How will coronavirus affect food hygiene training?
Food hygiene has always been at the forefront of all businesses that handle food. Training has always been considered a basic requirement in food businesses. Whilst that is more important now than ever, we are in unprecedented times. Vast numbers of food handlers have been furloughed, or made redundant across the country. Numerous food businesses, from multi-national restaurant chains to the small village cafe have been closed for a number of months and will be desperate to start making money again. The businesses that have weathered the storm will be looking to save money where possible whilst keeping their employees and customers safe. So can you justify spending money on training your food handlers when things are tight? It could be tempting to go with the cheapest option.
Investing in quality training is a cost to the business, one that may be harder to absorb in the current climate. Whislt the overwhelming majority of food premises are run to a good standard, what if you had a food poisoning allegation? Think of the costs of a food poisoning allegation to a food business, or a prosecution for food hygiene offences. The costs associated with poor hygiene practices would cost a significant amount more than the cost of the training. Just in the last month it was reported that a small food business was fined £2000 plus costs, with poor hygiene, lack of training and an ineffective HACCP system resulting in a prosecution.Training can also affect your food hygiene rating, affecting the score for the confidence in management element of your hygiene rating.
As businesses re-open, with a mix of new and returning food handlers, training is going to be more important than ever.
Food safey training legislation
Regulation (EC) 852/2004 requires that all ‘food handlers are supervised and instructed and/or trained in food hygiene matters commensurate with their work activities.’ So, within the European Union there isn’t a specific legal requirement to have a certificate, but there is a requirement that food handlers receive adequate training. Some supplier accreditation schemes may have a requirement to provide evidence of specific accredited training. In some sectors such as handling food at sea, there are specific requirements which specify the level and method of training required; a minimum Level 2 Award in Food Safety (RQF) is required for food handlers, online training is not recognized as meeting the learning outcomes required.
So if it isnt a legal requirement as such to have a food hygiene certificate for most businesses, why bother doing it? The law may not mention a specific certificate but it does say that food handlers need appropriate training. And as a food business, you would need to demonstrate that the appropriate food hygiene training has been carried out. Not forgetting moral and legal obligations to keep food safe and prevent food poisoning. Employees feel more valued if they are trained, the list of benefits is endless.
There is industry guidance which specifies the minimum recommended level of training that food handlers should receive. Whilst there is no explicit legal requirement to have a food hygiene certificate, the guidance states that food hygiene training should be ‘of sufficient duration to ensure understanding’, and ‘further training is appropriate for those who have a supervisory role and / or are food business operators’. It is recommended that food handlers are trained to Level 2 (or equivalent, typically a one day course), supervisors are recommended to be trained up to Level 3 food safety (three day course) and Level 4 food safety is aimed at managers, owners, head chefs and executive chefs (typically run over five days)
It is unclear how training will be affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. I find it hard to envisage a room of 15 – 20 chefs completing training anytime soon with social distancing requirements. We are starting to run face-to-face in-house training again, gradually, following workplace covid guidance of course, with small groups.
All team will require some level of refresher training, however experienced, due to changes necessary regarding coronavirus (increased cleaning routines etc).
Online training is being used more and more, and is a fantastic way for an employer to train a large number of people, very quickly and cheaply. But, is it effective? I definately feel online training can help supplement training, but it certainly isnt the ‘tick in the box’ it can be perceived to be by some. Whilst everyone passing an online course may receive a certificate, which you can show an enforcement officer, is the training understood? I have found that in a large number of businesses they will have the training records to ‘prove’ that food handlers have been trained. But, when questioned during an audit, the food handler who has a certificate doesnt know the dosage or contact time for the sanitizer he is using, or doesn’t know what temperature food should be cooked to. Has this training added any value, and does it result in safe food? I personally am not sure of the benefit of allowing endless retakes of an exam until you get the correct answer, as is the case with some online courses. Whilst it is good to be able to go over things again, simply retaking the exam until you pass doesnt seem to be the most effective way of learning. Having said that, i have sat through a very boring PowerPoint presentation where the trainer read from the slides, every word on every slide, in a monotone voice, so all training methods can be ineffective.
One thing to consider with online training is that if employees complete the training at home; have they completed it themselves, or did they get their ‘brainy partner’ to complete it for them quickly? Regulated qualifications are invigilated so give an employer or enforcement officer reassurance that it is a reputable qualification.
Accreditation and Certification
Businesses do need to be aware of what they are purchasing when considering training. In the last few days i have seen, amongst others; a ‘EHO approved, Level 2 Food Safety’ course online for £10, which takes approximately one hour to complete. By comparison, a Level 2 Award in Food Safety is normally a one day course. And a ‘Level 4 Food Safety’ online course for £25 which takes three hours to complete!
Now anyone that has done their Level 4 Food Safety (Advanced Food Hygiene) knows that an accredited Level 4 course typically is five days of tuition and costs anywhere upwards of £500 per person. I do find it quite scary that people may genuinely sign up to what they believe is a Level 4 qualification, to actually be nothing higher than a non-accredited Level 1 qualification and not recognized externally. The Indsutry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice states that as a guide a Level 4 course will be between 24 and 40 hours in duration. There is no legal requirement to have a certificate but it demostrates that appropriate training has been carried out and can be used to contribute towards a due-diligence defence
Looking for ‘RQF’ qualifications (Regulatory Qualifications Framework) provides assurance that they are a comparable qualification.
One way of ensuring the training you are getting is to the right standard is by checking if courses are RQF regulated and accredited by an awarding body such as Highfield Qualifications or RSPH. They are internationally recognized and accepted by all bodies, and provide reassurance that the training is to a set standard. This ensures that the exam is invigilated and completed in exam conditions, so you know that the person who sits the exam is in fact the named person. All training needs to be assessed in the workplace through constant monitoring and supervision; having passed an accredited exam doesnt mean that the food handler will practice those behaviors.
Accreditation isnt always necessary. There are some very good, non accredited awareness courses which can be good for refresher training. We offer a non accredited ecoli cross-contamination course and allergens awareness training which prove popular but are not accredited or regulated.
Online training may be effective if used as part of a blended learning approach, but i don’t feel that in isolation it would provide sufficient understanding of the subject. Some people respond better with interaction, some do not like online training. The right training method is important in ensuring the training is understood, and more importantly implemented at work.
To ensure that food hygiene training is implemented effectively, a lot of businesses are focusing their attention on adequate training of supervisors and managers. Whilst food hygiene training is important for all, if food handlers are not following the procedures, supervisors and managers should be adequately trained to monitor this. So it is recommended that people responsible for supervising food handlers have an appropriate level of training. The three-day Level 3 Award in Food Safety is now very popular as an in-house course for groups of chefs, supervisors and managers.
Remote Accredited Food Safety Training
To ensure there is still available face to face training whilst social distancing is required, we are now offering our training remotely on Zoom. For a lot of people, online training is the easiest, quickest, cheapest solution. But for people who still want the interaction of a group session, be able to ask questions during the session and discuss the course using relevant real-life examples, we have now developed remote training via Zoom. This will allow us to deliver as close to a face-to-face course as possible, whilst still social distancing. There is an interactive PowerPoint (no death by powerpoint), an interactive pdf workbook for each course, quizzes during the session, video clips, discussion, candidates can ask questions, sample exam questions during the course and you can complete the exam online using Highfields remote invigilation app. This ensures that, as a regulated qualification, the exam is completed fairly, even at home! One benefit of offering this on Zoom is that you can complete the training whether you are in Penzance or the Lake District, in the UK or abroad, you can be anywhere as long as you can connect to the internet. In-house group Zoom sessions are arranged at a time to suit you.
This may be a solution which provides the convenience of online training, the benefit of experienced, real-life trainers who are qualified environmental health practitioners with experience in the food industry, an interactive, relevant course and a ‘proper’ regulated qualification, recognised globally, from the comfort of your own home.
So now you can get a Highfield Qualifications Level 2 Award in Food Safety (RQF) or Highfield Qualifications Level 3 Award in Food Safety (RQF) certificate without even leaving the house.
We are offering in-house group Zoom sessions and are running regular open remote Level 2 and Level 3 Food Safety courses, follow our facebook page or LinkedIn page for course details.
If anyone needs to talk through there training plans, we are always happy to have a chat, no strings attached. Please do get in touch
British Hospitality Association (2016) ‘Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice, Catering Guide‘. Available at: https://www.bha.org.uk/book/#/reader (accessed 01 April 2020)
Council Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29th April 2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs
EHN (2020). ‘Final straw as former landlord ignores repeated warnings over poor hygiene at pub‘. Environmental Health News, 35 (5), p.21
Maritime and Coastguard Agency (2019). ‘MIN 605 (M) Maritime Labour Convention, 2006: Food and
Catering: Recognised Qualifications in Food Hygiene or Food Safety in Catering for Ship’s Cooks and
Others Processing Food in the Galley’. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/854576/MIN_605__M__Recognised_qualifications_in_food_hygiene_or_food_safety_in_catering_for_ship_s_cooks_etc.pdf (accessed February 2020)