Exploring food hygiene in care homes, we share a guide to a five rating.

Mealtimes in care homes are often seen as a highlight by many residents and the sector is known for serving up delicious and nutritious meals to help with the overall wellbeing of individuals. When the all-important meals are prepared and serves, strict guidelines surrounding safety and hygiene must be adhered to.

Food hygiene is critically important in a care home setting and kitchen teams must adhere to specific food safety regulations and standards set by health authorities. Failure to comply can result in legal repercussions or closure of the facility. Along with this, maintaining high food hygiene standards helps build trust among residents, their families, and the community; a care home with a reputation for excellent food hygiene is likely to attract more residents and positive reviews.

 “Regular training and staff education is essential in maintaining a high standard surrounding on-site food hygiene.”

To comply with regulations set out by the Food Standards Agency, a care home’s food safety procedures are assessed on the following aspects: hygienic food handling, food management systems and the physical condition of the home.

Along with rules highlighted by the Food Standards Agency, The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the independent regulator of care homes in England and part of this regulation includes making sure care homes properly handle, store and prepare food so that it meets the standards of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

CQC inspectors will look at a care home’s kitchen to check whether: food is in date and clearly labelled, equipment, work surfaces, cookers and appliances are clean, food has been stored correctly, separate chopping boards are being used to prevent cross-contamination, staff are washing hands before handling food and are following the correct protective procedures, such as wearing aprons.

Be sure to work in line with these rules and enforce hygiene policies and procedures clearly. This includes guidelines for cleaning schedules, food safety, waste management, and infection control.

Regular training and staff education is essential in maintaining a high standard surrounding on-site food hygiene. The entire team should all have the same knowledge, so educating all staff members about hygiene protocols, including proper handwashing techniques, sanitation procedures, and food-handling practices should be a priority as soon as they begin their role. The, moving forward, you must conduct regular training sessions to reinforce these practices.

“Good record-keeping demonstrates a commitment to maintaining high standards.”

When potential residents and their families visit care homes, cleanliness is often high up on their priority list, so you must ensure that the entire facility is kept spotless at all times. Regularly clean and sanitise all areas, including bedrooms, bathrooms, communal spaces, dining areas, and most importantly; the kitchen. Use appropriate cleaning agents and methods to eliminate bacteria and viruses effectively.

Staying on top of hygiene within your care home can be easily done by conducting regular internal audits and inspections to identify and address any hygiene issues promptly. This proactive approach allows for timely corrections before official inspections. Maintaining accurate records of cleaning schedules, staff training, and any incidents related to hygiene is crucial, especially when an inspection is due. Good record-keeping demonstrates a commitment to maintaining high standards.

Although it is of course important for your staff to promote good hygiene, encouraging residents and visitors to practice good personal hygiene will only help raise the standards, it’s all about working together. In line with this, you must provide facilities such as hand sanitisers, tissues, and appropriate waste disposal units throughout the care home.

It’s also worth collaborating with health officials and seeking advice from health inspectors. This proactive engagement can provide valuable insights and guidance on maintaining high hygiene standards.

Strive to continuously seek feedback and make necessary improvements to encourage a culture of continuous progress in hygiene practices within the care home.

“Our Infection Policy clearly outlines when employees should report illnesses.”

Mark Midgley, Group Hospitality and Wellbeing Manager at HICA Group sees that staff members undergoing appropriate food hygiene training is crucial to ensure the safety and wellbeing of residents, alongside ensuring the company is adhering to current legislation: “Proper training helps staff understand the risks associated with food handling, storage, and preparation. Training covers topics such as personal hygiene, cross-contamination prevention, and the importance of temperature control. Regular refresher courses are provided to keep staff up-to-date with the latest guidelines.”

The Food Standards Agency prioritises several key elements when assessing the hygiene of care homes. This includes personal hygiene of staff, cleanliness of facilities and equipment, safe food handling practices, temperature control during food storage and preparation, allergen control and effective measures to prevent cross-contamination.

When asked what is the appropriate way to make staff members aware of and following proper food safety protocols, Mark told us: “This is achieved through regular training sessions, distributing written guidelines, and displaying visual aids in the kitchen. Additionally, supervisors reinforce these protocols through regular monitoring and feedback.”

In terms of storing food items to prevent contamination and spoilage, Mark explained how food items should be stored according to their specific requirements and manufacturer guidelines, taking into consideration factors such as temperature, humidity, and shelf life. Raw and cooked foods must be stored separately to prevent cross-contamination. Refrigerators and freezers should be regularly cleaned, and a first-in, first-out (FIFO) system should be implemented to use older items before newer ones. Additionally, it is crucial to segregate and clearly label allergens to avoid cross-contact and ensure the safety of individuals with food allergies.

Mark said: “Protocols to avoid cross-contamination include using separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked foods, regular cleaning and sanitising of surfaces, and proper hand hygiene. Color-coded equipment can also be implemented to easily distinguish between items used for different food categories.”

It goes without staying that staff members who are ill should not handle food or be present in the kitchen. Mark added: “Our Infection Policy clearly outlines when employees should report illnesses, the steps to be taken if a staff member becomes ill while on duty, and when they can safely return to food handling duties in compliance with health regulations. All employees must sign off to say they have read this policy.”

Waste should be properly manages and therefore a disposal system should be put in place and all staff made aware. This involves separating different types of waste (e.g. organic, recyclable, non-recyclable) and providing designated bins for each. Regular disposal schedules and thorough cleaning of waste storage areas are essential to prevent odours, the spread of bacteria and the attraction of pests.

Mark told us how in all HICA Group homes, detailed records and documentation are maintained regarding hygiene practices and inspections: “This includes records of staff training, cleaning schedules, temperature logs, and any corrective actions taken. These records serve as evidence of compliance during inspections and help identify areas for improvement. All records are kept for 12 months.

“Along with this, a comprehensive system is in place to gather feedback from residents regarding food quality and hygiene. This includes conducting an annual food survey for residents and their families, organising tasting sessions with catering partners to ensure menu satisfaction, maintaining personalised food diaries for residents detailing their likes, dislikes, comments about meals and any hygiene issues that may arise, and actively seeking verbal feedback to address any immediate concerns and continuously enhance our culinary services.”

By consistently following these steps and maintaining a strong focus on hygiene and cleanliness, care homes can increase their chances of achieving and maintaining a five-star hygiene rating. Regular monitoring, staff training, and a commitment to high standards are essential for success in this area.