Last updated: 22.11.21

The Great British Bake Off: Things that happen in the Bake Off tent that, well, shouldn't

The Great British Bake Off whips thousands of fans into a frenzy every year with its endlessly entertaining mix of competitive challenges, mouthwatering showstoppers and tongue-in-cheek humour. Whether you’re an aspiring baker yourself or just enjoy spending your Tuesday evenings tutting about wonky icing and soggy bottoms, the show has become synonymous with the best of British television.

But when you dive into what actually goes on in the GBBO tent, it transpires that many of the contestants are making mistakes that just wouldn’t fly in a professional kitchen.

Online training provider Virtual College has looked back over several of the most iconic moments of the series and examined some of the show’s key ingredients to find out what happens on the show that just wouldn't in a real kitchen.

Fridge Management

Who can forget the famous ‘Bingate’ moment from the 2014 series of Bake Off, the one where contestant Iain Watters dramatically threw his Baked Alaska in the bin after a fellow baker accidentally took it out of the freezer?

Putting the storm of controversy that surrounded the episode aside, the incident highlights the importance of fridge management in a kitchen - something that would have prevented the defrosted dessert disaster. 

When dishes need to go in and out of a fridge or freezer as part of the preparation process, it is important that every shelf is organised and has enough room for each container so that nothing gets left on the side due to lack of space - which Iain so publicly experienced. This is particularly important for ingredients that could pose a health and safety risk if exposed to room temperature long-term. 

Food Hygiene

Fast-forward to this year, when contestant Freya Cox made history as the first Bake Off baker to use only vegan products in everything but the technical challenges. However, the 19-year-old recently came under fire after dropping a bake on the ground but still putting it in the oven and serving it to judges Paul and Pru. German sweetheart Jurgen also did the same thing when he dropped his vegan sausage rolls during Free From week. 

Regardless of the alleged 5-second rule, any food that hits the floor in a professional kitchen has to be immediately discarded in case it has come into contact with any contaminants. At home, we might brush the dust off the occasional dropped snack and eat it anyway, but when it comes to official health and safety guidance, this is a definite no-no.

Natasha’s Law

The 2018 series’ winner, Dr Rahul Mandal, recently made headlines for creating the world’s first 100-ingredient cake in collaboration with Love Home Swap, which celebrated the same number of countries that the home-swapping platform has properties in. Combining products such as tea from Taiwan and cinnamon from the Seychelles, the complex bake was an impressive effort of balancing flavours but would present a bit of a logistical challenge if it were to be sold from a working kitchen.

All food products prepared and packaged on-site must have a clear list of every ingredient present somewhere on their packaging as a result of the recently introduced Natasha’s Law. Rahul’s global gastronomic creation might have tasted spectacular, but each allergen and product present in the recipe would have had to be listed with every slice - which would have probably led to more labels than cake!

First Aid

Celebrity Bake Off is just as popular as the original series itself and it has had plenty of comical, disastrous or dramatic moments that have gone down in the show’s history. One of these involved digital influencer, Joe Sugg, who sliced his finger open with a peeler and proceeded to faint only a few minutes into the 2020 Stand Up to Cancer special.

Unsurprisingly, the first aid crew in the tent quickly responded to both the cut and Joe’s collapse - which actually ended up in more headlines than the fact that he actually won the competition. However, it’s unlikely that staff would be back in the kitchen so soon after passing out and would likely be sent home after such an incident for health and safety reasons - which makes the comeback that Joe made even more impressive!

Soggy Bottom

‘Soggy bottom’ has become an iconic catchphrase in the Bake Off tent since it was used by former judge and baking legend Mary Berry. Whilst it does often cause some serious giggles whenever contestants are told that their cakes are too moist, a soggy bottom does actually indicate a potential major health and safety hazard.

After going in the oven, if any part of a dish is wet when it should be dry then it could indicate that the product hasn’t been cooked properly, which is a particular risk with baked goods that contain ingredients like eggs and milk. Although Bake Off contestants being up against the clock can lead to undercooked cake, any notion of a soggy bottom in a working restaurant could lead to a formal complaint and dire consequences from a food hygiene inspector.

Other Baking Blunders

With contestants wearing fashionable clothes, lipstick and coiffed hairstyles, the show may give the impression that the baking industry is all glitz and glamour but in reality, you wouldn’t get past the front door if you stepped into a real kitchen dressed to the nines. Hairnets and beard coverings are mandatory, all jewellery and nail varnish must be removed, and fancy clothes are always discarded in favour of protective overalls and aprons.

As for the messy, flour-doused workstations, this simply wouldn't be allowed in a professional kitchen. Food preparation surfaces have to be constantly cleaned and kept tidy to minimise contamination, and any chef or baker doing otherwise would likely quickly lose their job.

Finally, although cooking in an elegant marquee on the grounds of a beautiful Victorian country house is an iconic part of the Great British Bake Off, it’s not the kind of temperature-controlled environment that most kitchens aim to be. A humid tent could potentially create the optimum conditions for bacteria to grow and multiply in certain dishes, which is why most professional bakers stick to working indoors where there is air conditioning and ample fridge and freezer space.

Inspiring a nation of bakers and chefs

Whilst all of the above points demonstrate certain aspects of food health and safety that can cause problems, it should be noted that there is a massive production team behind the Great British Bake Off who ensure everything remains safe and appropriate hygiene standards are met. 

But these TV mishaps and errors do underline the importance of people within the hospitality and catering industries being aware of health and safety guidelines in order to ensure that they are conducting best practices. 

And this is more important than ever as job vacancies within the sector have seen large increases and are higher than pre-pandemic levels according to data from ONS, so it is likely that the people filling these will either be brand-new to the sector or potentially a bit out of practice since the pandemic. 

And it’s not only vacancies within professional kitchens that are on the rise as the Food Standards Agency reported this year that around 44% of new food businesses launched in 2020 were home-based. Shows like Bake Off have also been linked to the increasing number of home baking businesses springing up around the country, with data from Simply Business showing that there was an increase of 157% in these kinds of companies during the same period. 

A challenging time for all, but the 2020 lockdown saw many people improve their baking skills and turn their hobby into a side hustle, which actually led to flour mills in the UK having to massively increase their production to keep up with demand. The large ‘dusting’ on the Bake Off workstations has probably had something to do with this too...

In response to the rise in professional catering vacancies and increased interest in baking at home, Sarah Baker, Chief Learning Officer at leading food hygiene training provider Virtual College said: “Who doesn’t love the Great British Bake Off? I think we can all see ourselves as the next Mary Berry or Prue Leith from time to time but for some, the enjoyment they get from baking has become much more than that and they have taken the opportunity throughout lockdown to grow their very own catering or baking business. And whilst some may not realise it, the importance of food safety and hygiene still remains paramount when doing this from the comfort of their own home. 

“Whether this is being aware of relevant allergy information or understanding the necessity of good kitchen hygiene, all these new food businesses created over the last two years must ensure they are taking this seriously and get the right training they need. At Virtual College, we have a vast catalogue of food safety and hygiene courses that can help people of all levels by providing them with everything they need to ensure they stay compliant and, most importantly, keep them and their customers safe.”