The kitchen areas in a care home are one of the hubs within the building, serving up delicious, healthy meals for residents at least three times daily, in addition to hot drinks, snacks and baked goods. Good food hygiene is always important, but in a care home, it’s vital.
Catering staff must take the utmost care to ensure that cooking and preparation areas are kept clean and germ-free.
So, why is good food hygiene important in care homes? Read on to find out.
What is food hygiene?
The terms food hygiene and food safety are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two.
Food safety is in fact used to refer to all the practices that must be followed to make sure that food is safe to eat, whereas food hygiene is an offshoot of food safety and concerns the processes that directly involve the food and its ingredients, such as storage, food prep and cooking.
Why good food hygiene is vital in care homes
We all know that food hygiene is important, but it’s particularly important in a care home. This is because residents are often elderly, frail, have weaker immune systems, ongoing health problems and are more vulnerable to diseases, making them more likely to suffer from things like food poisoning.
Further, being unwell weakens the immune system and makes it harder for the body to fight infection. Getting sick from food that has gone off or hasn’t been cooked properly might give a younger person symptoms that range from mild discomfort to a nasty tummy bug, but can be very dangerous for an elderly person.
The UK government issues food hygiene ratings to businesses, make sure to check these when looking for a care home.
FSA Regulations and legal requirements
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Food Standards Agency, or FSA, is a government department that protects public health in relation to food, by working with local authorities to ensure that food requirements and laws are met, including in the health and social care sector.
To comply with the Food Standards Agency, a care home’s food safety procedures are assessed on the following aspects:
- Hygienic food handling
- The physical condition of the home
- Food management systems
The Food Safety Act of 1990, General Food Hygiene Regulations of 1995 and the Temperature Control Regulations of 1995 all cover the correct way to prepare, store and serve food.
Care homes must have a Food Safety Management System (FSMS) in place, based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point or HACCP, principles, just like those who run food businesses. In essence, anything or anyone that handles food storage, prep and serving must follow these principles.
Food safety management and food hygiene best practice
Some of the main elements of good food management and hygiene practices are:
- Good personal hygiene, including washing hands, wearing protective clothing such as aprons and hairnets and general cleanliness
- Cleaning procedures, including washing and disinfecting the kitchen, equipment, plates and cutlery
- Food storage, such as using proper containers, labelling and temperature control, especially with sensitive foods like meat and fish
- Preventing cross-contamination of harmful bacteria through use of separate chopping boards and storage, also with regards to allergens
- Cooking food at the appropriate temperature, again particularly with meat, fish and also rice
Care home catering or kitchen staff must receive comprehensive training and be aware of their responsibilities when preparing or cooking food in the home.
The care home manager should inspect the kitchen and its staff to ensure that all guidelines are being followed, carry out regular written audits and monitor processes. Care home staff must also inspect food gifts brought in by relatives and friends, particularly homemade or baked goods.
Often, residents and their friends and family will be given guidelines about what is acceptable to bring in as a food gift.
Next, we’ll take a look at the main elements of food safety management and hygiene:
Food handling is inevitable when you work in a restaurant, café, kitchen or catering service. You’ll be sorting out ingredients, chopping, mixing and moving them around the kitchen, so clean hands and protective clothing are a must.
In a care home, residents may also handle ingredients themselves, such as fruit or veg grown in the garden, so ensuring that everything is properly washed before use is key.
Some foods need to be stored in a certain way to prevent them from going off. Refrigerating or freezing food can also help reduce the risk of food poisoning.
Food must be prepared properly to avoid cross-contamination of harmful bacteria. You can avoid cross-contamination by regularly cleaning your hands and equipment between preparing different ingredients and using separate chopping boards and utensils.
If residents are involved in cooking at the home, a Level 2 Food Hygiene Certificate is needed for staff. Some residents love cooking and the chance to relive old memories, particularly those with dementia. As long as you fully supervise cooking sessions and use good hygiene practices throughout, there’s no reason why residents can’t enjoy cooking up some of their old favourites!
Special dietary requirements
Today’s care homes are well-versed in dietary requirements – and many care homes offer diets that cater to vegan, vegetarian, halal, kosher and diabetic residents, among others.
Tailored care packages mean that each resident’s requirements and needs are treated individually, including dietary requirements. If you are thinking of making the move into a care home, it’s a good idea to check in with the care home manager if you will require a special diet.
Food allergies and intolerances range in severity; from mild symptoms such as itching or stomach upsets to more serious allergies that can cause anaphylactic shock or even death.
If a care home resident has any food allergies, this should be clearly highlighted in their care profile and their meal plan should be adjusted to ensure they do not consume or come into contact with their allergens.
Care home kitchens should follow the practices and processes to avoid cross-contamination, especially if some residents have allergies and special dietary requirements.
Care homes – and any other food business – must provide information about the 14 types of allergen used in their food and drink. It is also a legal requirement to keep a record of the food products that have been bought, where they were purchased, the quantity and the date and allergen information. Care homes can do this by retaining all food-related invoices and receipts.
Meeting CQC guidelines
The CQC, or Care Quality Commission, requires care homes to check that the food and drink they give residents are properly handled, stored and prepared to meet the standards of the Food Standards Agency and food Acts, while the local authority is responsible for enforcement through environmental health and Trading Standards.
If a care home or local authorities are believed to have failed to meet food standards, the FSA can intervene, especially in emergency situations.
CQC inspectors will look at a care home’s kitchen to check whether:
- Food is in date and clearly labelled
- Equipment, work surfaces, cookers and appliances are clean
- Food has been stored correctly
- Separate chopping boards are being used to prevent cross-contamination
- Staff are washing hands before handling food and following the correct protective procedures e.g. wearing aprons
Penalties for non-compliance
The CQC has the power to put care homes under special measures, or even close them down if it is decided that residents’ health and wellbeing is at risk. In more serious cases, or incidents where a resident has been injured or harmed, the CQC can initiate prosecution. The FSA can also intervene in emergencies, or where it deems local authorities have failed to meet Food Act requirements.
In a care home, the responsibility of looking after the food is primarily the duty of the kitchen staff or chef. However, the care home manager is also responsible, meaning it’s a team effort between manager and catering staff to deliver high-quality, healthy food that has been prepared in a clean and hygienic environment.