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Article kindly supplied by Liz Burton, content author for High Speed Training
Mobile catering may come with great perks – like being able to set up shop in diverse locations and having hundreds of customers flood to buy your food on an eventful day – but it also comes with great responsibility.
Serving flocks of patrons their sweet crêpes and juicy hotdogs may yield a high turnover, but poisoning dozens of people could, at its worst, lead to you facing legal issues, permanent closure, and a loss of everything you just made.
Your priority should be ensuring that your premises meets legal requirements and good health and safety standards above all else. Don’t treat your mobile stand like your kitchen at home just because it doesn’t feel like you’re working in a fancy restaurant kitchen. If anything, you have to be even more vigilant because you’re working in such an enclosed space – hygiene and safety risks will be substantial.
There are six key legal matters to consider when running a street food business:
You must have valid employers’ liability insurance if you employ anyone (even if they are family members) and the certificate must be displayed in the workplace.
You must register your premises with the Environmental Health Office local to where the unit will be stored if mobile or in the area you pay Council tax to – this must be done 28 days prior to when you begin trading.
You must provide training to those that will work with food before they are allowed to work in the premises (the level of training will depend upon the specific job role).
You must implement, document, and maintain a food hygiene management system based on the principles of hazard analysis and critical control points (also known as HACCP).
You must carry out a health and safety and a fire risk assessment at regular intervals or if certain circumstances of the business change, inconsequential as they may seem (e.g. new equipment being installed).
You must produce a written Health and Safety Policy document if you employ 5 or more persons.
That may all sound like intimidating legal jargon, but chances are you’re already aware of what needs to be done – it’s just a matter of doing it, and doing so consistently! Meeting legal requirements and health and safety standards isn’t hard; a lot of it is common sense. As long as you’re properly prepared and remain vigilant, your visit from an inspector will feel less like a nightmare and more like simple routine.
What should I do to prepare?
Inspectors do not need to give you warning and could arrive completely unexpectedly to the location at which you’re catering. However, your efforts to keep the place clean and safe should not simply be an attempt to impress the inspectors that spontaneously show up. You should take pride in making your mobile site a safe place to work – a place where people will feel satisfied with your service and where all that customers take away is a few extra hundred calories; nothing harmful.
Here are some tips for the key areas of legal matters and health and safety that you should consider:
Register your premises with the local Environmental Health Office.
Document your risk assessments, your Health and Safety Policy, and your food hygiene management system. These should be readily available for an inspector.
Provide training to any staff you hire (even if they are family), especially food handling (level 2 food hygiene is usually required).
Buy from reputable suppliers and keep a written record.
Ensure that food and drink is described fairly and labelled accurately (check with Trading Standards for more advice).
Design and structure
All stalls and vehicles should be designed and constructed in such a way that food is protected from risks of contamination.
All fittings and equipment should be of good quality materials that can be readily and properly cleaned (bare wood is therefore not acceptable). All equipment should be kept in good repair.
Preparation surfaces should have smooth, impervious surfaces, e.g. stainless steel or laminate.
All floors should be of smooth, impervious, and non-slip materials and preferably coved to the surrounding wall fixtures.
The roof and sides should be made from flame-retardant materials if you are using cooking facilities that produce naked flames or generate heat.
Stalls should be suitably screened at the sides and back to prevent the risk of contamination and pests.
Allow adequate space for preparation, cooking, storage, and washing up. Each area should be suitably separated to prevent cross-contamination.
Ensure that any refrigerated storage vehicles and trailers are easily accessible.
Your layout should not put anyone in a position where they have to carry dirty crockery or laundry through food handling areas.
You should liaise with the event organiser to arrange for the collection and removal of refuse and recycling from the site.
Be sure that there are no safety hazards such as tripping hazards.
Water supply and washing facilities
Ideally, you should be sited close to a main water supply that delivers clean and wholesome water. If water containers are used, they must be cleaned and sanitised on a regular basis.
Sufficient and suitable hand wash basins must be provided and readily accessible for food handlers. Soap and a means to hygienically dry hands must be available.
Plastic bowls should not be used as sinks or hand wash basins.
Suitable sinks must be provided for food preparation and for equipment washing. A constant supply of hot water should also be provided at sinks and wash hand basins.
Waste water from sinks and hand wash basins should be discharged into foul water systems or into suitable containers, not directly onto the ground.
Food hygiene and safety
Note: This is a dense topic. The tips provided here will not be comprehensive and are not a substitute for official training (that goes for all the information here!). They exist to give you a heads up and encourage you to use good practices at all times so that they eventually become habit.
The food handlers
Food handlers must always wash their hands before starting work and after handling any raw foods, using the toilet, breaks, sneezing, coughing, etc. If they suspect illness, they must notify their employer and may not be able to work with food for 48 hours.
Tongs should be used for handling food instead of hands where possible.
Jewellery and nail varnish should not be worn. Hair must be covered and tied back. All cuts and boils should be covered with waterproof, preferably coloured, plasters.
Clean, washable over-clothing should be worn at all times. Their normal clothing should be stored well away from the food area to prevent contamination.
All food handlers must be suitably and sufficiently trained – it is recommended that those who handle, prepare, or cook high-risk foods have a level 2 certificate in food hygiene.
All food preparation areas should be cleaned/disinfected after use including chopping boards, which should be colour coded.
Raw and cooked food should be stored and prepared separately at all times to prevent risks of cross-contamination.
Equipment, such as containers and knives, should be cleaned and disinfected after use, and you must use separate sets for raw and cooked food.
Food and equipment/utensils/crockery should never be stored on the ground and must be kept away from risks of contamination.
Food should ideally be prepared immediately before service. If this is not possible, it should be prepared in small batches and held at the correct temperature.
High-risk products, such as cooked meat and dairy foodstuffs, must be kept at or below 8°C or above 63°C.
Cooked food must reach a core temperature of 75°C. You should be especially careful when barbequing, as cooking temperatures can be less predictable.
Probe thermometers should be used to check the core temperature of food. Disinfect them after use.
Hot food that is being displayed for sale should be kept at above 63°C. If this temperature cannot be achieved then the food must be discarded after 2 hours.
The temperature in refrigerators must be 8°C or below. Food should be covered when stored in the fridge and raw meat should be kept on the lowest shelf to prevent contamination.
Suitable food grade disinfectants and sanitising agents should be used for regular disinfection of equipment and work surfaces.
Hazardous substances, e.g. cleaning materials, should be used and stored in a safe and appropriate manner – they should be kept away from food at all times.
Have a written cleaning schedule to ensure that all areas are kept clean. Also adopt a clean-as-you-go procedure to minimise the risk of contamination.
These numerous tips are useful for helping you prepare for an inspection and for making your premises a clean, safe place to work. But they are only just the beginning; there is so much more to learn! If you want your mobile catering business to be a booming success, then take initiative and invest your time in learning more about health and safety when working with food.
Soon enough, each inspection will be a breeze. Prepare your stall suitably for the oncoming waves of customers by taking a convenient and easy-to-use online food hygiene course today!