One of the most important responsibilities that a school has is the safety of its students, and this extends to all aspects of school life. As a result, food hygiene is a particularly important topic to think about. Food-borne illnesses and allergies can be very severe in children, and they need to be guarded against wherever possible, whether the child is taking a cookery lesson, eating their packed lunch, or having breakfast at school. With this in mind, we’re going to look at some of the main things that teachers and other school staff need to think about.
Cookery and food technology classes can be amongst some of the most exciting for students, but they do potentially present dangers, both minor and significant, and it’s your responsibility to reduce these risks. The danger presented by knives and other kitchen equipment is obvious, but foodborne illnesses can be just as problematic.
The first thing to note is that your local authority is very likely to have policies that detail the specifics of what you should be doing when dealing with food in a classroom environment. The policies do vary from region to region, so it’s always wise to research yours thoroughly. As an example, some councils will mandate formal training (with the Food Hygiene Certificate Level 2 the most common) for any teacher taking a cookery lesson, even if this isn’t normally the subject they teach. Schools should have policies themselves too, that are readily available and easy to follow for all staff.
Assessing risk is a very important part of food and drink hygiene in the classroom. As part of creating any lesson plans for the activity, a risk assessment should be undertaken. If this is for a standard food technology class, then risk assessments won’t necessarily need to be conducted for every lesson, because each element of the lesson should already be associated with a risk assessment. Nonetheless, risk needs to be established for the environment and the activity that’s taking place, and this needs to go beyond obvious concerns about sharp objects. Ask yourself questions such as the following. Do any of the students have allergies? Are any of the foods high risk if not prepared properly? Are the handwashing facilities adequate?
Ensuring good food hygiene will generally mean following the four Cs, which are cleaning, cooking, chilling and cross-contamination. Any classroom where food is being prepared needs to be cleaned to a high standard, and anyone involved in preparing the food needs to make sure they’ve washed their hands thoroughly. Any risky foods such as raw chicken need to be cooked to the right temperature. Ingredients such as milk that children have brought in need to be refrigerated. And finally, students need to understand the importance of keeping certain foodstuffs separate to avoid bacterial or allergic transfer.
Of course, the classroom isn’t the place in which food will be encountered most often. Break-time and lunchtime are the main times in which food hygiene plays a role.
The law treats schools that serve food just as any other business that serves food. This means that all employees involved in food preparation must have adequate training, and all of the standards that would be expected of a professional kitchen need to be adhered to in the school kitchen and serving areas. We’ve already mentioned the four Cs, which will be four of the main things considered when inspections take place – a mandatory part of running a school kitchen.
Canteens and snack bars where food is being served need to be thoroughly clean, and any chilled foods or food that needs to be maintained at a certain temperature must be regularly checked. One of the less obvious but nonetheless critical things to think about is labelling and information. Children with allergies must be catered to, so all food needs to be clearly labelled, and information from serving staff should be readily available.
It can be very difficult to ensure the hygiene of food brought from home for obvious reasons, but school staff can still help maintain good standards of food hygiene by ensuring that areas where packed lunches are consumed are clean, and the students have easy access to hand washing facilities. In addition, staff must be fully aware of any children with allergies, to ensure that they do not come into contact with dangerous items brought by other students.