Top tips on setting up a new catering business in Covid 19

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How Covid 19 has affected the hospitality industry

Many food businesses have been brought to their knees during the Covid 19 epidemic.

According to Kate Nicholls, CEO of UK Hospitality:

“Ours was the first to take a hit, took the hardest hit, and will take longer than most to recover”.

However some businesses have diversified and became takeaways or community kitchens whilst others have stayed as sit down restaurants.  They have had to limit their customer capacity and changed where customers sit to keep everyone safe.

Rishi Sunak’s  ‘Eat out to help out’ scheme helped the return of many food businesses this August. It saw an increase in customers on the days it operated. It appears to have had a very positive impact on some businesses, so much so that some have continued a similar scheme into September to try and recover losses from the lock down.

However , according to the Guardian (2020), due to the new ‘Rule of 6’ and local restrictions hotels and restaurants are now suffering from a glut of cancellations. These are very uncertain times for the hospitality industry. However despite all the doom and gloom there are still food businesses planning to start, introducing new concepts or changing what they are doing in terms of hot and cold deliveries.

Have you a great idea for a new food business?

Takeaway smoothies, a pop up restaurant, a home bakery or take home meals. And a new concept from China –  ‘contactless self serve food cabinets’.

‘This involves customers ordering from a mobile app, the food is prepared and place on a cabinet and then the customer picks the food up from the cabinet without interacting with humans’. (www.roboticsandautomationnews.com 2020)

It seems anything is possible at the moment for food entrepreneurs. The current scientific advice is that it is very unlikely that Covid 19 is spread through food. So potentially it’s a green light for any ideas they may have.

But (and there is always a but) it is important that you stick to the rules so you don’t get into legal trouble. You can do this by following my top ten tips below to make sure that you are making safe food and keeping your customers safe. It will also help you to achieve your Level 5 food hygiene rating to give customers reassurance that you are doing every thing properly.

1. Register your business with the Local Authority where your business is located

You can do this online. Register your business 28 days before you start trading as it is a legal requirement.

There is not cost to registering and you just need to provide basic information. This includes the name and address of your business, contact details and the name of the food business operator (the person who is responsible for food safety).

If you are a limited company  you need to provide your company house number and registered address. Also what type of food business you are and what you are producing and serving.

2. Put in place a Fitness to Work procedure

Put a system in place to screen workers before they start work and if they have been off sick or on holiday. This is important to assess  their fitness to work as a food handler. Also to help stop the spread of Covid 19.

Read section 3 ‘Who should go to work?’ in the current government guidance for the hospitality sector. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/restaurants-offering-takeaway-or-delivery

3. Carry out a Covid 19 Risk Assessment

As a business owner you must make sure your food business is Covid 19 secure by putting together a risk assessment. This means looking carefully at how coronavirus could cause illness to your customers, staff and others (like delivery drivers) whilst they are at or visiting your workplace.

You should consider social distancing, handwashing, staff clothing, cleaning, ventilation, signage etc. at your workplace.

If you need help putting a risk assessment together sign up and download my top ten tips https://www.foodsafetylogic.co.uk/covid-19/ and risk assessment template https://mailchi.mp/foodsafetylogic/covid-19-risk-assessment.

Also read my blog Covid 19 Risk Assessment for catering businesses explained

4. Put in place a Food Safety Management System (FSMS)

You must have a FSMS  by law. If you don’t and you are part of the scheme it will affect your Food Hygiene Rating Score. It is a written record that shows what you actually do in your food business.  Sometimes it is referred to as HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points).

It should include what can go wrong, what you can do about it, the standard you must achieve, what you should check and write down and what you need to do if it isn’t right. You need to consider this at each step in the preparation and service of food including deliveries if you are doing this.

Use a generic template such as SFBB (Safer Food Better Business). This can be downloaded from the Food Standard Agency website SFBB  .(Different packs are available depending on your food business type: retailers, caterers, Indian or Chinese Cuisine, child minders and care homes.)

Or you could put in place a system tailor made and written just for your business so you can control and check the food safety risks every day you are open.

5. Train your staff

Train your staff to do their job. The level of training they need depends on whether they prepare, serve or manage food safety within your business.

Courses are available in food safety and allergens via  face to face or online training. Many food business owners are leaning towards e-courses during the Covid 19 epidemic to reduce contact with others but make sure they are accredited or approved first.  See more information on Training Courses

6. Provide Allergen information

To comply with the law you must provide accurate and up-to-date allergen information for your customers. Write down in your food safety management system how you manage the cross contamination of allergens and the controls you have in place.

Consider how allergen contamination could happen at each stage in the preparation of food. Start with delivery and storage, then preparation, cooking and service. If you need further help with this read my blog Allergen Management made easy

7. Monitor food temperatures

You must control the temperatures of the food you prepare and serve in your business to make sure food is safe for your customers. Monitor temperatures as part of your food safety management system. Write them down or record them online.

Include the temperatures of  chilled and frozen food that is delivered and stored, cooked food, hot holding and cooling of foods, and transport and display of foods.

For more advice read my blog Getting to grips with temperature checks. This includes specific advice on why, how and when to do temperature checks and the legal temperatures you must stick to.

8. Clean and Disinfect your premises and equipment

Food preparation surfaces and hand contact surfaces  must be cleaned with a disinfectant. It should comply with BSEN 1276 or 13276 to make sure food poisoning bacteria that may be there is destroyed.  Or even better, a food safe disinfectant that complies with  BSEN 14476, which are viricidal tested to kill viruses like coronavirus and can be used on soft furnishings.

Front of house and other non-food areas can be cleaned with a disinfectant with a bleach base which will
kill viruses.

Put in place a cleaning schedule which covers the cleaning of all areas of your kitchen. Include walls, floors, ceilings, equipment and surfaces. Don’t forget hard to reach areas including under and behind equipment as they often end up with a build up of food and debris over time.

Daily and weekly management spot checks can help make sure cleaning is done to a required standard and the kitchen is a safe place to work and food is safe to eat.

9.  Plan your kitchen layout

Starting  from scratch or repurposing an existing kitchen? Consider where to put hand wash basins, food and equipment washing sinks, ventilation, drainage and food preparation and storage areas. Also that all fittings and equipment must be able to be cleaned and disinfected. The structure must be in good repair and be able to be cleaned as well.

Remember once your kitchen equipment is fixed, or the utilities like water and gas are installed, it can be difficult to change them. Make a sketch plan first – a well planned kitchen can help staff to be more efficient and work safely.

Also important is the work flow. Look at how easily staff can access frequently used equipment like hand wash basing, fridges, cookers and sinks.

As part of your Covid 19 risk assessment put in place controls so staff can work safely. For example by using dedicated work stations, working in bubbles and working side by side rather than face to face. Also putting in place one way systems; and limiting access to shared work spaces like store rooms and walk in fridges.

10. Managing food and other waste

Food waste and other rubbish, including recycling must be stored and disposed of safely.

Provide bins inside and outside and check for pests regularly or put in place a pest control contract. Make sure that vermin, flies and other pests are not able to enter the food premises by proofing the building. Also  put in place  bait boxes, fly screens etc. if necessary to make sure that if pests do get in you can control them.

If you are starting up a new food business and  need any other help and  advice on Covid 19 or food safety . Please Contact me for a chat on how I can help your business.