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Viewpoint: end shadowy practices of dark kitchens

02 July 2019 by
Viewpoint: end shadowy practices of dark kitchens

With dark kitchens revolutionising the takeaway industry, it's vital we hold these businesses to the same level of standards as restaurants, says Richard Anderson

But there is a growing disquiet about regulation and working practices, with many operators of dark kitchens avoiding the complex requirements to which restaurants and takeaways are subjected. There are fears that food hygiene and allergen control standards are not as high in dark kitchens - although these premises are subjected to Food Standards Agency inspections and provided with a food hygiene score certificate. Concerns have also been raised over the treatment of staff. Many workers have less human interaction than their counterparts in busy restaurants and tend to work in cramped conditions, with tales of chefs preparing food in windowless metal boxes where the ovens take up a considerable amount of space.

While hot and humid kitchens are nothing new in the restaurant industry, the lone working element to some dark kitchen operations can increase stress and discomfort among employees. This extends from those working in the kitchens to the self-employed riders who deliver the food. Many dark kitchen businesses implement algorithm-driven optimisation, which lowers overheads to increase output, and lone workers face specific health and safety and welfare challenges that differ from those in a busy restaurant environment, where chefs are able to interact with front-of-house staff and customers. It's important that these risks are acknowledged and effectively addressed by management.

The start-up businesses that are building dark kitchens to service the likes of Deliveroo and Uber Eats are seizing upon the growing consumer shift towards the consumption of prepared meals at home. But we expect that, as more dark kitchens enter the marketplace, public awareness will catch up and it is therefore crucial that these businesses balance costs with compliance to withstand the increasing scrutiny of their operations.

These food businesses must be held to the same level of standards as restaurants, both for the safety of the staff and their food. We must have a level playing field for all operators. Out of sight should not be out of mind.

Richard Anderson is lead learning and development analyst at High Speed Training

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