With the country in lockdown and more spare time than ever before, more people have been cooking and baking at home. For those who have lost their jobs or are looking for some extra income, selling home-cooked food to the local community or on social media has become a potential career.
However the Food Standards Agency has issued an alert for Britons who could be putting their health at serious risk as many of these ‘home-cookers’ are not registering as an official food business and are potentially dodging health and safety checks.
Julie Barratt from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) told BBC: “Little food businesses are popping up like mushrooms in lockdown. There are rank outsiders operating off the radar, who think ‘Oh, my mum can cook’ and confuse cooking with catering.”
Many of these businesses are selling on social media outlets such as Instagram, Whatsapp and Nextdoor. This is allowing them to go unnoticed from authorities and health inspectors and could be endangering their customers.
Covid has meant the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is under a great deal of pressure and even businesses who do register, are not getting inspections because the FSA is struggling to keep up.
Hygiene inspections were stopped completely during the first lockdown and now they are working on a ‘scaled-back operation’ which is focusing on high-risk cases.
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Due to lockdown restrictions, inspections are carried out via video call, but Barratt warns that this will never be as effective as surprise, in-person inspections. They are now unable to spot things like ingredients past their use-by date or rat droppings under the cooker.
Even in circumstances where an in-person inspection is needed, authorities must give 24-hours notice as the inspection would be carried out at a private address.
Michael Jackson, FSA head of regulatory compliance, said: “If a consumer has any doubts about a food seller or a food product, they should report them to the local authority. If sellers are not following the rules, they may be fined, imprisoned for up to two years, or both.”
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According to official guidance on the Food Standards Agency’s website, any food operating business must register with their local authority at least 28 days before opening. They clarify that even if you do not define yourself as a business, if you are providing food on a regular and organised basis, you are a food business under food law.
You must also get permission from your mortgage provider or landlord, and the local council. You should also get some advice on insurance, tax allowances and business rates. More information can be found here.
You must also carry out a risk assessment. Here you can find more information on personal hygiene, pest control, cross contamination, cleaning, chilling and cooking, among other things.
Although it is not compulsory to have a food hygiene certificate, the Food Standards Agency recommend that you pursue one to improve your food hygiene knowledge.