Food safety…how much fun can it be?!

On Saturday I dragged myself out of bed at 6.30am so I could be at Crisis’ Skylight Café in London for a one day training course on food safety. I know what you’re thinking… There’s no way you’d get out of bed that early on a weekend to attend a glorified health and safety course! I wasn’t thrilled either, but the alternative was doing it online, which would definitely have been worse. Like all other Crisis volunteers who will be working in a kitchen over Christmas, I had to do my Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Level 2 Award in Food Safety, as nobody is allowed to work with food without this.

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As it happens, I genuinely enjoyed the course, thanks to a fantastic teacher who made the materials come to life with simple explanations and funny anecdotes. It helped that she had experience of working with Crisis, so could relate the course content to the reality of a Crisis Christmas kitchen. Like most things health and safety related, the course was mainly common sense. You know, things like making sure you wash your hands after you go to the toilet, having a separate chopping board for raw meat, or keeping work surfaces clean. But I did also pick up a number of interesting bits of information that I never knew, such as:

  • The optimum temperature for a fridge is between 1-4 degrees (I’m this close to buying a fridge thermometer so I can monitor mine!)
  • Disinfecting kills 99.9% of bacteria. Canning food is the only way getting rid of absolutely all bacteria, because of the high temperatures involved
  • Food poisoning isn’t caused by bacteria themselves, but by the toxins they produce
  • Mice are the most common pests in the UK, followed by cockroaches and flies
  • In food factories and some restaurants, bearded men have to wear a beard snood (the beard equivalent of a hair net)!

Although following food safety procedures is important in any kitchen environment, our trainer pointed out something I hadn’t considered before. Crisis kitchens are run by volunteers, with varying degrees of experience. We serve food to people who may have reduced levels of immunity; plus we are catering on a mass scale. All of these factors increase the risk of food poisoning and could potentially be a – ahem – recipe for disaster. So, food safety might not exactly be glamorous, but I have very good reason to be vigilant during my shifts as a Kitchen Coordinator!

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