How to prepare for a home kitchen hygiene inspection
One of the benefits of running your own small or home-based catering businesses is that you're generally able to enjoy greater flexibility and scope to run the business your own way than larger organisations. When you're working for yourself, it's much easier to be agile, and too make your own independent decisions about how you want to run your kitchen and prepare your recipes.
However, it's important to remember that on issues of food safety and hygiene, the same rules apply to businesses of all sizes. Whether it's a global restaurant chain or a homemade cupcake business, environmental health officers will be expecting to see the same standard of food safety management, so if you're operating in this sector you should always be prepared for regular inspections designed to demonstrate that your kitchen is up to standard.
The prospect of a kitchen inspection can be intimidating to smaller business owners, but in reality, these procedures need not be anything more than a routine formality for a properly-run catering business that meets its food safety obligations as a matter of course.
What will the inspectors be looking for?
The simplest way to ensure a successful kitchen inspection is to keep abreast of the most important health and hygiene standards and make sure that your business keeps on top of these obligations on a regular basis.
The Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) provides the following checklist of requirements that inspectors will be looking for when visiting your premises:
- A completed, signed and dated food safety management system
- Adequate facilities for washing and drying hands
- A food preparation sink
- A suitably equipped first aid kit
- A probe thermometer
- Fire protective equipment
- Proof of registration with the environmental health department
- A clean, tidy and safe workspace that's protected from pests and bacteria
- Proper ventilation
- Refrigeration facilities
- The necessary cleaning equipment
- Waste disposal facilities
- Temperature control and segregation tools for foods that should be stored apart
- Drinkable hot and cold water
- High personal hygiene standards for all staff, with appropriate training
- Protective clothing where necessary
The overall aim, therefore, will be to demonstrate that your premises is clean and fit for purpose; that the foods you prepare are hygienically prepared and fit the descriptions you have provided; that your working practices are in line with industry expectations; and that all staff have the training they need to do their jobs in a way that's safe for them and your customers.
It's important to keep these objectives at the forefront of your approach to kitchen management at all times, because there's no way to fake this. Whether it's a routine inspection or a response to a complaint, environmental health inspectors generally visit without providing advance notice, so there won't be time to sweep anything under the carpet. You have to make sure that you're always ready to show your kitchen working at its very best.
What happens next?
Once the inspection has taken place, businesses that serve or supply food direct to the public will be awarded a score from zero to five under the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, with an accompanying sticker or certificate to allow the company to show its score to the public.
Those that achieve perfect scores of five out of five will be able to proudly display their certification, and enjoy the reputational gains that come with it. Businesses that underperform, however, may be handed a low score and asked to make changes or improvements to the way they run their kitchen before they are allowed to reopen.
NCASS states that any score of three or below should be considered very undesirable, but even in these cases, it's always possible to improve over time. If your kitchen isn't meeting the required standards the first time it's inspected, you should take the time to consider any areas for improvement highlighted by the inspector, and to work hard on these to make sure you're better placed to achieve a high score the next time.
Achieving the best possible outcome
Of course, any home catering business should be aspiring to score a five out of five score on every inspection, so it's worth thinking about the most basic principles and pieces of advice that could bring your kitchen another step closer to optimal performance.
Here are a few general tips on how to make the best possible impression when inspection time rolls around:
- Keep the inside and outside of the premises tidy as a matter of course - first impressions count for a lot!
- Take the time to develop a comprehensive food safety management system
- Make sure your food preparation workflows prioritise safety and hygiene as a first priority
- Engage your staff on the importance of safety and hygiene with a comprehensive training programme - and keep a documented record of having done so
- Work with the inspectors when they are on-site, ask plenty of questions on how to improve, and take any action they recommend as promptly as you can
By taking these ideas to heart, you'll be able to make sure that your kitchen is running as safely, efficiently and hygienically as anyone could expect, laying a strong foundation for many years of sustainable success for your catering business.