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Last updated: 31.08.18

The Importance of Food Safety in the Retail Sector

Most businesses understand to some extent the importance of having a good level of food hygiene on their premises, but many people are still unaware of how far this actually extends. It’s easy to understand the implications of getting it wrong in a kitchen, but what if you run a retail establishment that simply sources and sells prepackaged food, such as a convenience store or similar? In this article we’re going to look at some of the main things that you need to think about.

What are the dangers?

Foodborne illnesses are one of the two main issues when it comes to food safety. They can range from being fairly minor stomach upsets to life-threatening bacterial infections or viruses. Every few years it’s common to see at least one incident in the UK of a number of people becoming ill after eating food from a normal retail establishment. Generally, they come about as the result of contaminated food, the undercooking of otherwise safe food, or otherwise safe food being stored incorrectly. It goes without saying that this can be damaging not only to a person, but to a business too. Lawsuits can be raised, and environmental health can get involved as well, making them a significant risk to any business involved with food.

The other, very significant danger, is allergies. Again, some people have very minor allergies that aren’t a major barrier to their everyday lives, but for others an allergic reaction can be a life-threatening situation, which means that they need complete control over the foods they come into contact with. Allergic reactions generally happen when food is labelled incorrectly, or there has been a mistake in the production process. With retail businesses, it’s likely to be the former that causes an issue. Again, failure to meet your obligations in this respect can mean all manner of serious repercussions.

What are your obligations?

Any business that sells food, even if, as with the majority of retail businesses, it’s just prepackaged food prepared by a third party, is subject to the local environmental health department. This means that they are the ultimate judge of whether or not you are meeting adequate standards of food hygiene and safely selling food items to customers.

It’s fairly obvious what this means in a restaurant setting, but in the retail sector it’s not always as well understood. The law simply requires that anyone working with food is adequately trained, and that food is served hygienically. Beyond that, there are extensive resources, but again, few specific laws. A food hygiene inspector will check your premises periodically to make sure that you are at an appropriate standard, and you will be issued with a food hygiene rating, just like restaurants and cafes.

If you're in doubt as to what you need to do, then always seek further resources and training. The government publishes extensive guidelines that help retail businesses pass a food safety inspection, but there’s no substitute for good training. The Level 2 Food Hygiene certificate is an excellent choice for proprietors who sell food but are not involved in its production. Here at Virtual College, we have a dedicated course on food hygiene for retail. Click here to find out more.

What does this mean in practice?

As previously mentioned, training is the best way to understand what good food hygiene looks like. However, there are a couple of things that retail businesses should understand at a top level.

The first is the storage of food. As you’re unlikely to be producing the food, this is the area in which things are most likely to go wrong. You need to make sure that all chilled foods are refrigerated, and that storage areas are clean. Taking note of use-by dates and not selling past that point is also critical.

The other major issue is labelling and knowledge. This is the best way of combating the risk of food allergies. Anything you sell must be labelled appropriately so that customers can make their own decisions, or you must have the information on hand, for example if you’re selling fresh items that can’t be labelled.

To conclude, the retail sector has just the same responsibilities to food hygiene as all other businesses that deal with food. Some elements might not be as important if you’re not involved in production, but there are nonetheless many things to be aware of. Read through government guidelines and look at training where relevant.