Food Safety is no longer (just) the Chef´s Problem

June 9th, 2007 Categories: Hygiene Articles, News Tags:

Notified cases of food poisoning in this country have risen substantially – from 300 in 1992 to 2,500 in 1998 – partially through increased consumer sensitivity but also as a result of some fundamental changes in the food industry in Ireland.

There are now more businesses dealing in food than ever before and the profile of employment in these businesses has radically changed. We know that today over 200,000 work in food related businesses – this not only increases the risk of human error but the transient nature of much of this employment works against the efforts of many businesses to manage food risk. You have only to look at the facts to realise this: 27% of the workforce is seasonal or part-time, employment of foreign, often short-term workers is on the increase and staff turnover is currently running at 12%.

“We are seeing the emergence of a more transient, untrained workforce,” John D. Carroll, Chairman of the National Hygiene Partnership, points out. “Never before has there been greater need for food safety, yet how do we make it happen when staffing levels and continuity are so uncertain? The only answer is training as a matter of course for every new food worker, whether they stay with your business for four weeks or four years. And legislation demands this, whether you like it or not.”

While overall responsibility for food safety lies with management, the law recognises that individual food workers have an element of responsibility too. “It’s no longer just the chef’s problem or an individual manager’s problem”, according to John D. Carroll. “The law demands that anyone working with food is hygiene trained commensurate with their work activity. The National Hygiene Partnership’s courses aim to ease the training headache for the employer and also take into account the difficulties posed by seasonal or casual workers.”

And, according to Dr Patrick Wall, Chief Executive of the Food Safety Authority, this training will protect a company’s reputation. “It can take months, or years, to build a company or brand name in the competitive market place,” he says”"Both can be irreparably damaged overnight if the company is not seen to have expended resources on food safety controls and staff training.”

The National Hygiene Partnership is today the recognised provider of hygiene training in Ireland’s hospitality industry At the heart of changes in food practice in this country, its courses are being followed by increasing numbers of food workers and managers. Its five-year strategy aims to raise food safety standards and has led to targeted training at all levels within the industry. The Partnership has been invited to Brussels in November to address EU Commission executives, the Federated European Contract Caterer’s Organisation and trade union executive on this pioneering strategy.

“Food safety training is intensifying and we now have a panel of 140 licensed hygiene trainers to meet demand,” according to Denis Tucker of CERT, which is lead promoter and provider of the Partnership’s courses. “All training is based on the IS 340:94 standard, which meets hygiene legislation. This year alone we will increase training by 100%, including 1,000 managers who will qualify from the Management of Food Hygiene programme.”

This 21-hour certified course is recognised as a must for managers running food related businesses. From it they gain full understanding of how to manage food safety to the letter of the law. For managers adopting HACCP, CERT runs special HACCP workshops. All operatives handling food must be trained too and the Primary Food Hygiene course makes sure they have all the essentials.

Recognising the difficulties involved in training seasonal, part-time and non-national food workers, the Partnership has published “Hygiene Matters”, a handbook which will become standard issue for such workers. The EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, David Byrne, recently launched the handbook (standard price £3-00) which gives the basics of food hygiene in English and Spanish – and shortly in other languages.

For companies who take food safety seriously, public and consumer recognition comes from the Hygiene Mark. This year, 900 companies are participating with Excellence Ireland in the National Hygiene Programme, which is an independent assessment of a company’s hygiene standard based on the relevant sectoral standard. There is an annual, unannounced audit and surveillance system and as the audit report is score based a company can see how they compare under different headings and with other organisations. “Training is an absolute requirement as far as we are concerned and is part and parcel of the audit “, according to Sean Conlan, Chief Executive of Excellence Ireland.

Ultimately, the National Hygiene Partnership would like to see all food handlers – whether in restaurants, pubs, delicatessens or garage forecourts – validated as hygiene trained. “We want to increase consumer confidence in the Irish tourism and hospitality product,” says John D. Carroll.

The National Hygiene Partnership is the trading name for a Partnership of Government Agencies and Industry Representatives Bodies which was established for the purpose of developing , promoting and coordinating a range of food safety training initiatives for the Irish Food Sectors. The NHP is registered for VAT in Ireland, Registration number 9535893H and the business address is Abbey Court, Block B. Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1.