How many times have we used our Lord’s words ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.’ Matt. 22. 21, to remind us that we have an obligation before God to obey the law of the land in which we live?
The intention of this article is to give guidance for local churches so that they can obey the law in relation to the provision of food to the public that is safe and hygienic in accordance with the law’s requirements. This article cannot enter into specific details and so advice may need to be sought from the local Environmental Health Officer (EHO) if there is any doubt.
The law that we have to comply with is the Food Safety Act 1990, and in particular two sets of regulations that are very important to food hygiene:
It has been suggested that the Act does not apply to charities or churches as the food is being given free. This is wholly wrong. The Government’s Food Standards Agency states that ‘The preparation of any food for sale or supply to the public, whether on a commercial basis or not, must comply with food hygiene regulations. This includes food prepared in the home for service at community events. These require that food should be handled, prepared, stored and transported in a hygienic manner’.
Why food hygiene is important
Food poisoning can lead to serious illness, or even death, especially among the very young and the very old. Harmful germs that cause food poisoning can spread very easily so it is the providers’ responsibility to make sure that they do everything to prevent this.
In the kind of catering we are involved with the food is most often prepared at home, transported to the place of the meeting in our cars, set out in one of the rooms, possibly hours before consumption, in uncontrolled conditions and is therefore a cause for concern. A few simple steps will reduce risk considerably.
Let’s highlight six main areas in the defence against food poisoning:
Cleanliness of food preparation areas
Many of these requirements are common practice:
Again many of these are what we do already.
Thorough cooking of food
Food poisoning bacteria multiply particularly well between the temperature of +8°C to +63°C. This is called the DANGER ZONE.
It is an offence to keep food at a temperature that would cause a risk to health; i.e. within this zone.
All raw food must be cooked to above +63°C. The temperatures quoted are core temperatures. It is recommended that meat should reach a minimum of +75°C core temperature.
At its simplest level food is cooked to kill bacteria, and make the food safe for human consumption.
If the food is to be consumed at a later time it must be cooled as quickly as possible and kept refrigerated, below +8°C, if not then it must be kept above +63°C until it is consumed.
Temperature control of food
It is worth pointing out at this stage those foods which require temperature control. These foods are known as ‘High Risk Foods’ and are:
Transportation of food
The transportation of food must ensure that chilled food is kept under +8°C. This is achievable with the use of cool bags, polar boxes, frozen ice blocks and/or portable chillers, all of which are readily available in the High Street.
When transporting food ensure that it is well sealed, and covered so there is no risk of contamination or spillage.
Once at the place of service the food should be kept under refrigeration till the time of consumption.
Food for serving hot should not be heated untill it is required to be served. The regulations state that all food for reheating must achieve a core temperature of +75°C (+82°C in Scotland) and be kept above +63°C.
There is a time element in which food can be left out of temperature control for the purpose of food service for one occasion only:
Cross-contamination is one of the major causes of food poisoning in this country. It is the transfer of bacteria from foods (usually raw) to other foods. The bacteria can be transferred directly, when one food touches another, or indirectly via hands, equipment, work surfaces, knives or other utensils.
It is very easy for cross-contamination to happen. Some of the most common causes are:
Part of the Law requires all food handlers be trained in food hygiene matters. The simplest way to achieve this is for all those who prepare and/or handle food, to do the Basic Food Hygiene Certificate, either via the local EHO, or the local College of Further Education.
In the provision of food to the public the provider must be able to demonstrate that every reasonable care has been taken. This is called Due Diligence. The only way Due Diligence can be proved in a court of Law is by monitoring and recording practice, and if necessary supplying the proof as evidence in defence that the regulations are being applied.
How do we know the refrigerator is operating at 8°C? – the temperature was taken, recorded, and kept.
How do we know the sausage rolls were served at +63°C? – the temperature was taken at service time, recorded and kept.
Remember your local EHO will be only too pleased to help and advise in proper practice and what records should be kept and for how long.
Food Standards Agency, Aviation House, 125 Kingsway, London WC2B 6NH. Web site is: www.food.gov.uk.
It would be difficult for specific advice to be given as no two local assemblies are the same, have the same facilities or the same catering requirements. Some assemblies have a ministry of outreach through food. Other assemblies only provide tea once a year at conference time, and others for monthly meetings.
Advice should therefore be sought. Before this is done, make a list of the questions you want answered. The list below might, I hope, help:
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