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FAQs catering at fundraising events

Whether you're selling cakes at a bake sale or serving up curry at your quiz night, how can you ensure that the food you serve is safe?

Worried about visitors at your event with food allergies? Want advice on transporting and reheating food? We put these and other frequently-asked questions to the team at the Food Standards Agency.

We hold several evening events each year, serving a hot meal. Do we need to have a food hygiene certificate?

The detailed food hygiene legislation only applies if the food handling operation is a regular organised event. Decisions on whether they should apply are made on a case-by-case basis by local authorities, and the FSA recommends that you contact the enviromental health department within your local authority to confirm how any legislation might apply. Where events are considered to be occasional, they remain subject to the general food safety rules. These require all food served to be safe, regardless of whether they're for profit or not.

NOTE: We have had several queries from community groups receiving conflicting advice from local authorities, with requirements varying considerable. Where a food hygiene certificate is required, you may want to consider sending volunteers for training. The Level 2 certificate in Food Safety is a one-day course, costing around £65. To find courses awarded by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) near you, click here.

We run a cake stall at our fairs with donated home-made treats. Are we liable for any illnesses resulting from something eaten?

Anyone supplying food in such circumstances is legally responsible for ensuring that the food they supply is safe. It's important that you take care to follow the hygiene advice available on the NHS Choices website: nhs.uk/Livewell/homehygiene. Your local authority can also provide advice. If someone were to fall ill as a result of eating food that you've sold, your local authority might investigate to determine the cause.

Do we need to wear gloves to serve cakes and should we have one person serving, and another handling money?

Gloves can help with good food hygiene practice, but they're not a substitute for thorough hand-washing. Ideally it would be good food hygiene practice to have separate people handling money and serving the food, but this is not always possible. Instead it's important for food handlers to wash their hands or change gloves regularly. Also tongs can help to minimise direct contact between hands and food.

Should we ban products cotaining nuts completely or simply make sure that any items donated are clearly labelled?

Some organisations have chosen to ban foods which they know some supporters are allergic to at such events. However, people can be allergic to a wide range of food. Another approach would be to provide clear labelling so that those attending your events can make informed choices and avoid foods which could cause an allergic reaction. Also minimising cross-contamination from other foods will need to be managed to reduce the risk of accidental exposure to food allergens.

Should we buy fresh or frozen burgers for our BBQ?

In terms of food safety, choosing between fresh or frozen burgers makes little difference. As long as the frozen burgers are defrosted properly before cooking, and they are cooked thoroughly (until steaming hot in the middle with no pink meat left), then it really comes down to personal choice. Some frozen burgers come with instructions to cook from frozen, in which case the manufacturer should have ensured that the cooking times provided are suitable to ensure a safe final product. In the absence of any instructions, or if in doubt, defrost carefully in the fridge overnight and use the burgers within two days.

If using fresh burgers, make sure that they are used by their use by date. The FSA recommends they should still be cooked until steaming hot in the middle with no pink meat left.

We're having a buffet at our next event. How long can we leave this out at room temperature for?

For occasional events, there aren't any regulations that specify a maximum time that food can be left out. However, in the interests of safety, you shouldn't keep food out for longer than four hours. Warm food shouldn't be left cooling down for more than two hours. Any remaining food should be put back in the fridge or thrown away. If you have kept leftovers in the fridge, don't let them stand around at room temperature when you serve them again.

Do guidelines exist for preparing, transporting and reheating food, and for keeping it warm?

The FSA advice for preparing food safely in the home is based around the 'Four Cs.' That's 'Cooking' your food thoroughly, 'Chilling' it properly, 'Cleaning' kitchen surfaces and utensils, and avoiding 'Cross-contamination' between foods. There are some general guidelines on the NHS Choices website: nhs.uk/Livewell/homehygiene.

When transporting food, obviously make sure you use clean containers and equipment. If reheating food then do so thoroughly, making sure it reaches a temperature of 70˚C for two minutes, or equivalent, so that it is steaming hot throughout.

If you need to keep food hot for some time before serving, you should cook it thoroughly, until steaming hot, then keep it at a temperature of 63ºC or above.

For further information have a look at the 'Cooking Section' of the Safer Food, Better Business (SFBB) pack (caterers). This has been developed by the FSA to help small businesses, however the advice on good hygiene practice may also be relevant for charitable organisations. Go to food.gov.uk


 

 


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