Food hygiene is one of the biggest health concerns for local authorities, as is, of course, the health and safety of children at school. Naturally, this means that food hygiene safety in educational settings is taken very seriously indeed. With children eating lunch and perhaps breakfast during school hours, along with cooking classes and other events, there’s potentially a lot to think about. In this article, we’re going to take a look at why food hygiene is important in schools, what the law says about it, and some of the key points that food handlers need to think about when they’re in a school setting.
Children can be particularly at risk from foodborne illnesses, for a number of reasons. This includes the fact that children are less likely to practice good hygiene of their own accord, and that their immune systems are less well developed, meaning illnesses can be more severe. Allergies can also be more common in children than adults. It’s also been proven that missed school time has a significant negative effect on outcomes when it comes to exam results and general educational attainment. This means that it’s really important for everyone that schools are a safe and hygienic when it comes to preparing, storing and eating food.
Food law in the UK is governed by both UK law and EU law, and it does also vary between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This means it can be confusing when it comes to certain elements. To further complicate things, different local authorities might have their own rules too, and this is especially true when it comes to schools. Two neighbouring districts could well have entirely different rules surrounding what teachers are allowed to do when it comes to cooking classes, and what chefs must do if preparing food at lunch. As a result, if you’re ever in doubt as to what the rules are, then your first point of contact should be the relevant local authority.
However, there are a few general rules that are likely to apply across the board. One of the most prominent is around training. Under EU regulations, all people preparing food as part of a business or organisation must have adequate training for this role. This can be informal training from a more senior employee, but many local authorities require this training to be accredited. The Level 1, 2 and 3 certificates in food hygiene are by far the most commonly recognised. Level 2 Food Safety and Hygiene is most suitable for kitchen staff or teachers, and you can find out more about what the food hygiene courses cover in the Virtual College online food safety course section here.
Inspections are also part of the law, and are actually the best way of working out what the law requires, because most issues pertaining to food hygiene are the remit of food safety inspectors. These inspections will cover everything from the cleanliness of the premises, to the storage facilities, the types of food on offer, the efforts to cater to allergies and more. Read the government’s official guidance on inspections for more information.
Most forms of training, government guidelines, and even inspections, will cover the same general points of best practice, which applies to anywhere that food is being prepared, which means that the same goes for schools. Whether it’s a classroom where food technology is being taught, or it’s the school’s canteen, the same principles will apply. Here are some of the most important things to think about.
Premises - The premises on which food is being prepared, stored and served is of course very important indeed. When it comes to schools, the kitchen will be just like any other commercial kitchen, but special attention will need to be paid to classrooms. Excellent cleaning and hygiene standards will be required of all surfaces and food storage units.
Processes - Defined process are required as part of hygiene inspections, and are essential to good food safety. The kitchen will need certain processes in place, such as those for recording and monitoring temperatures. Similarly, so will classrooms. For instance - are children bringing ingredients from home that need to be refrigerated? Then there needs to be some provision in place for this.
Preparation - One of the most effective methods of ensuring that food is safe to eat is cooking it to and storing it at the right temperature, and only reheating when appropriate. Fridges for instance should be at less than 5 degrees, and most foods should be cooked to 75 degrees.People - We’ve already mentioned the need for training, but it’s certainly worth noting again. Processes is only as effective as the people that follow them, preparation is only as safe as the people making the food, and the premises are only as hygienic as the people that clean them. Having fully trained and competent staff is therefore very important.