To win the battle against bacteria, scrub your staff daily and make sure their habits are clean
The chef wipes his nose with his hand and then dips a soiled finger into the sauce to taste it. The waiter bringing the starters to the table has an uncovered, weeping burn on his hand. Either is enough to ruin a good night out as well as damage a restaurant's reputation, and both have been spotted by environmental health inspectors.
Personal hygiene is not just a matter of good business practice, it's enshrined in European law. Regulation (EC)852/2004 Ch VIII states: "Every person working in a foodhandling area is to maintain a high degree of personal cleanliness and is to wear suitable, clean and, where necessary, protective clothing." Not even Eurocrats want a side order of BO or salmonella with their beef.
Hygiene rules and regulations could fill whole filing cabinets, so what are the key points? James Armitage, Assistant Operations Manager of Westminster City Council's Food Team, says, "Hand washing is critical and there must be suitably located washbasins with anti-bacterial soap and paper towels."
False nails and jewellery, other than wedding bands and stud earrings, shouldn't be worn. Hair must be tied back or put in a hair net and smoking is absolutely forbidden. "We have actually prosecuted a restaurant where the chef was smoking when preparing food," states Armitage.
Facilities vary from restaurant to restaurant and there's no need for marble baths and gold taps.
Along with washbasins and a staff toilet, somewhere to change with a mirror is the minimum requirement.
In an ideal world you would have lockers and a staff room too. David Williams, Head Chef at Greywalls in East Lothian, adds, "From the chef's point of view it would be great having sinks like surgeons do, so that you can control the taps without using your hands. We also have showers for livein staff and provide soap and freshly laundered towels daily."
It is important that all workers know what's expected of them. Making hygiene part of the recruitment process is an effective way of doing this. "Everyone has a full induction when they start and it then falls to senior staff to enforce the rules," says Williams. Having supervision is very important. You have to make sure staff take hygiene seriously. At Room restaurant in Leeds, the duty manager checks the staff before their shift begins. "If they're below standard we either ask them to fix it or, if they're completely disgraceful, we send them home," says manager Rob Leader.
Problems still arise, and not just with waiters. Tim Fisher, manager of The White Swan in Pickering, remembers working with a particularly smelly manager at a previous job. "It caused an issue with both staff and customers and I had to tell the owner." It's something he's come across now that he's a manager. "I dealt with it sympathetically and diplomatically, taking the person to one side to talk about it." No matter what you do, you must act quickly and professionally.
"Personal hygiene is so important," says John Dyson, Head of Food and Technical at the British Hospitality Association.
"Poor personal hygiene can result in food poisoning, damage to the restaurant's reputation and action by a customer."
The Food Team at Westminster follow up one hundred per cent of complaints and failing an inspection will lead to an improvement notice being served. "Not complying with an improvement notice carries a maximum penalty of £20,000 and/or six months imprisonment," states Armitage. If food poisoning is proven it can also result in a civil prosecution.
Dyson remembers a woman who caught salmonella from a meal out. "She took the restaurant to court and ended up with a six figure sum."
Hygiene hints - How to keep your people pristine
Follow these tips and make sure your staff don't cause a stink
- Make sure that hygiene is part of their induction
- Provide them with clear and simple rules and guidelines
- Make sure the hot water isn't too hot so that people use it to wash their hands
- If there is a sensitive hygiene issue, talk to the person individually and professionally. Make sure the supervisor talking is the same sex as the staff member
- Provide staff with lockers and a changing area
- Launder their uniforms regularly and keep spares in all sizes
- Ensure your supervisors keep an eye on everybody
- Check with local authorities and colleges for training For more information, please see food.gov.uk