Rules and regulations
Even if you are planning to run your business from home, food hygiene and preparation rules apply to any premises in which food is prepared which you have to follow.
The main regulations you will have to be aware of are Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs, and the Food Hygiene Regulations 2006. Although this one applies specifically to England, there are equivalents for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
You will be required to register your business premises with the local authority at least 28 days before you plan to launch your business. The premises should be clean and in good repair, with adequate drinking water, pest control, lighting, ventilation, lavatory, hand washing and drainage facilities.
If you’re planning on using your kitchen or another site which isn’t purpose-built, make sure you keep all pets, and soft furnishings, out of the room. The rules also require a separate sink in or near the kitchen so you can wash your hands, and wipe-clean surfaces – so wooden tables are a no.
Lynn Oxley was in the process of redesigning her kitchen, and got around the rules by inviting her local environmental health officer to come in for a consultation. “We had a word with him and he came round before we started the work,” she says.
Food storage is an important part of any catering business, and those who handle food should have some training.
In your kitchen at home, you will need a separate place to store food for the business – refrigeration, in particular, needs to be kept separate.
Any waste you create should be cleared immediately, and stored in a closed-lid container. Dairy products, cooked products and prepared ready-to-eat uncooked food must be stored and transported below 8°C, but 5°C or lower is the recommended temperature.
Any food which you have cooked but will not serve immediately, has a ‘use by’ date, says ‘keep refrigerated’ on the label, or is ready-to-eat must be kept chilled, and you should check the temperature at least once a day.
Once you have registered your premises, an environmental health officer has the right to visit unannounced at any reasonable time. It’s up to you to have any information they may require to hand – this will include the names of the company directors, machinery maintenance records and the ingredients and origin of food.
If they feel you have obstructed them in their duties, you can be prosecuted and fined up to £5,000.
If you decide to employ people to help you run your business, whether they are highly-trained cake decorators or a visiting plumber, you are responsible for their health and safety. In an environment where sharp knives and hot ovens are the norm, it is inevitable that accidents will occur, so make sure you have the correct procedures in place to deal with them.
Before you employ staff, you should carry out a thorough assessment of the health and safety risks your business faces, and create a formal policy based on the assessment. If you have more than five staff members, you need to write this down and make sure they are aware of it. Making sure all your staff comply with health and safety procedures could prevent an accident. If an accident does occur, you are legally required to record and report it.
Cake making requires eggs, and eggs can spread harmful bacteria, so make sure you follow the four C’s of food preparation to minimise the risk of contamination:
Most cases of food poisoning occur when harmful bacteria is spread from food to food, so take extra care when handling raw meat, poultry and eggs – particularly if you are running your business from home. Also, be aware that equipment, pests, cloths, packaging and cleaning products can spread bacteria, so make sure you know what is coming into contact with your food.
Create cleaning schedules which you can follow during the cooking process, ensuring any spillages are cleared up immediately to prevent cross-contamination. Likewise, make sure your staff are clean and if any of them let their standards of personal hygiene slip, you are obligated to address the issue.
Any food which needs to be served hot, like custard, should be kept above 63ºC and should be piping hot all the way through.
For more information, see the ‘Food hygiene – a guide for businesses’ booklet, published by the Food Standards Agency at food.gov.uk. The ‘Safer Food, Better Business’ guide includes templates for cleaning schedules and staff training records.
For information on health and safety and how to carry out a risk assessment of your business, visit the Health and Safety Executive website at hse.gov.uk.