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The Caterer

Caterer's Ask The Expert

01 January 2000
Caterer's Ask The Expert

Q I run a hospital kitchen supplying 3,200 meals a day. My local environmental health officer has told me that there is a European Union proposal that shell eggs must be kept in the fridge. But egg cartons take up a lot of fridge space. Do I have to store them this way?

A It is not true that you have to do this by law. In fact, the EU has just thrown this proposal out. But there is still evidence of a risk from salmonella in eggs. Recent advice from the Government's expert committee on food safety is that caterers should keep eggs chilled to reduce the risk. But this is advice rather than regulation.

The committee also said that it was good practice to use eggs quickly - within three weeks of laying is suggested. Many packers have improved the date-marking on cartons to help you, and some even date-stamp individual eggs.

You should remember that the chief medical officer's advice from the days of Edwina Currie still stands: Eggs served to vulnerable groups (for example, hospital patients) should always be well cooked; and all caterers should use pasteurised eggs where possible for egg dishes that are not cooked (for example, mayonnaise).

Q We run a country house hotel with 40 rooms and a busy function suite. We have just received a mailshot from a consultant who tells us that, under the new hygiene regulations, we must do a "hazard analysis" by midsummer. He is offering special rates. What is a hazard analysis and what should we do?

A The answer to the second question is wait! It is true that there will be new hygiene rules from an EU directive but they will not come into force before summer 1995.

In one or two areas the new regulations take a different approach. One of these is the concept of hazard analysis, a system used increasingly by food manufacturers. Hazard analysis encourages you to move on from a blanket approach to hygiene.

Everyone's menu and style of preparation is different. Hazard analysis makes you think about your own operation, its specific hazards, and how to control them.

But there is still a long way to go until it becomes clear how this can be translated to catering operations. Caterer will keep you up to date on the regulations.

Q I sell breaded scampi as a bar meal in my pub. One of my customers complained that the minced fish is not scampi and is threatening to tell the trading standards officer. Is he right?

A Yes, he probably is. Scampi is a sensitive trading standards issue because there has been a lot of cheating - many suppliers and pubs have been prosecuted.

First, scampi must be the correct type of fish: the Dublin Bay prawn, ornephrops norvegicus. If it is any other type, or even a mixture of fish that includes the word "nephrops", you cannot call it scampi. Chemical analysis is now very sensitivein detecting anything that shouldn't be there.

Even if the fish core is entirely scampi you may still need to be careful. The description scampi should be used only for product made from whole scampi tails. If in doubt, the best thing that you can do is to check the description used by the supplier on the carton.

Q In 1990 we spent a lot of money on new refrigeration in our seafront restaurant on the South coast. I read in Caterer early last year that the temperature control regulations were being scrapped, but my local environmental health officer (EHO)has sent me an improvement notice to run my fridges below 5ºC. I am confused!

A Everyone is confused by the rules on food temperature control. Even EHOs say they are not enforceable.

Regulations that came into operation in 1990 and 1991 still apply. Most foods should be kept below 8ºC and many ready-to-eat cooked foods (ham for example) must be kept below 5ºC. Food on display in a catering establishment does not need to meet these standards provided that it is displayed for less than four hours.

Further changes to the rules were proposed in early 1993 which would have added to the confusion, and it is these changes that were scrapped.

But it is clear that the rules need to be tidied up and the Department of Health has just circulated some proposals. They include chilled storage below 8ºC and a bit of tightening-up of the four-hour rule.

These are not yet finalised. Caterer will keep you up to date as things develop. Meanwhile, 5ºC is still the rule for some types of food.

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