Older people are more likely to suffer from food poisoning and become ill because aging weakens the immune system’s ability to fight infection. So, it is important that kitchen staff take extra care when dealing with food intended for people in care homes.
The Food Safety Act 1990, Food safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995 and food safety (Temperature Control) Regulations 1995 covers the preparation, storage and service of food. The CQC requires that care services ensure that the food and drink they provide is handled, stored, prepared and delivered in a way that meets the requirements of the Act. The local authority is responsible for enforcement through environmental health and Trading Standards. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) can intervene where local authorities fail to meet the requirements and in emergency situations.
It would seem however that not all providers are complying to the regulations and the requirements of CQC. A recent inspection into the hygiene standards of a care home highlighted a series of very poor practices. The inspector on his visit had found:
• Out-of-date food
• Dirty equipment
• Badly stored produce
• Dirty uncleaned work surfaces
• Dirty microwave and cookers
• Chopping boards used for ready to eat food and raw meats were stored together.
When observed, staff did not even wash their hands!
It is critical, that care providers run a tight ship within their kitchens and the general handling of food by staff and the working environment is operating safely. Failure to do so can have grave consequences for service users. Listeria is quite common where basic hygiene and preparation is not observed and can result in fatalities particularly amongst the frail.
I would suggest several actions that providers could take to prevent poor food hygiene practices in care homes including:
• Management involvement in kitchen practice
• All staff should receive comprehensive training and be aware of their responsibilities when handling food.
• Food hygiene training must be up to date.
• Monitoring and auditing kitchen practice.
The manager has the overall responsibility for ensuring that excellent standards of food hygiene are observed. The manager should always take an active role in monitoring both the practices of staff and the environment in the kitchen. This incident could have been avoided if the manager regularly put on their white overalls and looked in on the kitchen staff and observed the practice of kitchen staff and the environment. In addition, the manager should have carried out scheduled written audits and monitoring to ensure that standards were being upheld.
It would appear that in this case, the monitoring and auditing of the kitchen environment by the manager and senior kitchen staff had fallen short of acceptable standards, or has not been carried out at all. It is essential that the Manager monitors all environments including the kitchen area within the home to ensure that they comply with regulation and standards and safeguard the health and safety of service users who eat out of their kitchens.
The responsibility of preparing and dealing with food in care home kitchens is often left to the cook or chef. However, the registered manager carries overall responsibility for the food provided to service users. The recent inspection that highlighted poor practice in food hygiene, provides a timely reminder to registered managers that responsibility for food cannot be delegated solely to cooks and chiefs. It is their duty to ensure best practice is carried out in the kitchen and the wellbeing of service users is safeguarded.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute
Bettal Quality Consultancy