Thursday, September 23, 2010

FSA, Not Toothless, But Spineless

There was a small news item in the Indy last week (also on BBC link below) in which the FSA, Food Standards Agency, said that they were worried by the amount of food service establishments who were still using washable, as opposed to disposable, cleaning cloths. The FSA went on to moan about the large percentage of restaurants who were apparently ignoring their recommendations.

The problem here is that the FSA are utterly spineless when it comes to issuing guidelines.  When a guideline is a recommendation then people are free to take them up on it or not. If a guideline is law, then food service managers and employees would know exactly where they stood, either you do as the FSA say, or you are breaking the law.

What the FSA, and their enforcement troops the Environmental Health Officers are really great at doing though is covering their own backs.  They don't ever issue a direct, unequivocal guideline or straight down the line piece of advice, they must be trained to use mealy mouthed expressions like "we recommend" or "it might be best if" when talking to caterers.

A few years ago I attended a hygiene training course about risks and risk assessment, a lot of the chefs and managers on the course found the lack of absolute policy on the course frustrating.  One of the sessions was an open Q&A session with two Environmental Health Officers, for an hour they were bombarded with questions and what we most wanted to know was absolutes.  The EHO's were asked over and over again questions like "how many times a day must we perform temperature checks on our fridges ?" and over and over again the EHO's wriggled and squirmed and refused and gave answers like "well you must do them enough times so that you are sure in your own mind that sufficient care has been taken."

It isn't fair for an EHO with degree level training to be telling a cook with a Stage 1 hygiene certificate that the cook bears all the responsibility without giving them the answers they need.  The EHO/FSA should tell people what must be done, if we are told that temperature checks must be carried out 4 times a day, then we would all know and understand what the minimum requirement is, and we would know when we were falling short of it.

At the end of the course we were asked to fill in a questionnaire about the training methods and information supplied, everyone I spoke to said they rated the course as being very poor, and the manager of a Leeds hotel said he would be writing to the agency to demand his money back for himself and the three employees he had brought along.

Back to the cloths then, what is the risk of a washable cloth ? Well obviously it is that someone is going to use the cloth to clean up something that might well contaminate other foods, a blood spill or soil from vegetables for example, and then go on to use the cloth further around kitchen, spreading bacteria as they go.  Why don't a lot of catering establishments use disposable cloths ? Because it adds yet more cost to their overheads, disposable cloths are scarcely cheaper than washable ones and you often use more of them for the same job as they tend to disintegrate when used for scrubbing stubborn or dried on food debris.

The best practise with washable cloths then is to use a cloth to clean away any debris from the surface to be cleaned, and put that cloth straght in the wash basket, then spray the surface with anti-bacterial spray, leave for the recommended contact time, and wipe off with a clean cloth also sprayed with anti-bacterial spray, and the second cloth goes directly into the wash basket as well.
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1 comment:

  1. and all because they don't want to be prosecuted if one of their stated guidelines happens to prove insufficient. solution: don't state any guidelines.

    it's the modern disease it seems.

    saying that, though - I thought the ConDems said they were abolishing the FSA? not replacing it with anything better. just abolishing it.