By Ana Turón, Head of Collective Catering and of the Collective Catering Congress
It has been 30 years since the ‘Codex Alimentarius’ (1993) Commission adopted the guidelines for the application of the APPCC system, incorporating it as an annex to the Code of General Principles of Food Hygiene. Also, in that same year, Directive 93/43 of the European Commission was published, now repealed, which established for the first time the obligation to implement self-control systems to guarantee food safety in all operators in the food chain, from food production to supply to the consumer, including social and collective catering, as well as commercial catering.
From then until today, the legislation has been evolving and countries have incorporated it through legislative acts or have adopted it without further ado when the rules are directly applicable. The concept of food safety has been gaining ground until it has evolved into the broader idea of ‘safety culture’; a term that has gained relevance in collective catering companies and that can be defined as the “shared values, beliefs and norms that affect the way of thinking and behaviour in relation to food safety, throughout an organization”. The objective is to raise awareness among the entire human team of a company of the importance and impact that the behaviour and actions of each person have on the safety of the product or menu that is being offered.
Because yes, safety is everyone’s business; and it is an issue, not only of regulatory requirement, but of responsibility and professionalism… even more so, in segments dedicated to feeding vulnerable groups such as hospitalized patients, institutionalized elderly people or school cafeterias.
In the words of Rosa Urdiales, president of the Spanish Food Safety Society (Sesal), “the evolution of catering in the last 20 years has been very positive and the establishments that work with levels of excellence are increasing every day. The catering sector is broad and diverse and therefore the levels of food safety are not homogeneous; however, we can affirm that, in general, the entire social and collective catering sector has a good level of food safety and works with high safety standards.”
Human factor, kitchen design, equipment and training
To avoid problems related to food safety, it is vital that the personnel responsible for handling food understand what lies behind the rules and those controls that must be carried out. The preparation processes in a community kitchen are very varied and complex, which is why, in the words of Félix Martín, author of ‘The black book of food safety in kitchens’, “in the field of professional kitchens, the operation of the processes and the final result depend largely on human intervention. Although it is true that the technological ‘aids’ for the performance and control of all kitchen operations are increasingly larger and better as we can see at sector trade fairs such as Hostelco&Restaurama, the truth is that people are still decisive in obtaining products final products (dishes, meals, menus, gastronomic experiences, etc.) with optimal quality and safety.”
Without contradicting this statement, Inés García, kitchen and catering management consultant at Agar Asesoría Alimentaria (one of the firms that you can find in the space ‘Catering in communities: meeting point’), comments that “although it is true that it has always been said that the safety of the food prepared in a kitchen depends entirely on the performance of its handlers, there are other variables that come into play that can lighten the load and contribute to success. The design of the facilities, the equipment, digitalization and, of course, training, are also decisive when it comes to guaranteeing food safety.”
A good kitchen design in terms of workflows, for example, avoids undesirable crossovers. The use of equipment such as blast chillers, essential in production centres for many menus, is also a guarantee of food safety; or the technological advances that have also revolutionized safety guarantees with programmable ovens and tilters, cameras that can report temperature data to a register without us doing anything, etc. etc.
It is also important to know how to choose the most suitable small equipment and even the tableware. Bormioli Rocco’s ‘Careware’ opal tableware, for example, is a guarantee of hygiene, as opal glass is non-porous, does not contain heavy metals and remains hygienic at all times as it does not lose its characteristics with use. It is a perfect partner for food safety control in catering services, as you will be able to see if you come and visit the aforementioned space aimed at the catering sector at Hostelco & Restaurama.
And all this without forgetting one of the latest advances, digital tools that, once configured with recipes and service forecasts, inform, among many other possibilities, of product traceability, supplier registration, production calculation according to historical data and even control of food waste, as we commented in the article included in the latest newsletter of the Horeca Stories.
‘1st ATX Allergy Protection Awards’
Finally, it is worth remembering that one of the biggest food safety problems in communities, and especially in school cafeterias, is allergies. According to data from the association ATX Elkartea, in conjunction with the ‘III Mediterranean Observatory of the school cafeteria’, in 2022, 38% of multi-allergic boys and girls were born, recording an average annual increase of 7 to 10%.
Regarding allergies identified to a single product in school cafeterias, the most frequent are to cow’s milk protein (18%), gluten (16.5%) and eggs (12%). Let’s not forget that it may cost an allergic person their life for a failure in food safety in a kitchen (anaphylactic shock).
Given the importance of this issue, and in collaboration with the aforementioned ATX Elkartea association, the new space ‘Catering in communities: meeting point’, will host the delivery of the ‘1st ATX Allergy Protection Awards’; awards that will reward companies, centres, initiatives and professionals in the community sector who stand out for their good management and adaptation of the service to the needs of allergic people.
The ATX Allergy Protection certification is a guarantee and quality seal that has international approval and endorses those collective catering companies that, after receiving various training and rigorous audits carried out by Laztan, present a food offer adapted to people who suffer from multi-allergies. A seal that many of the collective catering facilities and services already have (such as those of Serunion) that guarantee allergen-free community menus and offer projects for the inclusion of students with allergies.