Food chain scandals are constantly sprawled across the media, raising real concerns about what is really in the food that we are eating. Most people are guilty of indulging in fast food once in a while, whether it’s enjoying a burger on a Friday night in front of the TV or some crunchy fried chicken that seems all too appealing after a night out. However, after years of the negative media attention that these mammoth fast food chains receive, maybe we’ve always had some kind of inclination that fast food isn’t the most trustworthy.

However, it came as a real shock when the horse meat scandal was announced at the beginning of this year. Trustworthy, big name brands, such as Tesco, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl were just some of the supermarket chains that revealed they were selling horse meat instead of beef. The scandal continues to remain a problem across 16 different countries leaving people feeling concerned and worried about the food they are purchasing and eating from supermarkets. Here are just some of the responses from some of North East Lincolnshire’s residents:

“It’s very concerning. The mind boggles how this could happen. If they put in horse meat, it makes you wonder what else they are putting in the meat.”

“It’s disgusting. I know it’s probably hygienic, but we are English and we don’t eat horse. I don’t eat burgers, but people buy them for their children, they just don’t know what’s in them. You trust the larger stores, but now you just don’t know.”

These responses express just some of the worries that many of the public have over the food that they are purchasing and eating. But food scandals don’t stop at big fast food chains and supermarkets, with the revelation that many local food brands also have appalling hygiene standards. For example, in the city of Norwich, a report revealed that out of 153 establishments, the majority of them only had a 2/3 hygiene rating. And in Manchester, it was revealed that one in every 10 restaurants and takeaways were branded as ‘too dirty’ with Stockport having the worst food hygiene in Greater Manchester with 95 outlets being rated as below satisfactory. With food scandals being exposed in fast food chains, supermarkets as well as local businesses, consumers are left feeling worried about the safety and hygiene of the food that they are eating and buying.

How Companies Can Improve Food Hygiene
To gain consumers’ confidence, local businesses would benefit from investing in basic food hygiene training and CIEH (The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health) training. Britannia Safety and Training is an example of a business that can offer CIEH training in Lincolnshire. This should be carried out by any business where food is prepared, cooked or handled. Training of this kind will help businesses to meet the Food Standards Act and help them to operate in a hygienic manner at every level of their business.

Food safety: As well as investing in food hygiene training, there are a number of other aspects that companies should be doing to improve their hygiene standards. Firstly, companies must ensure that all food is safe to eat. This includes not adding, removing or treating food in a way that is going to make it harmful for consumers. It’s important to keep records on exactly where the food is from as well as its ingredients, and be able to show this information on demand. If any unsafe food is discovered, companies should immediately withdraw the food and complete an incident report, informing consumers why that type of food has been withdrawn. Furthermore, if companies use any kind of food additives, it must be an approved food additive and must not exceed the maximum permitted level complying with the Food Standard Agency food additives legislation.

Structure: The structure of the workplace must comply by the following rules:

• Hand washing facilities and toilets: A company must have enough hand washing facilities and any toilets must not open directly into rooms where food is prepared or handled. Companies must have an adequate number of washbasins, suitably located and used only for cleaning hands. The washbasins must have hot and cold running water and soap and companies should have separate sinks for washing food.

• Ventilation: It is vital for companies to have enough ventilation whether it is natural ventilation such as opening windows or mechanical ventilation, for example, extractor fans.

• Floor: Must be washable, impervious and non-toxic and allow adequate surface drainage.

• Walls: Must be easy to clean, non-absorbent and non-toxic.

• Ceilings: Must be constructed in a way that doesn’t allow for dirt to build up.

• Windows: Must be constructed in a way that doesn’t allow for dirt to build up, have insect roof screens that can be removed for cleaning, must remain closed if open windows can cause contamination of food.

• Doors: Must be easy to clean, smooth and non-absorbent.

• Surfaces: Must be cleaned whenever food is prepared and handled, must be easy to clean and disinfect.

• Food waste: Companies should remove any food waste and rubbish as quickly as possible to prevent it from building up and must put food waste in containers that can be closed.

Management Systems
It is also vital that companies have an effective written food safety management system in place that is checked regularly. This includes records of staff training, a list of suppliers and a cleaning schedule. This should be filled out daily by one member of staff that carries out the opening and closing checks. If any problems are identified, businesses should make changes immediately.

Evidence that businesses have successfully completed training, and that their workplace is clean and hygienic, will give consumers the confidence that the food they are eating is of a high standard.

Laura Harrison is a food industry consultant based in the UK.