A When starting on a new venture, it is best to check out what your local environmental health officer expects you to do. You should ensure the same standards of production and recording of procedures as you do for products sold through your shop. Perhaps the most important procedure to stick to is adherence to the Temperature Control Regulations. The regulations cover cooked food, most smoked and cured ready-to-eat meat, and other prepared, ready-to-eat foods. They apply to all food businesses right through the production chain, taking in preparation, storage, handling, processing, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and transport of food. They also cover keeping food cool and hot.
Hot food should be kept at a temperature of 63C or above. To be on the safe side of the law, you should maintain this temperature as a minimum at all times, in the shop and during the journey to your customers. To do so, you will need containers that maintain the temperature during transport. You should also keep written temperature records, as well as records of journeys made.
Some containers have useful extras. At the recent Food & Drink Logistics Show in Birmingham, for example, Dometic WAECO International demonstrated its range of TropiCool coolers. As well as cooling to 30C below ambient temperature, they also heat up to 65C via 12/24/230 volt connections. There are four sizes of container to choose from and a range of extra modules can be purchased, including a data logger with software and connection for continuous recording of temperature, and an attachable mini-printer for printing out information directly. You should shop around to see what other similar containers may be available.
Although the Regulations recognise it is impossible to keep foods at the recommended temperature at all times and also have degrees of flexibility, called tolerances, using a container type delivery systems and recording temperatures will eliminate any need to rely on flexibility. It is also the best way to retain the absolute quality of the food.
Q I've started making cooked beef stew and selling it as a ready-prepared meal that can be simply reheated. It is put into a vacuum-packed bag and stored in our shop fridge before sale. What labels do I need to put on it? ST
A The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 require that food be marked or labelled with:
l The name of the food
l A list of ingredients (including any food allergens)
l The amount of each ingredient that is named or associated with the food
l An appropriate durability indication for example, best before' or 'use by' dates
l Any special storage conditions or instructions for use
l Your retail name and address
l The place where the food was manufactured if different to the above.
In addition and more specifically when it comes to beef stew there are the Beef Labelling Regulations. Advice on these should be available through your local enforcement authority or trade body.
Q I want to get in touch with the British Bacon Curers' Federation, but cannot find their address. DWJ
A The organisation no longer exists. It was absorbed into the British Meat Manufacturers' Association in 1976. That subsequently joined forces with the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers and is now called the British Meat Processors' Association or BMPA.
Fred A'Court was editor of Meat Trades Journal for more than 15 years. During that time he saw the industry go through a great deal, giving him valuable insight into what makes the sector tick. Here he offers the opportunity for butchers and retail operators to get practical answers to the kind of issues they are facing every day. If you have a trade question that you would like to have answered, and no-one else can help, write to 'Ask Fred' at Meat Trades Journal, William Reed Publishing, Broadfield Park, Crawley, RH11 9RT or email email@example.com