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A number of new home food businesses have been started up during the Covid-19 lockdown, and health agencies are ringing alarm bells.
According to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), many new food businesses are selling through social media or other informal networks and apps, like WhatsApp, Instagram or Nextdoor, and are not registering as a food business, meaning local authorities cannot check their hygiene and food standards.
The Food Standards Agency found that around 44% of food businesses started since the first lockdown are based in a home, and with local authority and environmental health teams’ resources stretched, CIEH said they are having to focus on businesses that pose the greatest risk. This means businesses may slip through the cracks, posing problems if they’re supplying independents.
“Covid isn’t the only thing that kills people, so do food poisoning and so do allergens,” said Julie Barratt, CIEH president. “Many of these new food businesses are small producers with limited reach. They won’t cause big outbreaks of food poisoning, but there is every chance that they are making people ill.”
“However, we don’t want to discourage businesses, we want to work with them to get it right first time,” she added. Julie told Speciality Food that it’s in businesses’ interest as much as it is health inspectors to make an effort to start their business on a strong footing from the outset.
“All too often people try and use what they’ve already got or they will make an effort to buy extra equipment or take extra equipment from somewhere and incorporate it into the kitchen, but it doesn’t always work like that. There’s a proper flow around the kitchen to avoid problems like cross contamination, and it needs to be laid out properly to start with, and we don’t want people to spend money on something and then find that that money’s been wasted. So it’s about the heading off cost before we even start, and in doing that public health risk,” she explained.
The things people starting a new food business need to be thinking about are: refrigeration capacity, freezer capacity, storage of dry goods, stock rotation and keeping proper records. “We want to see records of fridge temperatures and freezer temperatures – in a commercial kitchen you know you’ve got to do that, but in a domestic kitchen, people aren’t necessarily doing that,” Julie said. Big issues can also come up around allergens. Whether you’re selling cakes or a Sunday roast, all of the ingredients need to be labelled.
Julie’s advice for new businesses? As well as registering with your local authority, speak to your environmental health department. “They can send you advice and guidance. Some will have advice and guidance on their own local authority website, and the Food Standards Agency has got advice on its own website.”
You’ll also need to think about insurance. “Once you go from cooking for your family and your friends as guests to cooking food to sell it or to swap it or anything like that you’re running a food business, and all of the rules of running a food business apply and that includes the need to have insurance,” Julie said.
Adding uninspected food outlets to Britain’s food chain poses real risks, Julie said, and this means food businesses must do everything they can to minimise that risk and ensure the food they’re serving is safe for their customers. For retailers, it’s even more important to check out your suppliers before stocking products by asking for food safety and online training certificates supplied by the Environmental Health Officer from your local authority.