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Are you Allergen Compliant?

GH-Training Solutions

Are you Allergen Compliant?

GH Training Solutions Comments Off on Are you Allergen Compliant?

The treatment of allergens by the food industry has again been in the press, following the tragic – and completely avoidable – death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse and the subsequent inquest after eating a Pret a Manger sandwich which failed to list all ingredients – of which one was a fatal allergen.

Pret maintained that their labelling was compliant with the law but the attitude of food retailers towards protecting consumers has been picked up by BBC’s Watchdog programme, which recently included undercover footage of journalists going into large catering businesses.

Many businesses were found to be falling short of their legal and moral duties. The main issues are a lack of information or incorrect information being given to customers, showing a clear lack of understanding of the severity of the risks associated with allergens.

It is incredibly disappointing to see the knee jerk reaction of some businesses who, following on from the Natasha case, have taken to just slapping a sticker on all sandwiches saying, ‘May contain sesame seeds’, irrelevant of whether this is an ingredient or not or even if there was a risk of contamination or not.

Food businesses need to understand this case is not just about sesame seeds, it’s about making sure information to consumers is accessible and accurate. It’s ultimately about keeping our customers safe.

Over the last few years, many businesses have made good improvements in the control of some allergens, in particular peanuts, nuts, gluten, dairy and eggs. Free from options are increasingly common on the menu at many eateries.

However, there are 9 other allergens which are not as well understood including celery, mustard and lupin.

Currently, there is no cure for food allergies. Whilst for many people the symptoms are mild, there have now been too many cases of an unnecessary death arising from food allergies when the food business has either failed to provide ingredient information to customers or failed to treat allergens correctly to avoid contamination.

It is important that we all learn from mistakes made and take steps to protect our customers, and ultimately our businesses.

How compliant is your business? 

When was the last time you reviewed your allergy procedures? How confident are you that your staff would pass a ‘Watchdog’ test? Are you doing everything you can to protect your customers from the 14 Allergens? Do all your staff members even know what the 14 allergens are?

Allergen Training & Consultancy

If you need allergy training for your team or help with process management, I offer a half day accredited Level 2 Allergen course which can be run in house at a time and venue to suit you. I also offer consultancy services providing advice and recommendations specific to your business. Please contact me if you would like to find out more.


7 Steps to avoid the Winter Vomiting Bug

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As the clocks go back and shops are filled with tasty treats and all things sparkly for Christmas, for those of us in the food service industry, we need to remember the threat of Norovirus, which due to its prevalence in Winter, is also called the ‘Winter vomiting bug’.

I remember (not so fondly) my days of working on cruise ships, trying to contain yet another large scale outbreak of Norovirus.  But even ashore, there is still the threat from Norovirus amongst your colleagues or customers.

What is Norovirus

Norovirus is a “low-dose” organism which means that as few as 10 virus particles are required to make a person ill, causing an attack of acute gastroenteritis.

Symptoms last for 24 – 48 hours and some infected people can still pass on the virus for up to 2 weeks after their symptoms have stopped, although for most it is the 48 hours after symptoms have stopped.

Whilst most cases of Norovirus are transmitted from person to person, either directly or by hand contact points, it can also spread through food, in particular fresh produce and seafood or through infected food handlers.

Whilst fatality rates are low, the speed of spread and acuteness of symptoms makes this a high-impact threat which needs to be managed.

(If you can stomach it, watch this ‘Operation Ouch’ video demonstrating how far projectile vomit can spread

7 steps to help you stay clear of Norovirus this Winter

  1. Effective hand washing is the most effective preventative measure you can take. This means at least 30 seconds of scrubbing, not just a quick splash.
  2. If a member of staff develops symptoms whilst at work, send them home immediately.
  3. Remember the 48 hour rule; keep food handlers away for a further 48 hours after their symptoms have stopped. Read the FSA guidance on food handlers ‘fitness to work’.
  4. Ensure all hand contact surfaces are properly cleaned and disinfected. Not all disinfectants work on Norovirus, so check with your supplier for an appropriate disinfectant.
  5. Ensure salads, vegetables and fruit are washed thoroughly
  6. Ensure shellfish comes from a reputable supplier and is cooked thoroughly
  7. Make sure you have a contingency plan in place so you know how to handle the situation should you have an outbreak despite taking these precautions.

I do hope you and your business avoid the Norovirus this Winter.  If you need any help with staff training or food safety procedures and best practice, please do contact me.

The best of both worlds

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Few people would disagree that face-to-face learning is more impactful and inspiring than e-learning.

However, a group of people taking time away from the workplace for classroom-based training results in a direct cost to the employer, in addition to the cost of the course.  For 3-day courses this can become a real obstacle for managers.

To help achieve the perfect solution, I recently trialled a new blended-learning approach with great success on a Level 3 Health & Safety Course, which usually requires 3 days out of the office for lessons and the exam.

Students completed the majority of the course at their own pace using an e-learning platform from Highfield, who are also the awarding body for my classroom courses – which ensures continuity and consistency.

Participants then joined together for a single classroom day, offering the opportunity for discussion, questions and debate which I focussed on the needs of the group and their particular business, as well as completing the final exam. One participant commented “Classroom learning really helped and touched on the exact places that needed more discussion

Not only was this blended learning format valued by students, who left the classroom with a better understanding than they had gained from e-learning alone, but it was also appreciated by managers, who only had to co-ordinate a single day for staff to attend.

Naturally, the proof is in the pudding and everyone was delighted with the 100% pass rate.

If you think blended-learning could work for your organisation, please contact me.  I can offer blended-learning solutions for Level 3 Health & Safety and Level 3 Food Safety. As always, I will tailor dates and delivery content to match your organisation’s particular needs.


Don’t let the sun stop common sense

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There is nothing quite so special as a good British Summer. It is the season for BBQ’s, summer fayres and outdoor living. Whilst this is a great time to have fun, we can’t put away our Safety hats, just because the sun is shining.

If you’re planning a summer event, make sure that any attractions you’re offering are run by responsible persons and that risk assessments have been carried out. The HSE produce a useful guide to help people organising events,

With Summer outdoor events, comes food – BBQ’s and the accompanying salads. Also, with Summer, comes a spike in cases of food poisoning. Typical causes of food poisoning from BBQ’s include:

  • Cross contamination, the same tongs used for both raw and cooked food or not washing hands after handling raw meat
  • Not cooking food all the way through
  • Leaving food at ambient for long periods of time
  • Not washing salads thoroughly in clean water

So, make sure you or your staff are taking steps to address these key areas. It is highly recommended that any staff cooking on a BBQ hold a minimum of a Level 2 Food Safety certificate – if you need additional staff trained at short notice, please get in touch and I’ll do my best to help.
But it isn’t just food safety which presents a summer threat; on the 1st of July 2018, a 3-year-old child tragically died after being thrown from a bouncy castle that exploded. This is not the first bouncy castle death, with two people recently being sentenced to 3 years in prison each following the death of a 7-year-old girl two years ago. In this case the bouncy castle tore free from it’s moorings and tumbled 300 metres with the child still inside the inflatable. What seems like innocent fun can go horribly wrong if simple Health & Safety measures aren’t taken.

And don’t forget your outside event staff, you also need to keep them safe from exposure to heat and sunshine. Consider:

  • Encourage staff to wear sun cream
  • Ensure that they keep covered, maybe you can provide sun hats or caps
  • Ensure they take regular breaks in shaded areas
  • Ensure that they keep well hydrated by drinking water and make sure water is easily available to them


As long as we continue to consider the food safety and health & safety risks associated with events, we can get on and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

I do hope everyone has a wonderful Summer and if I can be of any assistance offering Food Safety training, consultancy advice or Health & Safety training, do contact me.


Food Safety Management System

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I was recently asked to do an in-house Level 2 Food Safety course for a small organisation. One of the things that prompted the training session, was a recent inspection that they had had from the EHO. They were disappointed to receive a score of 4 rather than the 5 they were hoping for. Although what they were doing in practice and the condition of the kitchen was good, what had let them down was their food safety management system and documentation.

There is much more emphasis  on the food safety management system during EHO inspections, yet this is also the area that caterers often find the most challenging.

Where to Start

The food safety management system and documentation that is kept does not need to be complicated. The amount of paperwork should be applicable to the size and complexity of the food business.

For the small business, a good starting point it to use the ‘Safer Food, Better Business’ pack freely available on the Food Standards Agency website. This is an excellent resource and can be tailored to your business. Take out what isn’t applicable to you and if you want to add in extras, e.g. temperature sheets, do so. Make it your own.

When designing your own recording sheets, consider what will work best for your team in practice; this could be separate sheets for different things or you might choose to have one sheet to incorporate everything that will be recorded in one day.


Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a more structured and formalised management system for food safety. A lot of food businesses worry about the need to go down the formal HACCP route, but we only really need to consider this for food manufacturing business or for catering if you have a particular high-risk process in place.

Whatever system you use, be that the ‘Safer food, better business’ pack, HACCP or a bespoke food safety management system written by yourself or a consultant, be realistic about what you are doing.

For example, the small organisation I mentioned above relied on elderly volunteers who had been volunteering there for years. They had minimal food handling and when they were in the kitchen they tied their hair up and wore a clean apron. When the organisation updated their policy, they stated that food handlers would wear a chef’s jacket and wear a hat. This was unrealistic and would most likely result in losing the volunteers that are so valuable for the charity, and it was also unnecessary for the type of food they were handling.

The policies and procedures must reflect what you do in practice and the practices must reflect what’s in the policy.

If you need help to write your policy or review your current policy, don’t hesitate to contact me.


Time to De-stress

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Last week was ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ and the focus was very much on tackling stress.

Health & Safety statistics for 2017 show that for the first time, stress, depression and anxiety has topped the table as the top cause of all work-related ill-health cases.

So what can, and should we, as employers do to protect our workforce?

With an estimated 49% of working days lost due to ill health being as a result of stress, anxiety and depression, can you afford not to address this as part of your health and safety policy.

By reducing stress, it would not only improve the health and well-being of your staff, but this also has a positive impact on the business as whole, improving staff retention rates, productivity and the service we provide to customers.

To understand it, we must consider what the main contributing factors in the work place may be. Often this is due to increased workload pressures and/or lack of or perceived lack of support from management. Changes in the workplace, job insecurity, work relationships and even boredom can also contribute to stress levels.

Employers have a legal duty to protect employees by carrying out a risk assessment for stress and then putting in place control measures to reduce the risk to employees.

These risk assessments do not need to be complex and a good starting point is the HSE website which has a plethora of useful tools including sample stress risk assessments and a brilliant management standards workbook which takes you through the process step by step and includes checklists to help you manage stress in your workplace.

Going for Gold!

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 Last Friday, I visited my local fish and chips shop and I admit that my favourite bits are the crispy little pieces of chips. My local uses fresh potatoes and makes their own chips and I wondered as I watched the young team prepping and cooking whether they were aware of the recent change in legislation

On the 11th April new legislation came into play which means that food business operators must put measures into place to reduce the amount of acrylamide produced during cooking. But what does this mean and what changes do you need to make?

This legislation affects all food businesses from the small independent through to the large national manufacturer.

As with all changes in the law, there has been some concern and misunderstanding about what is required by businesses. Like most legislation, this is not about making it unmanageable and expensive. The controls needed are dependent on the size and complexity of a business.

The British Hospitality Association have put together an Industry guide to Acrylamide for the Catering and Food Service industry. Although this is a draft interim guide while we await the finalised EU Guidance, it outlines the measures that businesses can take to ensure that they are meeting the requirements of this new regulation.

If you require help or more information, don’t hesitate to contact me.


Conversation – The Advantage of Classroom Training Courses

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With the recent focus in the news on single-use plastics, this was something that came up in one of my Level 3 Food Safety courses this week. Some of the course participants were passionate about moving to glass, while others had safety concerns about the use of glass in the kitchen. Both views had safety issues and an interesting debate followed.

A few weeks ago, on a Level 2 Food Safety course I ran for students at a Hampshire college, there was one attendee who aspired to run her own business. It was fantastic to see, at just age 19, such ambition. It also presented an opportunity for the group, as part of the course, to look at what she needed to put in place before she could operate. Using her own idea as a case-study we reviewed what paperwork she needed and how to comply with Food Safety policies in a home kitchen environment.

There are moments like this on every course I teach. Where participant-led questions, scenarios and discussions allow us to look deeper into the subject, debate different points of view and answer questions relevant to each individual’s circumstances.

It is these moments which make the course so much more relevant and meaningful than the basic syllabus. It leads to a better understanding of best practice, helps my students grasp deeper concepts and increases the motivation to commit to good practice, ultimately improving our Food Safety and Health and Safety culture.

These are also my favourite moments of every course.

I don’t mind spending time answering questions or encouraging a group discussion. It is these conversations which result in the precious light-bulb moments for my participants. I see managers (especially on the Level 3 and Level 4 courses) scribble a little note to themselves; something to take back to work and implement.

For me, this is the real value of face-to-face classroom courses and what sets me apart from online or learning courses.

Food Safety and Health & Safety Training is about more than just the certificate, it is about driving our working culture forward and creating safer working environments. Having the opportunity to network with peers, learning from their experiences and ask probing questions helps everyone accelerate their learning and get more from their course.

Naturally, whilst most people initially contact me to enquire about a specific course and certificate they need, I am proud to ensure they leave the course with far more knowledge and a broader understanding.


Food Poisoning Complaint – What Now?

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As a food provider, receiving an allegation of food poisoning can be a worst nightmare come true. However, once you receive a complaint, it is important to handle the situation correctly.

An allegation of food poisoning may come directly from a customer or it could have been reported to an Environmental Health Officer.

If it comes directly from a customer, it is essential that you are prepared in advance for this situation so you can handle it appropriately.

  1. Take the allegation seriously.

It is important to take the allegation seriously, however, it is also important to not admit liability at this stage nor deny the allegation. Avoid statements such as ‘No one else has complained’ or ‘It doesn’t usually take x hours for the symptoms to develop’ or even to suggest it may have been down to the quantity of alcohol or richness of food consumed.

It is important that the customer feels confident that their complaint is being taking seriously. Arrange for the manager to speak to the customer and reassure them that as a company you take such allegations seriously, and you intend to follow your internal procedure to investigate the situation fully.

Whilst there is an increasing trend towards a ‘compensation culture’ most customers simply want to feel you are taking them seriously. Responding appropriately at this stage can diffuse anger and even improve the relationship with the customers.

2. Fact Finding

This initial contact is the perfect time to gather as much information as possible to help you with your investigation – while the details are fresh in everyone’s minds.

Along with the customer’s name and contact details, some important questions to ask include:

  • What did they eat?
  • When did they eat the food?
  • When did the symptoms start?
  • What symptoms did they have?
  • How long did they have the symptoms for?
  • Did anyone else in their party have similar symptoms and what did they eat?
  • Have they seen a doctor – if not, suggest that they do as the doctor could take a faecal sample to determine what micro-organism has made them ill.
  • Have they reported their illness to the EHO – if not consider whether you need to.

GH Training Solutions have developed a standard form you can use in this situation to ensure nothing is missed out. Alleged FP Form

If the allegation has come from the EHO, much of this information would have been collected and passed on by the EHO. It is also very likely that this allegation will prompt a visit by the EHO.

3. Your Immediate Actions

Based on the information you gather from the customer, or are presented with from the EHO, consider whether you should stop serving the food that was alleged to have caused the food poisoning. If you do, don’t throw it away instead quarantine and label it in case it needs to be tested.

4. Internal Investigation

Be proactive and consider what you can do to help the EHO with their investigation. Do remember that the EHO’s first priority is to ensure that no one else gets sick. This is about working together to determine what went wrong and if there is any danger.

Look at the journey the food took and collect relevant documentation and information.

  • Where did it come from – which supplier?
  • When was it delivered, where was it stored and for how long?
  • What processes did it go through? When was it prepared and/or cooked?
  • How many other people ate the food?
  • Who was on duty and who prepared the food – have they been ill recently?

You should assist the EHO fully and cooperate with them. If things are looking serious consider whether it would be best to close until the investigation is over.

Follow the instructions of the EHO with regards to when you can reopen, restock and even clean the premises. Depending on your findings, you may want to consider refresher Food Safety Training for your team members.

5. The Follow Up

Once your investigation is complete, do go back to the customer to tell them the outcome of your investigation. It’s not what goes wrong that counts, but how we dealt with it afterwards that is remembered.

Avoiding an Unwanted Christmas Present

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 Avoiding turkey trots at christmas

Everyone likes to make a little extra effort at Christmas. Last weekend, several shops were taking part in a local Christmas Fayre. I noticed a mobile repair shop laying out a little table with a soup kettle on, plugged into an extension cable which trailed across the entrance of the shop (which was open to the public). The shop owner then came out with a plastic tub of cooked rice and proceeded to fill the soup kettle.

A number of immediate concerns popped into my mind, although my family thought I was being a Grinch. I realised how at Christmas, it seems to be ok to bend (or disregard) the rules, because “it’s only the once” and you’re “being festive”.

However, there is a real risk that you could give your customers or guests a very unwanted Christmas present. Nothing feels less festive than food poisoning.

You may be hosting a special event, or simply expecting more people than usual to cater for. Whatever your Christmas period plans, here are some simple steps you can take to ensure your usually high standards are maintained during this busy period, based on the 3 P’s Framework that I use in my free eBook (Embracing an EHO Visit – a practical business toolkit) available to download here.


  • During this busy period, don’t compromise on hygiene; you may need to buy in extra supplies such as hand wash for both the kitchen and customer toilets, cleaning products, etc. You may need to review your cleaning rota to cope with increased usage.
  • If you don’t have enough equipment to keep food safe, can you bring in a temporary measure, for example, a mobile refrigerator.
  • You may want to rearrange your furniture to accommodate additional seating – make sure that emergency exits are still accessible and of course, it can be a good time to clean behind some rarely moved benches!
  • Consider Health & Safety when setting up displays and decorations and also for any entertainment provided.


  • Don’t accept more bookings than you can safely handle. Consider your preparation, cooking and storage spaces as well as your man power.
  • It is important to be organised, but don’t try and get too far ahead of yourself; preparing food too far in advance gives bacteria the opportunity to thrive.
  • If you have new ingredients in the kitchen, ensure they are labelled clearly especially allergens.
  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold with minimal time spent at ambient temperature.
  • Make sure you have time to cook poultry thoroughly, including chicken liver pate.


People & Policies

  • If you’re doing a special menu, have you reviewed your food safety management system or HACCP procedures, and have you made any relevant changes?
  • Have staff been trained in new food processes, especially any additional seasonal staff you’ve taken on?
  • Have you updated your allergy advice and checked with customers for any dietary requirements?
  • What are your contingency plans, just in case you have boiler failure, staff call in sick etc?

A good food safety culture plays a key role in your brand image and reflects a commitment from the management team. Although it can take extra effort to set up and build this culture, it makes life a lot easier in the long run.

Assess how well your business is performing by using the checklist in my free eBook, Embracing an EHO Visit – A practical toolkit for businesses, available to download here.

If you think you or your team could benefit from extra Food Safety advice or training please get in touch.