A Practical Guide to Food Safety and Hygiene at Work

An important note to bear in mind while using this guide, as per the UK government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) annual report 2016/17:

    • In June 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union, a decision that ‘has the potential to have very significant implications for the UK food system and its regulation’.

    • As so much of the regulation relating to food is founded on EU law, the FSA is one of the departments with the highest proportion of legislation originating from the EU.

    • As of 2018, the FSA continues to plan for exit strategies, but in the meantime, its role remains to carry out a mandate from Parliament of ‘protecting public health and other consumer interests in relation to food’.


General themes

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  • Basic food safety and hygiene awareness is about knowing how to avoid the propagation of bacteria and illnesses when buying, preparing and storing food at work.
  • Observing the proper techniques and conditions for safe handling of food is essential in the ongoing battle to prevent or limit foodborne illnesses - some of which can, in rare cases, be fatal.
  • Food prepared using unhygienic methods, in suboptimal conditions or with a lack of attention to detail can quickly become unsafe for consumption, and can easily increase risks of foodborne illnesses among staff, guests or members of the general public.
  • According to the most recent FSA Annual Report, an estimated one million people are still affected by foodborne disease in UK annually, costing the economy c. £1bn
  • For any business or workplace involved in the supply, preparation or serving of food, good hygiene is vital to upholding a good industry reputation - as well as to the health of your staff, guests or customers.
  • The importance of food hygiene and safety standards applies across all workplaces, regardless of whether you operate as a link in the wider food industry supply chain, or simply provide a cafeteria for staff at your company.
  • In all hygiene and safety regulations relating to this area, the term ‘food’ is taken to mean any item sold or served for general consumption, including hot and cold drinks.

Current legislation

Current EU rules regarding food hygiene cover all stages of the production, processing, distribution and placing on the market of food intended for human consumption.

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    • According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), ‘placing on the market’ in this context means the holding or distribution of food for the purpose or offer of sale, whether free of charge or not
    • The current EU food hygiene rules were adopted in April 2004, and came into force on 1 January 2006. They take particular account of the following principles:
        • Primary responsibility for food safety borne by the food business operator
        • Food safety ensured throughout the food chain, starting with primary production
        • General implementation of procedures based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points principles (HACCP - see more on this below)
        • Application of basic common hygiene requirements, possibly further specified for certain categories of food
        • Registration or approval for certain food establishments
        • Development of guides to good practice for hygiene or for the application of HACCP principles as a valuable instrument to aid food business operators at all levels of the food chain to comply with the new rules
        • Flexibility provided for food produced in remote areas (high mountains, remote islands) and for traditional production and methods

For all workplaces involved in supplying food directly to guests, employees or members of the public, the most important food safety and hygiene legislation currently applicable in the UK includes the following:

    • Legislation relating to the hygiene of foodstuffs, namely EC Regulation No. 852/2004, which sets out the day-to-day requirements for food business operators

    • Legal requirements for temperature controls, as outlined in the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 (as amended) (and equivalent regulations in other UK countries)

    • The enforcement provisions for local authorities, as contained in the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 (as amended) and the Food Safety Act 1990 (as amended)

    • Note: many of the current rules and regulations are subject to potential change and ‘considerable uncertainties’ with regards to Brexit - see the EC notice to stakeholders on Withdrawal of the United Kingdom and EU Food Law

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In the UK, food hygiene standards are classed as a largely separate branch of general workplace health and safety:

    • Food hygiene standards are overseen by the FSA, as opposed to the broader governmental Health & Safety Executive (HSE)

    • Local Authority Environmental Health Officers enforce these standards in their local food factories and food retail premises

    • HSE does play a role in ensuring food machinery is designed and manufactured to standards; these take into account both food hygiene itself, and other related issues (such as ease of cleaning)

Basic staff training checklist

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It's vital for companies to ensure all staff involved in workplace food supply, preparation or service environments have received appropriate food hygiene training.

According to experts at Cambridge-based environmental health consultancy MAS Environmental, some of the key areas for workers to be fully trained in and aware of include:

 The practices prohibited in a food room

 What protective clothing should be worn, why, how to put it on correctly and why

 When and how to correctly wash hands

 The first aid dressings that must be worn

 How food handlers contaminate food both microbiologically and physically and how to prevent it

 The importance of temperature control

 How to handle and correctly store waste

 The correct cleaning methods to avoid risks to food products

 The legal obligations of food handlers

 The consequences of food complaints/food poisoning to the business etc

 The importance of keeping records and completing them satisfactorily

 The prevention of pests, how to recognise their presence and reporting

 Importance of taking responsibility for their own actions


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The FSA’s Annual Report of Incidents 2017 showed that:

    • In 2016/17, the FSA and FSS were notified of and investigated 2,265  incidents. This is higher than in previous years, with 698 more incidents reported in 2016/17 than in 2013/14.

    • Overall, the frequency of reported incidents has increased over the last nine years.

    • Key statistics for causes of reported incidents include:

        • Not determined / other (15%)

        • Pathogenic microorganisms (14%)

        • Residues of veterinary medicinal products (9%)

        • Allergens (8%)

        • Chemical contamination (other) (6%)

    • For the above figures, ‘not determined/other’ refers largely to clandestine entrants to the UK hiding aboard food delivery vehicles, which is viewed as a potential contamination risk. 83% of such cases were attributed to clandestine entrants.

    • 45% of ‘pathogenic microorganisms’ incidents related to Salmonella

    • Fires were the cause of almost all ‘chemical contamination (other)’ incidents

    • Nearly two-thirds of all incidents were reported by Local Authorities, EU Member States and the European Commission, border inspections posts or listed central government bodies

    • As in previous years, the food commodity type associated with the most incidents was  ‘meat and meat products (other than poultry)’

    • ‘Fruits and vegetables’ and ‘dietetic foods, food supplements and fortified foods’ were the groups associated with (respectively) the second and third most incident reports

Food safety vs. food hygiene

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In correctly identifying the different responsibilities split across the areas of hygiene and safety, the UK government makes the following distinctions for businesses dealing in food:

Food safety responsibilities include:

    • making sure food is safe to eat

    • making sure you don’t add to, remove from or otherwise treat food in a way that makes it harmful to eat

    • making sure the food is the same quality that you say it is

    • making sure you don’t mislead people by the way food is labelled, advertised or marketed

    • keeping records on where you got food from, and showing this information on demand (known as ‘traceability’)

    • withdrawing unsafe food and completing an incident report

    • telling people why food has been withdrawn or recalled, eg. via a leaflet or poster

    • displaying your food hygiene rating (if you sell food directly to the public)

    • only using approved additives

    • only using additives that are explicitly approved for use in that food

    • ensuring the food additive volume doesn’t exceed the maximum permitted level

Food hygiene responsibilities include various methods of hazard control relating to personal hygiene and proper food handling techniques (see section 3 of this guide).

In addition, for most workplaces, they will also involve creating and sticking to a plan based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point - or HACCP - principles.

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A good Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan is similar to any other general workplace Health and Safety risk assessment, but it’s specifically designed to keep your food safe from biological, chemical and physical food safety hazards (the three main types of food hazard reported):

      • biological hazards typically involve harmful bacteria or pathogens being introduced to foods

      • chemical hazards typically involve non-organic contamination of foods with toxic or harmful substances

      • physical hazards typically involve other objects or foreign bodies getting into food

UK government guidelines state that it’s ‘important to have food safety management procedures that are appropriate for your business’, and indicate that sound HACCP planning should include:

 looking closely at what you do in your business

 assessing what could go wrong and what risks there are to food safety

 identifying any critical control points (the areas a business needs to focus
 on to ensure those risks are removed or reduced to safe levels)

 deciding what action you need to take if something goes wrong

 making sure that your procedures are being followed and are working

 keeping records to show your procedures are working

The FSA offers small UK businesses in the food industry (generally those with fewer than 50 employees) free access to the MyHACCP tool, which will guide you through the process of developing a food safety management system based on these principles.

      • See section 4 of this guide for the MyHACCP tool and other handy resources.


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According to findings released via the FSA Food and You public survey programme in 2017, the most recent wave of feedback highlighted several ‘good news stories’ in terms of overall consumer awareness:

    • More than eight out of ten respondents (86%) reported they always washed their hands before starting to prepare or cook food.

    • Three-quarters of respondents (75%) cited the use by date as the best indicator of whether food is safe to eat, this has increased since significantly Wave 1 (62%).

    • 72% of respondents reported that the cleanliness and hygiene of a food service establishment was important to them.

    • Overall, a third (30%) of respondents who ate out considered cleanliness the most important factor.

    • In total, 67% of respondents reported having eaten at a restaurant in the previous month; 55% had eaten takeaway food, and 41% had eaten in a cafe or coffee shop.


    • Along with towels and cloths, hands are one of the primary vectors for contamination spread.

    • Washing is the simplest and most important way to stop harmful bacteria from spreading from hands to food.

    • Correct handwashing is a crucial technique to learn in helping to prevent contamination - it’s about more than just getting them wet!

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    • All staff that work with food must wash their hands:

 Whenever they enter or leave the food preparation or service area

 Immediately before preparing or serving food

 Immediately after touching raw food

 Immediately after handling food waste or emptying a bin

 Immediately after cleaning

 Immediately after blowing their nose

 Immediately after touching phones, light switches, door handles, cash registers and other non-food     items likely to have been touched by others

Handwashing should always be done at a designated handwashing station, not in the same sinks used for either washing dishes or cleaning food. It’s a legal requirement for food service workplaces to provide dedicated handwashing stations.

Soap should be applied to wet hands and rubbed vigorously into palms and backs of hands, fingertips, between the fingers, and up to the wrist and forearm. This process should last 15-20 seconds

Hands should be rinsed thoroughly in moderately hot water before the tap is turned off using a disposable towel as a germ barrier.

Hands should never be dried on a reusable towel or cloth, regardless of whether the same cloth is used for anything else, or on aprons/overalls. Always use an air dryer, or disposable paper/roller towels.

It’s important that hands are dried thoroughly, as warmth and moisture combined will encourage rapid bacterial regrowth.

Watches, bangles, rings and other jewellery should be removed before handwashing, and left off during all phases of food preparation and service, as they harbour bacteria that can easily be shed or transferred onto foodstuffs.


Food storage, handling and disposal checklist

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Always keep raw meats, unpasteurised dairy and other high-risk food types separate from the rest of your supply

Never mix raw and cooked foods of any kind in storage; ideally, you should have a separate fridge and freezer for raw goods

Where this isn’t practical, ensure you keep raw foods only on the lowest shelves where they can’t drip onto other products

Always refrigerate cooked foods promptly, but avoid putting them in the fridge while still warm

Check your fridge and freezer temperatures regularly:

 Cold foods should be refrigerated below 5°C until ready to cook or serve

     Frozen foods should be kept below -18°C until ready to cook or serve

Close fridge and freezer doors promptly and securely after retrieving items

Never overstock freezers above their ‘maximum fill’ line

Rotate stock regularly, moving older items towards the front of the fridge or top of the freezer where it’s easiest to see and use (the FIFO, or ‘first in, first out’ principle)

Check regularly to ensure the integrity, function and cleanliness of all storage facilities, including looking out for any potential sources of outside contamination

Keep foods stored in non-original containers clearly labelled with the contents, date of arrival, date of storage and use-by dates where necessary

Note: In the food production and retail sectors, labelling and packaging is an important area of safe handling, with differing codes of legislation and best practice depending on the specific industry or environment concerned


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Keep utensils used in the preparation of raw ingredients entirely separate from other kitchen tools and food service items, including when washing up if feasible

When weighing out or blending raw ingredients, lay protective paper towels, containers or food wrap on hardware such as scales, boards and slates to prevent cross-contamination

Cooked foods should reach an internal temperature of 70°C for two full minutes in order to kill bacteria

Cooked foods being kept hot for any period between cooking and serving should not drop below 63°C

Always use tongs, spoons and similar utensils wherever you can, to reduce manual handling as far as  realistically possible

Use different utensils for handling different types and temperatures of food

Always wear disposable gloves when handling cooked or cold foods for public consumption

Do not mix cloths, boards, knives, bowls and other items between different types of foods

Keep separate utensils and cleaning products for raw foods, cooked foods, meat, fish, vegetables etc

Never handle food and money together

Keep all displayed food well protected behind robust physical barriers, such as glass domes or sneeze guards

Cleaning and disposal

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Immediately clean and disinfect (ideally with a sanitiser product) any areas and utensils involved in the preparation of raw ingredients

Regularly inspect all areas and utensils involved in food storage or preparation for cleanliness

Ensure the same cloths, sponges and other cleaning or wiping products aren’t used in different areas of the kitchen or food service area

Make them strictly ‘zonal’, disinfect regularly, and use disposable items wherever you can

Be vigilant about throwing out food packaging and disposable containers promptly after emptying

Monitor the adequate provision of both indoor and outdoor waste bins and recycling facilities

Ensure indoor and outdoor waste bins have closable, well-fitting lids

Indoor bins must be properly lined and protected with easy-to-remove refuse sacks, and pedal-operated to minimise hand contact

If any animals have passed through the food service area, be sure to clean up promptly afterwards

Fitness to work guidelines

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    • All employees must be appropriately attired for work in food service or preparation areas, including:

  • clean clothes and suitable protective gear (aprons, gloves, hair nets etc)
  • long or loose hair should always be tied back or covered with a disposable net if it presents any risk of contaminating foods
  • jewellery, watches and other adornments should not be worn during direct food handling
  • cuts must be cleaned, dressed and covered with a brightly coloured waterproof plaster before continuing with any food contact activity
  • A high level of personal hygiene must be maintained at all times, including clean and covered hair, clean short nails, and workers should avoid touching their face, hair and clothing as far as possible

  • Nobody suffering from symptoms of illness including diarrhoea, vomiting, skin infections, heavy colds, discharge from eyes or ears, or with open wounds should ever handle food for public consumption, no matter how carefully their hands have been washed beforehand
  • Any workers sent home under the conditions above should avoid returning to work in food service environments for a full 48 hours after their symptoms stop unless it is certain that their condition is non-infectious
  • See section 4 of this guide for a link to full ‘fitness to work’ guidelines, and other useful food safety resources

Incident reporting

You must tell the FSA if you think any food kept, sold or traded by your business is unsafe or has become unsafe.

  • The FSA will tell you whether the food must be withdrawn and/or customers asked to return it.
  • You can submit a food safety incident report to the FSA here.
  • For all other incident-related contacts and queries, you can call the FSA Food Incidents Helpline on 020 7276 8448.


Free resources

UK government Food Standards Agency (FSA) homepage


  • FSA portal Safer Food, Better Business (includes information packs for caterers, retailers, childminders, care home workers and more)


FSA MyHACCP tool - registration page for small UK food businesses


FSA Food Hygiene Rating Scheme - definitions and ratings breakdown


European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)


  • EFSA glossary


  • EFSA factsheets portal


  • EFSA Infographics portal


  • EFSA videos portal


Virtual College - food hygiene online quiz


FSA infographic - The People Who Protect Your Plate (PDF download link)


European Commission FAQ on the flexibility of regulations for food business operators


European Commission training initiative - Better Training for Safer Food


Visit Britain guidelines on food safety and hygiene in tourist hospitality


Visit Britain guidelines on food labelling in tourist hospitality


FSA food handlers’ Fitness to Work guidelines (PDF download link)


FSA Hygiene Requirements for your Business (PDF download link)


Veggies Catering Campaign - Food Hygiene Guidelines quick guide (RTF download link)


High Speed Training - Personal Hygiene Tips for Food Service Staff


FSA Annual Report of Incidents 2017 (PDF download link)


Paid resources

FSA Food Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice: Sandwich Bars and Similar Food Service Outlets - PDF


FSA Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice: Sandwich Manufacturing - PDF


British Retail Consortium Food Hygiene Working Group Food Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice: Retail - PDF


Chilled Food Association Best Practice Guidelines for the Production of Chilled Foods - Fourth Edition - PDF


MAS Environmental - food safety training courses


Turner Business Consultants - eLearning Suite, including various online food safety courses