Last updated: 21.07.17

How to approach customers who may have food hygiene concerns

Whether they’ve just popped in for a quick bite to eat, or are anticipating a five-course feast, customers at restaurants, bars, cafes and food stalls are seeking out an enjoyable dining experience. At the most, this might involve haute cuisine and novel dishes, but at the very least, they need to be confident that food served up to them is safe.

Food safety means different things to different diners. Some will be happy as long as they are confident the establishment is following food safety laws and guidelines, whereas others will need to be assured that their food does not contain and has not come into contact with specific allergens.

No matter how closely your food business follows industry regulations, your employees will need to be confident and capable in answering food safety questions put to them by diners. So how can you assure your customers that the dishes you are serving up are entirely safe to eat?

Make it clear that food safety is of the utmost importance to your business

It goes without saying that any owner of a food business will have food safety firmly at the forefront of their mind, and will be highly aware of the laws and guidance in the industry, as well as what their own establishment does to ensure they are in compliance with these. But how can this be effectively communicated to your customers?

Make sure the latest result of your Food Hygiene Rating Scheme - and any other food safety accolades - are clearly displayed in your establishment. A high score can help to allay the fears of any nervous diners.

The contents of the menu can also go a long way to communicating diligence in this area. For example, set out very clearly which dishes people should avoid if they, for example, have a gluten intolerance or shellfish allergy, and also specify that people with these conditions should communicate this to the serving staff.

Some restaurants may also choose to include a disclaimer in their menu relaying the relationship between foodborne illness and eating certain foods, such as undercooked meats, raw shellfish or eggs. Diners who are especially worried about contracting such illnesses then have the information they need to make the decision to avoid the potentially riskier dishes.

A booklet of your establishment’s own food safety policies, and the food safety qualifications of employees, could also be made available for diners who are particularly concerned.

Provide ongoing food safety training for employees

All employees who work around food will have received some level of training when it comes to food safety, but it is up to the business owner to ensure their knowledge is frequently refreshed and updated, and they know the establishment’s policies inside out.

It is also important to train them on how to reply to customers’ food safety queries.

Common questions they may be asked include:

  • Does every employee have food safety training? Do you have a record of that?
  • What is your hand washing policy?
  • Is the temperature of your refrigerator kept at 40°F or below?
  • Is the temperature of your freezer kept at 0°F?
  • Are all food storage areas clean, dry, and protected from contamination?
  • Are raw foods and cooked foods stored separately?
  • Are there separate areas for handling raw and cooked food?
  • Do you have specific procedures in place to ensure food is cooked to safe temperatures?
  • It is essential that employees are able to answer these questions confidently, displaying their food safety knowledge, but also honestly, ensuring that the customer is indeed in no danger.

    Take on board customers’ specific concerns

    If a customer begins to question food safety at an establishment, the employee must identify whether a specific incident has raised these concerns, or if it is more of a general worry around food safety.

    In the case of the latter, simply answering questions on the business’ compliance with food safety laws, and the qualifications of its staff, should be enough to reassure the diner.

    However, if they are concerned about the safety of the dish in front of them because of its appearance, or they believe they have witnessed a breach of food safety regulations within the establishment, these specific concerns must be investigated and addressed.

    If there is even a tiny chance that safety regulations have been breached, it is essential that potentially contaminated food is not consumed by diners. Serving this food could cause the people who have entrusted their safety to your food business to contract diseases like salmonella, E-coli, norovirus, and listeria.

    If, on the other hand, you can confirm all food safety procedures have been closely followed and there is no danger of contamination whatsoever, you can thank the customer for raising their concern, assure them it has been investigated, and relay the outcome. This should reassure the diner that the food is safe to eat, but in some cases, you might want to replace the food they felt suspicious about to ensure they have the most enjoyable meal possible.

    Remember: There should be no cause for concern

    No matter how well your food business adheres to industry regulations, your staff will need to be able to answer questions about food safety and allergens.

    However, if all employees have a good level of food safety knowledge and follow the guidelines perfectly, food contamination is not something that should happen to your business. This means your serving staff will be able to skillfully reassure your customers, ensuring they have an enjoyable experience at your establishment.

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