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28 March 2012

Food, glorious food

Food, glorious food

Practicing hospitality goes way back to the very beginnings of our story as the people of God, and in an age where the term is more commonly associated with an industry than with heart warming generosity it's important that Christians reclaim it. Churches and food should go together! But it's not that simple because there are a number of regulations and simple requirements that accompany the preparation, storage, and serving of food in places of worship. And the same basic food safety rules apply whether you regularly handle food or only do so on one-off occasions.

The Food Safety Act 1990 is the main source of food safety law though it seeks to establish general principles rather than cover detailed regulations. There are various food hygiene regulations which have to be complied with regardless of whether your church is registered under the Food Safety Act. These are summarised below and further details can be obtained from your local Environmental Health Dept or the Food Standards Agency (www.food.gov.uk/safereating)

Registering your premises

  • It is a requirement that if you are going to serve or prepare any food, whether for sale or not, for five or more days in any five consecutive weeks you have to register your premises with your local authority (usually the Environmental Health Dept) under the Food Safety Act
  • Weekly coffee mornings or similar events require registering but not occasional events 
  • This also applies if vending machines are located in the premises
  • You should contact them before you start any food related activities because you may be required to register as a food related business and if so registration must take place 28 days before you actually start
  • On registration your premises will be visited. Advice will be given and the premises classified depending on risk levels and indication of frequency of future visits provided

Training requirements

  • All food handlers, including volunteers, should be trained to a level appropriate to the work they do - your local authority should be able to advise on this and accredited courses
  • A basic food hygiene course is usually recommended for all. In addition, ensure one person is more fully aware of the various regulations & ensures compliance with them

Facilities for preparing & serving food

  • The room should be large enough to ensure safe food handling with adequate ventilation and the layout helping prevent cross contamination of ready to eat products with bacteria from raw foods
  • There should be a separate sink for preparation & cleaning activities and a washbasin with hot & cold water, soap, and clean towels (paper towels best)
  • Walls, ceiling (not ceiling tiles), and all work surfaces should be in good condition made of easy to clean, non-porous, hard-wearing materials
  • Floors should be easy to clean and slip resistant (not carpeted)

Handling food hazards

The aim is to reduce any risks by conducting assessments to ensure there are adequate controls in place to prevent hazards from food activities. Hazards can be from bacteria, chemicals, equipment, or physical problems like broken glass in food. It is important that 

  • Each step of the food preparation process is looked at from buying foodstuffs through storage, cooking, serving, and storing any prepared foods along with any other steps in between - and controls are put in place to reduce risks
  • Ensure food is kept at the correct temperatures to prevent food poisoning - fridges (below 8° Celsius) and freezers (below -18° Celsius) should be regularly checked to ensure the temperature is cold enough and use food probes to check the temperature of cooked foods
  • People handling food should wear suitable protective clothing worn only in the food preparation area. Also, remove jewellery, securely tie back long hair, and protect cuts to the skin with plasters
  • Ensure there are guards on sharp kitchen equipment & knives are properly stored
  • Use only food-safe cleaning chemicals e.g. not those containing bleach
  • Regularly remove rubbish from the kitchen area using only small easy to clean containers with close-fitting lids

Is all this really necessary?

  • Contravention of the Act or regulations could result in a criminal conviction with ignorance of the law usually being insufficient excuse
  • If accused of food poisoning if it can be demonstrated that reasonable precautions have been taken this will be taken into consideration

And we want to extravagantly bless those our churches offer hospitality to so it's worth doing this well...  

Fran Beckett OBE
Consultant - Anthony Collins Solicitors