Essential catering guide part 2

Our essential guide to setting up a new catering business - and maintaining the best hygiene standards for your established one amidst the coronavirus-induced 'new normal'.

Chef serving food

The last week has featured further COVID-19 announcements which will no doubt have sent the blood pressure of catering business owners on a northward trajectory, the main one being that pubs must shut at 10pm.

The brief reprieve the summer months brought, allowing HORECA (hotel, restaurants and catering) sector businesses to tentatively begin trading again, looks to have been short-lived, with the potential for further curbs on how operate.

So, anyone trying to fulfil their dream of opening the doors on a new eaterie for the first time, faces an even more uphill struggle.

We’re publishing this essential guide for catering businesses to offer them a bit of a helping hand. While it’s primarily aimed at newbies entering the sector, in these times of constant change and adaptation, there will be useful elements for any such business, to help them sense check that what they are doing is not just ‘normal-hygienic’, but also ‘COVID-hygienic’.

In the first part of this guide, we looked at our top 10 must-do preparations for all new catering businesses, and a checklist covering everything from ensuring your brand is reflected through everything from your layout to your crockery and cutlery, to how to train your team to consistently reflect your business’ hygiene policies and procedures.

In this segment, we take a look at some frequently asked questions we hear from our extensive list of catering industry clients every day – in the hope that these will provide help and inspiration to others facing similar uncertainty.

We answer some of our clients’ burning questions

What is a 5* hygiene rating?

This reflects your compliance with requirements laid out by the Food Standards Authority (FSA), for everything from your cleaning processes to your food storage arrangements. It is an important mark of quality and you ought to do everything possible to achieve a five-star (or green circle) rating. 

It is, of necessity, very stringent and it is easy to overlook small details which will make the difference between you achieving a five rating or less. 

This is where talking to an experienced company like Elliott’s comes into its own. We have good relationships with environmental health officers and know exactly what they are looking for, and so can avoid any costly and time-consuming delays in achieving your ‘scores on the doors’. 

How can I achieve a 5* hygiene rating?

The Food Standards Authority (FSA) specifies the hygiene requirements for catering establishments. These cover everything from your food storage arrangements to your cleaning processes and equipment, and the types of chemicals you use.

In order to ensure the best possible reputation for your new catering business, you should aim for the maximum five stars. To achieve this, you must ensure that you have very rigorous systems in place and we would always advise seeking the help of an experienced, specialist company that understands the detail of the FSA standards and can ensure you get it right first time.

I’m opening a new shop/factory/restaurant, what catering and hygiene equipment/processes do I need?

Last week’s instalment of this guide outlines some of the basic boxes you need to tick but every outlet is unique in our experience.

However, because every business is unique, it’s important to seek the help from a hygiene expert that can study the intricacies of your premises and what they offer – or will offer – and help you shape a watertight plan to keep your team and customers safe.

I’m a food manufacturer/transporter – how can I comply with British Retail Consortium (BRC) guidelines?

Like the FSA, the BRC has some very detailed and extensive guidelines for food supply businesses. These cover everything from designated zones for products incorporating ingredients like nuts that people have allergies to, to the thoroughness of your cleaning regimes. They also take in your food storage arrangements, both in-house and during transportation.

We have extensive experience of helping well-respected businesses to secure their BRC accreditations. We can provide you with a detailed and bespoke assessment, looking at what will work best for your business, as cost effectively as possible.

How do I know if we have good enough hygiene standards in my café/food shop/food manufacturing business?

We have listed some of the basics you need to cover in the first segment of this blog.

However, the best thing to do is to work to industry benchmarks, laid down by organisations like the Food Standards Authority and the British Retail Consortium. These will ensure that you don’t just do ‘enough’ but ensure the highest mark of quality, which will give you the best possible reputation among existing and potential customers.

I’ve failed an environmental health inspection, what can I do?

First of all, don’t be too downhearted. Businesses can fail an inspection on points of detail. What matters now is that you quickly pick up the baton and do what is necessary to turn the situation around.

To do that, we would recommend you seek expert advice from a company like Elliott’s, that can advise you from experience on where exactly you went wrong, and just what you can do about it. We have good relationships with environmental health officers and can also liaise with them on your behalf to ensure that we get you up to scratch as quickly as possible.

How can I source environmentally friendly cleaning materials and disposables cost effectively?

Increasingly stringent sustainability guidelines mean that reputable manufacturers are moving increasingly towards ecologically-sound cleaning products. Increased demand is also making them more and more cost effective. We use the Evans Vanodine cleaning chemicals range. Not only are their products the most effective we have found, their aspiration to make them environmentally friendly, too wherever possible.

We can advise you on sourcing products that are right for your business on all fronts. Our buying power, coupled with a careful review and planning of your hygiene practices to ensure optimum cleaning regimes and chemical dosage, means we can help you make the right choices at very little – if any – additional cost. As customers increasingly want to deal with environmentally-conscious companies, this will do your reputation with them no harm at all either.

Where can I source environmentally friendly food packaging cost effectively?

As with cleaning chemicals, we have a tried, tested and extensive list of packaging suppliers and can work with you to source something which is both high quality, sustainable and positive for your brand reputation. 

When we work with business owners to help them choose the right packaging, we consider everything from their target customers to the nature of their food product and what will keep it freshest for the best customer experience. The range of environmentally-friendly packaging options has grown rapidly in recent years and is possible to achieve that sweet spot of something that looks great, delights your customers, fits with your budget and doesn’t harm the world we live in.

Our recent Food packaging, unpacked blog aims to debunk some of the myths about what is environmentally-friendly and what isn’t, and the best products to use to suit different requirements.

How can I ensure my cleaning/hygiene team have the right training?

The first step is to meticulously review your cleaning requirements and processes, to ensure you have the right products, equipment and routines in place to make sure it is carried out as effectively as possible.

We can take care of this for you, end-to-end, as part of a hygiene audit and strategy recommendation, training your staff on everything from what clean looks like for your kind of business and potential pitfalls to avoid, to how to use specific pieces of equipment and what your area colour coding means.

How can I save money on my cleaning materials?

We have a strong track record of saving the organisations we work with between 40 and 100 per cent on their cleaning costs. This starts with a thorough hygiene audit, in which we analyse everything from who in your team does what, to what chemicals and sanitary items you use. There is always money to be saved, both through our buying power as part of the Socius group of companies, and by making sure you are using the right quality and quantity of disposable items, and the correct soap and cleaning chemical dosages.

I’m opening a restaurant/café and struggling to source the right cutlery, crockery, kitchen utensils and chef wear – what would you advise?

All of this is part of your overall planning, and starts with a sense check of your kitchen design and flow, and also involves a detailed look at the audience you are serving and their expectations, as well as the image you want to portray.

With extensive experience of such matters, we consider aspects such as presentation, durability, size and longevity when advising our clients on sourcing the correct crockery, cutlery and furniture. More often than not, cheapest is not best when it comes to these things, as you need them to be up for the job, and last as long as possible.

I’m opening a restaurant/café, where can I get advice on the best kitchen design?

A lot of businesses make the fatal mistake of planning their kitchens in isolation from the processes that will need to take place there, and the outcomes they need to achieve. As a result, they might end up with a very beautiful architect’s rendition with insurmountable flaws. For example, we’ve seen industrial dishwashers placed in inaccessible places, or food preparation areas placed right next to dirty pots stacking and dishes sited on the customer-facing side of the counter, where the serving staff can’t get to them at all!

Believe us, we’ve seen it all, and are more than happy to help guide companies through the process of identifying what’s going to work best for them, as part of an overall hygiene strategy recommendation. Without this, at the very least there will be ongoing annoyances to contend with, and at worst you could be left with significant issues that may be costly to put right and/or prevent you from achieving that all-important five-star hygiene rating.

Are electric hand dryers or paper towels better for factory/shop/café/school/local authority toilets?

While hand driers have long been considered very hygienic, and there are some very stylish versions out there these days, the reality is that they can still harbour the kinds of germs in their nooks and crannies that you don’t really want to be contending with. In a time of pandemic like the current one, this is a risk you just cannot take. Not only that, but many people now prefer to have the option of using paper towels, and so this can be a greater win for from a customer care perspective. While you might be taking a sharp intake of breath at this moment, thinking that lots of paper waste is not great for the environment, the right ones can actually be just as ecologically sound as a drier, if not more so. In the battle against COVID-19, there is nothing safer and more hygienic than providing customers with paper towel designed to be used once and then discarded in a sealed bin. 

In our experience, where paper towels are not provided, customers will tend to improvise by using toilet paper instead which is both unhygienic and can result in excess usage and cost for businesses. 

What kind of soap should we use in our factory/shop/café/school/local authority kitchen/toilets?

Again, this really depends on your individual business requirements. However, as a rule of thumb, we always advise a blend of soaps in kitchens, loos and anywhere else your staff need to wash their hands, coupled with hand sanitising gels or foams in these places as well as high traffic corridors and entrance ways to your business and its different zones. This combination will help minimise any risk of cross-contamination and protect you against the spread of bugs like colds, flu and norovirus which have the potential to put part of your workforce out of action. Although hand washing with soap for 20 seconds minimum is believed to be sufficient to kill coronavirus germs, you may want to consider a soap fortified with antiviral agents, to further safeguard both your employees and your customers. It is also vital, at the present time, to provide your staff and customers with ample handwashing facilities, either within your existing capabilities or by installing additional, temporary stations around your premises.

How can we protect against the coronavirus and other common germs like norovirus in our restaurant/café/schools/factory/local authority buildings?

We offer a full guide for general businesses and food service businesses  in two of our recent blogs.

If any of the above resonates with you and you think you would benefit from an experienced helping hand in pulling your hygiene strategy together, don’t hesitate to give us a call so that you can benefit from our free planning service, via 01482 327580 or email us. You’ll also find inspiration in our most recent product brochure dedicated to this sector.

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