Food Hygiene Rating Scheme - top tips for a top rating

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These tips are based on the findings of officers when inspecting businesses with a 5 rating. The tips represent good practice in interpreting the law in a workable way, and are the areas where businesses often fail in a number of instances at inspection and therefore fail to get a 5 rating. The tips do not cover every eventuality, and should be followed in addition to good hygiene practice provided elsewhere.

Food Safety inspections cover five areas (as applicable to your business). These are:

  • Cross contamination;
  • Cleaning;
  • Chilled storage;
  • Cooking;
  • A documented Food Safety Management System (for example 'Safer Food Better Business').

Following the tips in each of these areas should help improve your hygiene rating.

Reduce cross-contamination

  1. Keep your washbasin clean, provided with hot and cold water and provide soap and preferably disposable paper towels to dry hands.
  2. Food handlers must wear clean and washable over clothing.
  3. Don't leave equipment or cleaning implements in your washbasin. Leave it clear and available for use and use it when necessary, especially after handling raw vegetables and raw meat or after touching knives and boards used to prepare these. Wash hands frequently.
  4. Emerging concern over the risks of E.coli 0157 is leading to an increasing need to have systems in place to avoid cross contamination between handling raw food (raw meat and unwashed salad/vegetables) and Ready To Eat/RTE food (cooked meat, prepared salad, anything to be eaten without further treatment).

Systems in use include:

  • Separate colour coded chopping boards and knives for raw and RTE food;
  • Separate colour coded cloths for washing equipment used for raw and RTE food;
  • Separate areas for preparing raw and RTE foods (for example having a 'raw foods only' area);
  • Separate times for handling raw and RTE food;
  • Separate fridges for raw and RTE foods;
  • Separate vacuum packing machines for raw and RTE foods;
  • Separate weighing scales/food slicers for raw and RTE foods;
  • Separate designated sink for food use;
  • Separate clean over clothing for handling raw and RTE food;
  • Use of disposable cloths for a) wiping down surfaces as part of clean-as-you-go, and b) wiping down after full cleaning and disinfection of surfaces/equipment.

Keep the kitchen and equipment visibly clean

  1. Wash and then disinfect all boards, tables, knives and containers that come into contact with RTE food.
  2. Only use disinfectant/sanitiser that meets BS 1276/13697.
  3. Clean-as-you-go, preferably using disposable paper towels and not cloths.
  4. Identify things people touch frequently - surfaces, taps, handles, boards, and knives and clean and disinfect them frequently.
  5. Follow your cleaning schedule!

Keep chilled food safe

  1. Check use by dates, cover all food, date code with stickers and aim for a fridge air temperature of 5C on the opening check.
  2. Store raw food separately and below RTE food if a separate fridge is not available.
  3. Keep a fridge thermometer in each fridge and compare its accuracy with your probe thermometer at least every three months (see below).
  4. If you cool food, cool it down as quickly as possible in an area away from raw food, and place in the fridge within 90 minutes.

Cook, re-heat and hot hold to the correct temperature

  1. Be clear about how you check that food is properly cooked or reheated. One way is to use a disinfected probe thermometer each time to check the food has reached 75C for 30 seconds. If you don't check with a probe thermometer each time you cook, you must choose other methods of checking. These could include: a) Splitting meat to check for inner colour change (sausages/burgers), or boiling and simmering liquids (soup, gravy, sauce). These checks can tell you the food is safely cooked/reheated without the need for checks with a probe thermometer. b) If you are checking the time taken to cook/reheat in a preheated oven or a microwave you must have a record of when you measured the temperature with a probe thermometer and the time taken to reach 75C or above. In Safer Food Better Business this is recorded as a Prove it Record. This method is commonly used for pies reheated in a microwave, chicken cooked in a fryer, sausage/fish cooked in a frying range, cottage pie/beef/chicken/pork cooked in a preheated oven.
  2. Keep your probe thermometer in good working order. Carry out a calibration check in boiling water (100C) and melting ice (0C), at least every three months and keep a record of the temperature found.
  3. If you intend to hot hold food, once it has been cooked or reheated (to 75C or above) it must be kept at 63C or above. Always keep a thermometer in hot displays and check daily that the air temperature is kept over 63C, and carry out occasional (e.g. weekly) checks that the food temperature is above 63C using your disinfected probe thermometer. Also use a disinfected probe thermometer for daily checks that food in a bain-marie is over 63C.

Documented food safety management system

  1. Make sure you have fully completed and updated your documented system. Only businesses with completed and up to date systems get a top rating.
  2. Make sure you complete a diary every day to show you are carrying out opening and closing checks and recording any problems. If there are any gaps this may count against you.
  3. If you intend to use the 'Safer Food Better Business' pack as your documented food safety management system, follow the guidance on the Documented Food Safety Management System page.

Guidance on Documented Food Safety Management systems

Written procedures

It is a legal requirement for food businesses to identify their food hazards and have documented procedures in place to control them. Completing the Safe Methods section in 'Safer Food Better Business' (SFBB) is often the easiest way to comply with this requirement.

Businesses that have their own systems are required to identify the food safety hazards within their business and put proper controls in place. These controls are translated into documented procedures and practices.

Within SFBB the 'Safe Methods' are colour coded as follows:

  • Cross contamination (Red)
  • Cleaning (Purple)
  • Chilling (Blue)
  • Cooking (Orange).

Whether you use SFBB or have your own procedures, if you make any changes in the way you do things, make sure they are safe and that you update what you had previously written down.

The following applies to SFBB, but may be used if you have your own system.

Safe Method Completion Record

This is normally located immediately after the Safe Method section. You must sign and date each of the safe methods listed that are relevant to your business. This shows that you have taken responsibility for ensuring that these safe methods are used in your business.

Management Section

For most businesses this contains six parts:

  1. Diary - tick and sign to confirm that you have completed the opening and closing checks every day. Also use the diary to document when things have broken down (e.g fridge, hot water), when a repair has been identified/reported (e.g leaking pipe, tiles broken), and what you have done about it. Many business forget to write down these details.
  2. Four weekly review - if there have been no recurring problems (more than three times in four weeks, and all else is well, you only need to tick the 'no' boxes to confirm that you have reviewed your operations and do not need to make any changes.
  3. Extra checks - write down how often you will deep clean, carry out maintenance, test the probe thermometer in melting ice/boiling water, check for pests, and any other regular checks that you need to undertake which are not daily checks.
  4. Staff training record - you must complete this to show that each named member of staff has been trained in the safe methods relevant to their job. Copy each relevant safe method as listed in the Safe Method Completion Record into the column under each heading - cross contamination, cleaning, chilling, cooking.
  5. Supplier List - list all businesses you buy food from. This is used to check that you are buying your food from reputable suppliers, and will enable you and the inspecting Officer to contact them if there has been a problem.
  6. Contacts List - list contact details for Environmental Health Officer, pest control operator, plumber,   electrician, refrigeration engineer, waste contractor etc. This will assist contact when you have a problem and require their services.
  7. Prove it Description - if the Safe Methods provided do not cover what you do, you are required to complete this section. Some businesses do not need to complete this section. Examples of when it has been completed include:
    • Example 1: Frying - using floating sausages or fish as an indication that they have reached the safe temperature of 75c.
    • Example 2: Reheating in a microwave - find how long the food should be in the microwave to reach 75c and write down the time e.g two minutes.
    • Example 3: The time taken to defrost a chicken in the bottom of the fridge or in the sink.
    • Example 4: The time taken to cool rice once removed from the steamer and placed in a container. Officers need to see these details written down so that they can be satisfied that the business has safe operational procedures in place.
  8. Prove it records
    Write down the day and details of the test that proved your method was safe.

Contact Details

Food Safety,
Ipswich Borough Council, 
Grafton House, 
15-17 Russell Road,

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01473 432000