Millions of children all over the UK eat their lunch or breakfast at school, prepared by caterers for their enjoyment and nourishment. It’s often an important part of the school day, and as a result, it’s essential that food eaten is safe and healthy. Food hygiene is therefore very important to schools and parents, with high standards expected of everyone from outside caterers, to lunchtime staff, to teachers. In this article, we’re going to look at what the law expects of schools when it comes to food safety, how schools and caterers meet these expectations, and what this means in practice.
The law is surprisingly flexible when it comes to food safety for most businesses, which includes schools. While you might think that specific standards and certifications are set out in stone, this is not actually the case. The law simply insists that anyone that handles and serves food is ‘appropriately’ trained and supervised. This is naturally open to some interpretation. However, this should not be confused with the law being in any way tolerant to poor standards of food hygiene. All food businesses, including schools that serve food, or outside caterers that serve food in schools, must be registered with the local authority. All councils have a department responsible for food hygiene, who will conduct checks that ultimately determine whether or not a premises is serving food safely. If they decide that it isn’t, they can shut it down temporarily or permanently.
The Food Standards Agency, in partnership with local authorities, gives a food hygiene rating to all schools serving food, just as it does with restaurants, takeaways and shops. This rating is out of five, and is one of the best representations of whether or not a school has effective food hygiene policy in place.
Ultimately, it is up to the school itself to determine how it meets the demands of food safety and associated inspections.
A note should be made in regards to teachers who are cooking with students however, as this is a slightly different consideration. In many secondary schools, depending on the local authority and the standards the school follows, they must hold a food safety qualification, unlike caterers. In primary and nursery education, this is less likely to be mandated.
Despite specific accredited training not necessarily being mandated by law, it is highly recommended for anyone working with food in schools. In many cases, schools will demand it of any outside organisations or their own staff. One of the most successful ways in which a school can ensure that it meets and exceeds basic hygiene standards is by having all members of staff appropriately trained. This is generally far more effective than casual training, though casual training can be appropriate if there’s always someone present at food preparation and serving times who is fully trained. If in doubt, formal training is never a bad idea.
There are a variety of different food standard qualifications that are recognised in the UK, but by far the most widely used is the Level 2 Food Safety & Hygiene for catering course. It’s also recognised by most relevant governing bodies and authorities.
In practice, food hygiene standards in schools are just as you’d expect in a restaurant or anywhere else that food is served - all of the same principles apply, and as a result, most forms of food safety training will cover similar things. From making sure food is cooked properly, to correct refrigeration, food safety should be mostly universal. Some of the major points that should be learned as part of any training include the following: