Rules and regulations
The fact that you’re dealing with food and potentially employing a high number of staff not only means that you have to organise everything extremely rigorously, you will also have to deal with an array of rules and regulations.
Firstly, any business dealing with food is heavily regulated by Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs and the Food Hygiene Regulations 2006, which replaced the Food Safety Regulations 1995. This regulation applies to England but there are equivalent regulations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is little difference between this and the 1995 law but the main change is that you must now put food safety management procedures in place, and keep up-to-date records of these.
More on these regulations can be found in a booklet entitled 'Food hygiene - a guide for businesses' published by the Food Standards Agency.
You are also required to register your premises with the environmental health service at your local authority at least 28 days before opening – this is still applicable even if you are using your own kitchen at home. If you use more than one premises you will have to register them all.
If you are planning to sell or supply alcohol you will need to apply for a licence from your local authority.
Rules governing any business that prepares food include:
The business premises:
Should be clean and in good repair, with adequate drinking water, pest control, lighting, ventilation, lavatory, hand washing and drainage facilities.
The room in which food is prepared:
Should have surfaces that are easy to clean and disinfect (including wall, floor and tabletop surfaces) and should have adequate facilities for washing food and equipment, storing food and removing waste.
The food handlers:
Should wear clean clothes and observe good personal hygiene. They should not smoke when preparing food and should be trained in all areas of food hygiene.
Equipment, containers and vehicles used to transport food:
Should be designed so that they can be easily cleaned and kept in good state of hygiene. Vans will often need to be refrigerated if transporting cooked food.
Food and food waste should be immediately cleared from surfaces and stored in a closed-lid container. Temperature controls apply to dairy products, cooked products and prepared ready-to-eat uncooked food. Although there is some flexibility, these foods will generally have to be stored at below 8°C, so many caterers have to use refrigerated vehicles.
Food hygiene law is rigorous and anyone setting up in business in catering will have to think very carefully about where they set up and what equipment they buy. Remember that environmental health officers make regular inspections of food businesses and have the power of closure if they think you are not up to scratch.
Roberts remembers, “When we moved into premises, we got the Environmental Health Service (EHS) in at the start and said “What do you want us to do here”. Like everyone, we still get regular visits from the EHS, but it was useful to get them in from the start.”
The other area of red tape that will affect your catering businesses comes from the fact that you may employ a large number of staff, especially if you serve the food as well as simply deliver it.
This means becoming familiar with the raft of employment regulations covering the recruitment process, pay, leave, discipline and dismissal, as well administrating payments through the payroll and setting up a stakeholder pension if necessary.