Fiona Sinclair explains how to prevent parties turning pear-shaped
The party season is upon us and caterers nationwide are readying themselves for one of their busiest times of the year. But Christmas is a period when there is a peak in food poisoning cases and, although this can in some part be attributed to blunders at home, it can also go hand-in-hand with caterers operating at full stretch, often outside the scope of their usual day-to-day operations.
Here are five considerations to bear in mind when expanding operations to accommodate Christmas parties.
1 Staphylococcus (the party bug)
This naturally occurring food poisoning bacteria is present in about 40% of foodhandlers’ noses, mouths and throats, and on 15% of the population’s skin. Food that is handled closely during preparation, such as salads, sandwiches and canapés, can easily become contaminated if you have a food-handler with sloppy personal hygiene (unwashed hands, coughing and sneezing while preparing food, or uncovered cuts).
The key to avoiding contamination is good personal hygiene, alongside safe temperature and time control to limit the production of toxins. Points to consider include:
• Catering for larger-than-usual volumes of party buffets will require sufficient capacity of chilled storage space.
• Create additional space using extra shelves, trolleys in walk-in fridges or even hired units.
• Once food is on display or out for service, the law states that it can be kept out of chilled temperature control only once and for a maximum of four hours. We would strongly advise reducing this time as, not only has the food been in the temperature danger zone, it could also have been exposed to the risk of bugs, such as norovirus from guests’ hands.
• It’s not just chilled storage that needs attention; you should also ensure that here is adequate capacity for other temperature control, such as hot holding.
2 Proactive allergen management
Caterers have come a long way since the allergen laws were introduced in December 2014. However, collating allergen information for new and seasonal menus can be more of a reactive process than a proactive one. Suppliers can often be slow at providing allergen information, so make sure you get started early.
Another thing to consider is ensuring that you encourage guests and customers who have allergies to tell you. If you can capture their allergy information during the booking process – whether that’s on a booking form for functions, website booking or verbally over the phone – then you can prepare all the necessary precautions ahead of their visit.
3 Casual staff – avoiding ‘loose cannons’
Even when waiters are hired as socalled low-risk food handlers, the law for suitable food safety instruction, training and supervision still applies, whether or not they are directly handling food.
Make sure you clearly set the standards and give straightforward, relevant instructions to casual food handlers on all the essential hygiene rules that they need to follow.
Take into consideration any language barriers and focus on what they really
need to know. Retain written confirmation that each person has received this instruction for due-diligence purposes.
4 Law for temporary premises/equipment
Party catering may involve temporary kitchens in marquees, mobile stands, pop-ups or Christmas market stalls. Arrangements such as the removal of waste and effective temperature control will need to be considered, as will the supply of hot water Where high-risk, open food is to be handled, merely using hand sanitiser is not an adequate substitute for the correct handwashing facilities – even if the source is the hot-water urn.
5 Campylobacter (Christmas bug)
Research shows that about 70% of chickens are contaminated with campylobacter, and as another member of the poultry family, turkey may also be naturally contaminated with the so-called ‘Christmas bug’.
There are two main threats from campylobacter. The first is cross-contamination, so ensure you use separate areas and equipment for handling raw poultry. You should also follow cooking times closely.
Festive food safety is all about the planning. Don’t just leave food safety to chance or you may end up giving the gift that nobody wants – that of food poisoning. Keep the spirit of the festive season alive and well by reviewing your food safety management systems and putting suitable controls and monitoring in place. This will leave you free to enjoy the party with complete peace of mind.
Fiona Sinclair is director of food safety consultancy STS