Food Hygiene!

Published 18th May 2012 by lucy moore

The wonderful, thorough and conscientious Jenny Brandon has been researching what she needs to do to meet the regulations for food hygiene for her Messy Church. We both thought her discoveries would be useful to other teams, so here’s the correspondence:
Jenny: We started here in Chudleigh (South Devon) in February, and were absolutely bowled over by the response – we thought a few families might come, and ended up feeding 120! Now we have a problem. I believe our Vicar Paul Wimsett emailed you some time ago to check requirements – and yes, two of us have our food handling certificates, BUT our tiny church kitchen, which was reordered only a few years ag,o was only designed to cater for teas and coffees. We do occasionally do a lunch (Harvest/Maundy Thursday, and so on) for 30-40 maximum, but it was never designed for proper cooking and washing up. My query is (I am assuming that other Messy Churches have had a similar problem)that several of us have to cater at home – 120 is an awful lot! – and I am concerned about the Food Regulations regarding this. I have found a website that seems to suggest that churches are not exempt from the rules even when providing food voluntarily and for free, and therefore the EHO could ask to visit homes where the food is cooked. I am living in hopes that the PCC will be looking at our church building – which is far from ideal and we have no hall – but of course these things take an awfully long time. Would you be able to advise us where to go for more info please? We want to do things properly, but our church facilities are woefully inadequate, and we would hate to stop providing meals, which we see as an essential part of MC (rather like our ALPHA courses we have run).
Many thanks, Jenny Brandon
Lucy: What a great story! So pleased you got off to such a good start. It sounds amazing.
I would advise you to get in touch with your local Environmental Health Officer or Health and Safety Officer or whatever name they go by: anecdotally other churches have done this and when the EHO has come out on a visit, they have been really really helpful and positive: I think they would answer your question much better than I would and with much more authority.
In any case, I’m sure bringing cold food from home is no problem at all, but there may be other ways forward that your EHO can recommend. All the best!
Jenny: Many thanks Lucy for your reply. I feared we may have to go down that route! It is not only cold food, we have also done slow cookers and baked potatoes, but cooking for 120 has to be sustainable and safe when we have to bring absolutely everything into church.
Lucy: Who knows – the EHO may open up huge vistas of culinary possibilities…
Jenny: An update and a thank you!
One of our team contacted the EHO who was very helpful – what a relief! All of the catering team will need to do the food handling course, and probably have an ‘inspection’ and register all the homes that cook for MC, but it sounds pretty low key – more a matter of making sure there are no rats or cockroaches (!) and would he be happy to eat a meal prepared there rather than any looking for faults. He was very impressed that we had done our research and done as much as we could to minimise any risk, rather than wait for something awful to happen and then address it! We are a small team, and the type of things we cook are low risk. Definitely the right route to take. He also hadn’t heard of MC so Ruth was able to enlighten him! Perhaps we will ask him to join us for a session. Who knows what might happen!
Thank you so much for your encouragement!
P.S. The PCC is also looking at a possible reordering, so maybe, one day, we will have a real kitchen – and that would open up all sorts of catering opportunities for our church! I have a vision…!
Lucy: Jenny this is brilliant! Such a relief as well as an affirmation of common sense. With your permission I’ll put your story on the website as it will really help other teams. What a nice start to the day.
Jenny: I have just received confirmation that the MC monthly food provision falls outside the regulations, (more frequent, for example weekly ones – would not). As long as there is a small named catering team (it was suggested 4-5 maximum) who have all done the food handling course online ( no home inspections are needed (the EHO said it was common sense stuff) and we have taken all necessary precautions. The EHO agreed it would be a good idea to display copies of the certificates in the church kitchen, and also to have a brief policy document – short and very clear on what our aims are, risk assessment, and so on and the steps we have taken to ensure safe food handing for MC sessions (food handling certificates, contact with EHO, and so on) – nothing complicated. I don’t know whether other districts may interpret the European regulations differently, but we have found our local EHO very helpful, and they left the door open for us to come back with any queries we may have in the future.
I feel this has clarified the issue. We are relieved! We can go forward knowing that we have everything on a proper footing, and with official blessing.
I do hope this may be of use to other groups.
Lucy: Yee ha. All systems go. We look forward to six course evangelistic banquets issuing from the South Chudleigh kitchens in due course. I will get all this on the web asap. Huge thanks for sharing.

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