Some food businesses undertake activities that have a higher risk associated with them. We have provided some specialist guidance regarding some of these procedures. If your business is undertaking any unusual or high risk method of food production, it is essential that it is covered in your food safety management system to demonstrate how you manage the risk.

The Food Standards Agency has produced a free web tool to help businesses design food safety management systems based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles as required by EU Food Hygiene rules.

Vacuum Packing

Vacuum packing is a way of extending the shelf-life of food products without affecting the quality. It is a good way of preventing food spoilage, but it can create conditions which may lead to growth of anaerobic organisms. Therefore it's essential that procedures are put in place to minimise this risk including temperature controls and appropriate use-by dates.

Businesses undertaking vacuum packing will need to implement a specific HACCP-based system to control the particular hazards associated with this activity. The following procedures should be covered within the HACCP plan:

  • how you ensure your vac-pack machine is in good working order
  • how you ensure every product is properly sealed in order to maintain the correct atmosphere inside the packet
  • how you control cross contamination i.e not using the same machine to vac-pack both raw and cooked (ready to eat) food
  • how you assign a shelf life to products

In cases where the controls are absent or not consistently applied an appropriate level of enforcement action will be taken.

The FSA has produced a guidance document for vacuum packing.

Sous Vide

Sous Vide is a method of cooking vacuum packed food in a low temperature water bath or a controlled steam environment. This method of cooking is said to maintain the integrity of the ingredients and therefore should produce foods with enhanced flavours. However, this method can also carry significant risks in terms of food safety, so needs to be managed closely.

The absence of oxygen during sous vide cooking together with the low cooking temperature is an ideal environment in which the spore Clostridium botulinum can survive and grow, producing a toxin that is not destroyed by heat. Clostridium botulinum can cause severe food poisoning (botulism); symptoms include vertigo and constipation and it has a fatality rate of 5% to 10% in developed countries.

Businesses undertaking sous vide cooking will need to implement a specific HACCP-based system to control the particular hazards associated with this activity. The following factors should be covered within the HACCP plan:

  • documented safe methods for each product and information on how the methods have been validated to show the product will be safe (in addition to your food safety management system)
  • calibration records for the probe and the water bath
  • temperature records (including storage and reheating)
  • evidence of staff training on the sous vide process

In cases where the controls are absent or not consistently applied, an appropriate level of enforcement action will be taken.

'Gourmet' Burgers

'Gourmet' burgers are cooked rare (still pink in the middle) The FSA has advised "that burgers should be cooked thoroughly until they are steaming hot throughout, the juices run clear and there are no pink bits inside". However, they have now proposed a new approach to the preparation and service of 'gourmet' burgers for food businesses due to the growing trend.

There are a number of controls that need to be put in place and food business operators must be able to demonstrate to the food safety officer that specific procedures have been put in place to minimise the food risks associated with 'gourmet' burgers. The following controls should be considered:

  • sourcing meat from establishments that are approved under EU legislation and have specific controls in place to minimise the risk of contamination of meat intended to be eaten raw or lightly cooked
  • ensuring the supplier carries out appropriate testing of raw meat to check their procedures for minimising contamination are working
  • strict temperature controls during storage and cooking
  • providing advice to the consumer on the menu regarding the additional risk from pink burgers

In cases where the controls are absent or not consistently applied, an appropriate level of enforcement action will be taken.

Further advice can be found on the FSA website.

E. Coli O157

Escherichia O157 (E. coli) is a bacterial infection that can be caught by eating contaminated food, touching infected animals or drinking water from inadequately treated water supplies. The symptoms of this infection include diarrhoea, stomach cramps and occasionally a fever that can last up to two weeks.

Food businesses need to have procedures in place to control cross-contamination between raw foods (potential source of E.coli) and cooked (ready-to-eat) foods. Food business operators need to decide on controls that are appropriate to their business and ensure that a consistent approach is taken. Here are some of the controls that should be considered:

  • separation between raw and ready-to-eat foods
  • effective cleaning and disinfection procedures
  • personal hygiene, particularly handwashing and handling practices
  • management controls and training

The FSA has produced a guidance document for E. coli O157 control of cross-contamination.

Contact

For further information, please contact the Food & Safety team: