Q.I work at a newsagents in a train station. Up until recently they have bought in pre-packed sandwiches for public sale but have now started to make their own instead. The manager has handed out a booklet about an introduction to food hygiene with a questionnaire to complete at the end.
As I understood the law, each indiviual person who will be making the sandwiches needs to have a food hygiene certificate, but my manager insists that I don’t need one. As you can imagine this is causing tension in the workplace as I don’t want to be involved in the making process until I’m certain that I’m covered legally. Who’s right?
(N.B, 19 March 2009)
A.People die every year in the UK from food poisoning or bacteria contained in food so you would expect that anyone preparing food must hold a qualification.
Unfortunately this is not currently the case, although any reputable employer will ensure that staff handling food are adequately trained and hold at least a minimum food safety qualification.
It may be that because you are simply preparing sandwiches, your employer does not recognise the dangers involved. Many people wrongly think that it is only when serving hot food that careful food handling procedures need to be followed.
Even Sandwiches Pose a Risk
The truth, however, is that some potentially fatal bacteria such as listeria can be found even in salads and dairy products (seafood, certain cheeses and cress are well-known culprits) so it is imperative that correct safety procedures are followed.
Under new food legislation introduced in 2006, there are strict rules which apply to employers where food is prepared or handled. Even a small outlet must show, in writing, what it does to ensure that its food is safe to eat.
And although a person preparing food is not required to hold any type of qualification, a suitably trained person needs to provide supervision and/or training.
It is a manager’s responsibility to make sure that all food handlers are either trained or supervised and most good employers fulfil this requirement by arranging for staff to take a suitably-accredited course.
They could, however, opt to give you the relevant training ‘on the job’ or ensure that they employ people who already have food training.
Even a retail business wanting to sell food should have a ‘food safety management system’. This system depends on the size of the business, so a small business will only need a very simple system but the person in charge of the ‘food safety management system’ MUST have sufficient training.
You need to tell your employer that you do not feel confident carrying out this work without adequate training or supervision (assuming that this isn’t being provided.)
You don’t say how or where you prepare the sandwiches. For example, do you follow strict procedures about hand-washing, wearing special clothing or an apron, removing jewellery (other than a wedding band) and ensuring hair is tied back and controlled?
Have you been given guidance about wounds, diseases or illnesses? (If you have diarrhoea or vomiting you should not handle food for at least 48 hours after the symptoms have gone.)
There are also many rules regarding the premises where the food is being prepared including ease-of-cleaning, provision of suitable workspace and wash basins etc.
The Environmental Health Department of your local authority will always be able to provide advice and guidance on specific queries relating to food safety and you can find out more about handling food safely from the Food Standards Agency website.