barley. See www.coeliac.org.uk for more information.
What is the difference between an intolerance and an allergy?
An allergy is the body’s immune system response to a food or allergen during which the body reacts causing swelling, inflammation or itching; during a severe allergic reaction or ‘anaphylaxis’ the symptoms are more severe and can cause breathing difficulties or even death. Whereas an intolerance causes unpleasant symptoms usually in the digestive or respiratory system, but it is not life threatening.
What should I do if someone has an anaphylactic shock in my restaurant?
Allergy UK advise to give adrenaline without delay if available via an adrenaline pen; call an ambulance and tell the operator it is anaphylaxis; lie the person flat (or sit if they have breathing difficulties) and stay with the person until medical help arrives. For more information click here
What does a ‘May Contain’ statement mean on packaged food?

In food production if after a thorough risk assessment there is a likelihood that cross contamination may have occurred in relation to allergens, manufacturers are recommended to include precautionary allergen statements (PAL) as a voluntary statement on packaged food.

Best practice recommends caterers to include this in their allergen information so customers with allergies can make an informed food choice on the food they are eating. For more information on Precautionary Allergen Labelling (PAL).

How can I make sure my suppliers are complying with allergen requirements?
Only used approved suppliers and request allergen information from them. It is recommended to have a purchasing policy in place that includes the requirement to notify you of changes in recipe/ingredients and substitutions made in deliveries so you can update your staff and ensure your allergen information is accurate and up to date.
Is it just the 14 identified allergens that I need to worry about?
No, but these are the ones you need to supply information for in the food and drink that you serve, however people can be allergic to other foods and you must be able to prepare their food safely by checking all the ingredients in the dish as well as sauces and garnishes and ensuring that cross contamination does not occur.
Can you explain the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme?

A Food Hygiene Rating is given in accordance with the Food Standards Agency Brand Standard and there are 3 scores being Food Hygiene Practice, Structure (including Equipment and cleanliness) and Confidence in Management (CIM) which make up the rating.

The CIM score is a judgment on the ‘likelihood’ of satisfactory compliance in the future and includes your food safety management procedures and control of critical points including allergen management controls.

Individual scores in each of the 3 areas and cumulative score will give you a rating from Level 0 (Urgent Improvement) to Level 5 (Very Good). Display of the FHRS rating is not mandatory in England but is highly recommended for customer assurance and confidence.
For more information click here.

What can I do to improve my Food Hygiene Rating?
  • Act on any advice and enforcement given
  • Keep all your documentation up to date and make sure it is available onsite when you are trading
  • Ensure all your staff are fully trained to do their jobs and update this regularly
  • Ensure regular internal audits are carried out to check procedures are being followed and to identify areas of non-compliance to continuously improve standards
Can my local Environmental Health Department shut my food business down?
Yes, but only if there is an imminent risk to health, for example, an active pest infestation or gross contamination. A Hygiene Emergency Prohibition Notice can be served immediately to prevent you from continuing to trade and then an Order must be obtained from the Magistrates Court and served on your business. The order can only be lifted once the risk is considered to have been removed by the Environmental Health Department.
What is due diligence?
This is a defence often used by food businesses who are being prosecuted in which a Food Business Operator must demonstrate that they have done everything they can to make sure their food is safe. Due diligence documents can include monitoring forms such as completed hot food temperature records, fridge temperature records and cleaning schedules.
Do all my staff need a food hygiene certificate?
No, staff who handle and serve food must receive training and supervision in line with their work, in other words ‘suitable training’, however no formal certificate is required but this would provide such evidence if it is required.
Do I need a pest control contract?
No, as long as you are visually checking for pests then there is no requirement to have a Pest Control contract in place, however if there is a likelihood of vermin activity in or around your food business a Pest Control contract is recommended with regular visits and treatments if required.
Do I need a food safety management system (FSMS)?

Yes, to comply with legislation you are required to provide a documented FSMS identifying the risks of contamination (including allergens) within your business and identify critical control points e.g. storing chilled food below 8°C; monitoring controls and corrective action if something goes wrong.

‘Safer Foods Better Business’ was introduced by the Food Standards Agency to help small businesses, such as cafes and delis, to comply with this requirement. Lower risk businesses still need to provide food safety information but would need only provide pre-requisites or standard operating procedures e.g. hand washing, cleaning etc. to demonstrate compliance.

How often will I get inspected by my local authority?
Local authorities follow a code of practice which is risk based in relation to the method of handling, processing, number and type of customers at risk etc. in a food business; it takes into account the FHRS rating scores, usually this will be 12-18 months but could be as frequent as 6 months depending on significant risk within your business, for example, use of a Vac Pac machine.
What sort of licence do I need to operate a food business?
You do not need a licence as such, but you need to register your food business in compliance with legislation, you should register 28 days before you start trading and failure to register is an offence.
What is acrylamide and what do I need to do to comply with the new legislation?
Acrylamide is a substance that forms when carbohydrate rich foods such as potatoes, bread etc. are heated to high temperatures and has been identified as being a cancer risk. Food Business Operators are required to put control measures in their Food Safety Management System to manage this risk. Click here for more information on Acrylamide Legislation.
What should I do if someone alleges that they have food poisoning after eating at my food business?

Firstly, find out if they still have food poisoning symptoms e.g. vomiting and/or diarrhoea and recommend that they go to their GP to give a sample (Environmental Health Departments can also do this), this is then sent to a lab for presence and identification of the food poisoning bacteria.

The results of the sampling is given to Public Health England and a local investigation may be carried out to attempt to identify the source of the food poisoning bacteria, it is important that you fully cooperate and provide any information requested as part of this investigation. If there are any other similar or connected cases this could result in formal action being taken against you.

How do I comply with the Food Information Regulations 2014?
Food businesses are required to signpost their customers, via a menu, chalk board or on a sign, to their allergen information which can be given orally or documented. It is recommended to document the 14 identified allergens on a matrix or chef cards which are available from www.food.gov.uk