The food service industry is one of the most complex if not the most complex in food safety management. This is due to the enormous number of ingredients and compound ingredients used to prepare menus which are various in ethnicities, level of intricacy, preparation and service method. The food which is prepared àla carte is not prepared in the same way as buffets or even as for banquets. Each different food service business has its own standards and practices which are relative to the type of operation and therefore require different food safety management practices. For example, foodsfor buffets are prepared in large volumes and typically this requires time in readiness for the clients to enjoy. This food is cooked and chilled ina short time to control any growth of harmful bacteria, and then reheated to the correct temperature and time to ensure that full control of food safety parameters are achieved. In the à la carte business, some similar preparation is done ahead, yet most of the meal components are prepared while one waits.
The complexity of food safety emerges when more than one chef is cooking and further more when food is prepared ahead of time and others chefs will regenerate (reheat) the food in preparation for service. If a robust food management safety system is not in place the latter chefs will not be able confirm with accuracythe ingredient list which makes up any particular dish, this to thedetriment of clients who might be allergic, intolerant or simply do not wish to ingest a particular ingredient which might be part of a complex dish.
A food matrix is only as good as thedetailed checking undertaken of complex ingredients, for example, Worcestershiresauce, which is added to many meat dishes. The fact is that Worcestershiresaucehas fish as part of the complex recipe thus if the matrix does not include fish as one of theingredients, the sensitive clients might ingest an ingredient which they should not thuscould cause them ill health.
Research has shown that food handlers and chefs alike are not well trained in managing food allergens as part of their development. This could be a serious issue for those consumers who are allergic to any of the fourteen allergenswhich the EU has identified as most common in Europe and has,through Regulation EU1169/2011,obliged food businesses, irrelevant of size, to listthemon their menus and food sold, even that sold loose.
Food preparation is a serious business which needs serious training not onlyin the culinary sense, but also in being well versed in the legal and moral obligations linked to food safety. One has to remember that food is prepared to be consumed and therefore the utmost attention to how it is prepared and handledin storage, transportation and regeneration will determine the safety of that food. Cross contamination is the most common unintentionalculpritcausing ill health either by food poisoning in the case of pathogens or in the case of allergens simply by touching a perfectly good food and then touching another food which is intended for someone who sufferers from food allergies.
It is the right of the consumer to expect that the food purchased will be safe to consume even those who suffer from food allergies. When a food is prepared with the intention to be consumed by an identified category of people, as is required by law through the application of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), that food should not bring ill health to that category of people. Therefore it is not enough to assume that certain food items are safe, it is a requirement by law to know what ingredients form part of the food being served. This requirement has been implemented across the EU from the 13thDecember 2014 and therefore it is important to have in place structured guidelines which will assist food service businesses to be able to be compliant with the regulation.
Although small food businesses are profit driven, the law does not excuse them from the obligation to have accurate ingredient information of all the food being served. The issue becomes more complex when not all the food is prepared onsite by the food service business, that is, for example, when desserts are produced by specialised units and then distributed to food service businesses. The information of that food item has to be accurate and risk of contamination should be notified.
Food service is not simply the business of preparing food for the enjoyment of the consumer, it is also ensuring that the food is safe and willnotbring ill healthto the consumer,irrespective to size of the business, ambient temperature, type of service, place sold and standard of the business. Food safety management is the most important aspect of food preparation, all other elements are subjective and therefore particular tastes satisfy particular consumers however food safety is common to all food service businesses.
Dr Paulino Schembri
D.Prof. EP (UCLan) MSc. (UCLan)
Doctor of Food Safety Management Systems