Food Safety Issues In The Catering Sector
Q Can I use my own fresh free range eggs or local farm eggs in my cooking or for breakfast?
Yes as there is no specific legal restriction covering what type of eggs can be used in catering. If you are using your own eggs from your own farm, the flock (regardless of the size) must be registered under animal health regulations with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. FSAI recommends that the flock is periodically tested for Salmonella. In this way you can demonstrate to your EHO that you have considered the risk and are verifying controls by flock testing. Testing certificates should suffice as documentary evidence of these controls.
You may also use local farm eggs that are stamped and graded in compliance with the egg marketing legislation. The stamp is sufficient to demonstrate the safety of the egg as these flocks have to be tested for Salmonella under the control of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Q Can I use unstamped/ungraded eggs in my cooking or for breakfast?
You should not use unstamped/ungraded eggs from any source other than your own farm. Unstamped eggs can only legally be sold when produced by a flock that consists of less than 50 hens, above this number of birds, the eggs must be stamped and graded before sale. Unstamped/ungraded eggs from these small food businesses can only be sold directly by the producer to the consumer at local markets or from the farm gate or by door to door sales. They cannot be sold in any way to a catering or retail business. A responsible food business should never use illegal sources of food because legal requirements are implemented to facilitate food safety. If you are using unstamped eggs from farms other than your own, your supplier may be committing an offence. In circumstances where such eggs are used in ready to eat dishes that are not cooked then your EHO may require you to implement appropriate controls and/or change your supply of eggs.
Q Do I need to use pasteurized egg to make mayonnaise or other egg based sauces eg. Hollandaise or Béarnaise and can I make homemade ice cream with fresh free range eggs?
Yes. There is no specific legal restriction covering what type of eggs can be used in catering.
Caterers should be aware that sometimes hen eggs and, more commonly, duck eggs can contain Salmonella. Therefore, ready to eat foods, made with raw egg, that do not receive a cooking step to kill Salmonella are a potential risk to the consumer. For example, home-made mayonnaise, certain raw egg sauces that are minimally cooked and certain raw egg based deserts like home made ice-cream and tiramisu, represent a potential risk to the consumer if Salmonella is present in the eggs used during their preparation.
Your EHO will not usually require you to demonstrate that you are controlling the risk of Salmonella in eggs used for ready to eat uncooked dishes if you follow FSAI recommendations. FSAI recommends that :
- Pasteurized egg is the safest form of egg to use in ready to eat dishes
- Bord Bia quality assured eggs are the next safest source.
- Stamped and graded eggs not in the Bord Bia quality assurance scheme can also be used but the controls on such eggs may not be as strict as those used in the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme. However, all stamped hens eggs are sourced from flocks that are subject to statutory controls for Salmonella.
FSAI does not recommend:
- The use of unstamped hen eggs as these are not controlled under the national Salmonella testing scheme.
- The use of duck eggs in ready-to-eat foods that are not cooked, irrespective of source. These eggs are commonly contaminated with Salmonella.
If you do not follow the FSAI recommendations your EHO will require you to demonstrate that you are controlling the risk of Salmonella in eggs.
Q Can I use timber (hardwood) chopping boards or must I use plastic boards?
Wooden chopping boards can be used for food preparation once they are kept in a clean and hygienic condition. Generally, all surfaces which come in contact with food must be of sound condition and be easy to clean and where necessary disinfect. They must be made of smooth, washable, corrosion resistant and non-toxic material. Chopping boards must be constructed in a way that will minimize the risk of contamination. They must be kept in a good state of repair.
Wooden boards should be made of hardwood and preferably be of the end-grain type. Separate chopping boards must be used for raw and ready to eat foods to minimize the risk of cross contamination. If feasible, separate boards preferably colour coded should be used for raw meat/poultry; raw fish and seafood; raw unwashed vegetables salad and fruit; dairy / bakery products and cooked meats.
Whether wooden or plastic chopping boards are used it is essential that they are in good condition. Deeply scored chopping boards are more difficult to clean and can harbour harmful microorganisms which can contaminate food. They should be re-planed or if this is not an option they should be thrown away and replaced by new boards.
Q How do I clean my heavy timber chopping board?
- Immediately after each use, wooden chopping boards should be wiped down with a clean damp cloth to remove any remaining food debris.
- The board must then be scrubbed using a scrubbing brush, hot water and detergent. Rinse and dry thoroughly.
- To sanitise wooden chopping boards use either coarse salt, neat vinegar or diluted chlorine bleach (according to manufacturer’s instructions). If salt is used, spread it generously across the board and scrub. If using vinegar or chlorine bleach, cover the board in the solution and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Rinse off salt / solution and allow to air dry.
- Make sure boards are thoroughly dry before storing as damp boards will support bacterial growth.
NOTE: Care must be taken when using bleach to avoid corrosion of other surfaces and equipment and to ensure personal health and safety.
Q Is it a legal requirement to use antibacterial soap or antiseptic wipes?
No. Antibacterial soap is not a legal requirement. However, anyone handling food must make sure their hands are kept clean and they do not contaminate the food. Food handlers must make sure they properly wash their hands as frequently as necessary. If hand washing is properly carried out normal soap should be sufficient. However, antibacterial soap may also be used.
Antiseptic wipes may be used in addition to, but not instead of, proper hand washing. Alcohol hand disinfectants are only effective when used on physically clean hands as they are inactivated by dirt.
Q Is it illegal to use fresh pigs or beef blood to make black puddings?
No. It is not illegal to use fresh blood when making black pudding. Dried blood is more commonly used by manufacturers of large quantities of black pudding since fresh blood is a perishable product which is more difficult to store and handle than dried blood. Using dried blood is more convenient for larger operators and can ensure consistency.
If fresh blood is used it needs to be sourced from an approved premises where it has been harvested and stored hygienically. The risks need to be assessed and procedures implemented to control these risks. You will have to demonstrate to your inspector that what you are doing is safe and hygienic.
To help with enforcement consistency, FSAI are working on guidelines for this with local authority veterinary officers and will consult on the draft document in due course.
Q Is it a legal requirement to use plastic gloves when handling raw or cooked food?
No. It is not a legal requirement to wear plastic gloves when handling either raw or cooked food. Proper and frequent hand washing is critical to ensure safe food. Plastic gloves can be used but it is important to remember that gloves can be a source of contamination if certain rules are not followed:
- Hands must be clean before putting on gloves.
- Gloves must be changed regularly and properly disposed of.
- If gloves are used for certain duties such as cleaning, handling raw food, waste or money, they must always be disposed of before starting another activity.
NOTE: A food handler should question if there is any benefit in using disposable gloves for the particular activity before putting gloves on.
Q Is it a legal requirement to wrap bread in Farmers Markets or local shops?
It is not a legal requirement to wrap bread at farmers markets or local shops. It is however, a legal requirement that food is protected from any contamination. This applies to all food at all stages in the food chain. So, if the bread is properly protected it does not have to be wrapped.
In deciding if bread needs to be wrapped you need to consider:
- What is the level of protection given to the bread
- What other products is it displayed with
- Whether it is self service or is the bread kept behind the counter
- If self service, what staff supervision is there
- Where the bread is stored / displayed
- How is the bread protected from dust, pests or handling by customers
- Whether tongs or other utensils are available
- Whether bags are available
- Whether there are signs on how to handle the bread safely
Q Do I have to wash my salad and leaf vegetables with a sterilising fluid such as in Milton?
No. The risk associated with ready to eat fresh produce can be managed by thorough washing with potable water in appropriate washing facilities in the kitchen. Alternatively pre-prepared fresh produce can be used without further washing unless the supplier states that washing is required. You will need to demonstrate to your EHO that the facilities you have for washing ready to eat fresh produce are appropriate and managed so as to eliminate the risk of cross contamination.
Q I have been told that I must use prepared vegetables rather than fresh vegetables. Is this correct?
This is not a general requirement but may be an appropriate control for a particular food business. Some establishments may be too small or may not have suitable washing or preparation facilities. Vegetables which require preparation may compromise food safety by cross contamination e.g. peeling and washing potatoes. One option rather than limiting the menu would be to buy in pre-prepared vegetables and eliminate the risk of soil contamination and the need for vegetable preparation sinks where space is at a premium.
Each food business will need to be assessed on a case by case basis. Food establishments must be of adequate size and layout and have sufficient equipment / facilities relative to the food business being carried on to ensure cross contamination is not an issue.
Q Can I buy free range chickens and ducks from a local producer?
Yes. There is no specific law restricting the source of poultry that can be used by caterers. However, your general legal obligations under the food law including HACCP means that you must control the risks associated with poultry. Poultry, including free-range poultry, may be obtained from poultry slaughter establishments that are approved.
In Ireland, such establishments are approved by the Dept of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or the local authority. Poultry farmers may also slaughter small quantities of their own poultry (less than 10,000 birds per year) and supply them to local retail or catering businesses (within 100 km), without being approved – these poultry farmers must be registered with the local authority.
If poultry is slaughtered in an establishment that is not approved by or registered with the competent authority, then it is not considered safe. Your EHO may require you to produce evidence that your supplier is approved by or registered with the competent authority for slaughter of poultry. This means that your supplier should provide you with a copy of their approval number or registration form. Approval numbers can be checked on the FSAI web-site in the Food Businesses section (under Approved Food Establishments).
Q Can I stuff and cook a chicken or turkey or must I cook the stuffing separately?
You can stuff and cook poultry but need to be careful that you extend the cooking time to accommodate the increased weight of the bird and the reduced surface area for cooking when the cavity of the bird is full. FSAI recommends that you should ensure that the meat and the centre of the stuffing have reached a temperature of 75oC or above.
Temperature can be monitored with a meat thermometer. Unfortunately there is no appropriate visual check that can be done to ensure the centre of the stuffing is thoroughly cooked. If a meat thermometer is not used then cooking times should be calculated based on suitable safe cooking recommendations such as those provided by Safefood http://www.safefood.eu/christmas/turkey.html.
Q Do I need to keep salami refrigerated?
Certain types of salami have been recorded as a source of Listeria monocytogenes which is a harmful bacteria that is life threatening to some vulnerable people in the population. FSAI recommends that you store salami in the fridge which controls the risk of Listeria. Cured meats such as salami should only be stored outside the refrigerator if the manufacturer has confirmed that to do so would be safe. The manufacturer should issue clear time/temperature guidelines for each product that is stored in this way.
If you store Salami outside of the refrigerator your EHO may require you to demonstrate that either the product is not a risk with respect to Listeria or that your procedures are controlling the risk of Listeria
Q Do I need to vacuum pack whole homemade salami for offering for sale?
You will be required to demonstrate that you have assessed the risks involved in the production of home-made salami and that your procedures in your HACCP system control those risks.
Critical controls are:
- The final pH at the end of the fermentation.
- The rate of acidification of the mix.
- The quality of the raw materials.
- The drying rate and final water activity of the product.
- The final storage temperature.
- The shelf life.
Depending on the product, the production method and shelf life, vacuum packing may or may not be a necessary control. Depending on the nature of your business and where you sell the product, you may need approval under S.I. No. 432 of 2009 (implementing Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 ) for selling meat preparations to other food businesses. Your local EHO can advise you on this.
Last reviewed: 9/11/2011