Food safety is a top priority for every establishment that deals with food, whether it’s a food business, healthcare facility, or companies and schools serving meals to pupils, staff and visitors in cafeterias/canteens.
Good hygiene practices play a vital role and it’s not just a legal requirement in South Africa and most other jurisdictions, but a moral obligation to ensure that the food served is safe for consumption.
One of the most effective ways to ensure safe food practices is through regular hygiene audits. These audits help identify potential risks and ensure that proper hygiene protocols are being followed. In this article, we will discuss the importance of hygiene audits and the steps involved in the audit process.
What is a Hygiene Audit?
A hygiene audit is a systematic and independent assessment of a food business’s hygiene and sanitation practices.
The audit is typically conducted by a trained professional or a third-party auditor, like ASC Consultants, and follows a standardized inspection checklist. The auditor will evaluate various aspects of the establishment to ensure compliance with food safety regulations and other relevant standards.
For example, one such standard is the ISO/TS 22002-2 standard relating to catering. (Technical Specification that specifies the requirements for the design, implementation, and maintenance of prerequisite programmes (PRPs) to assist in controlling food safety hazards in catering).
Why are Hygiene Audits Important?
The primary goal of a hygiene audit is to ensure that food is being handled and prepared in a safe and hygienic manner. By identifying potential risks and areas for improvement, hygiene audits help prevent foodborne illnesses and protect consumers’ health. Additionally, hygiene audits can also help businesses maintain compliance with food safety regulations and avoid costly fines or closures.
These audits go beyond preventing foodborne disease outbreaks; they also boost consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply chain. By assessing compliance with food safety regulations, food service standards and granting certification, hygiene audits contribute to the overall well-being of the population. They encourage responsible business practices and allow consumers to enjoy their meals without worrying about health hazards.
Let’s have a look at some very important reasons why hygiene audits are a good idea.
Ensuring Compliance with Food Safety Regulations and Standards
- Hygiene audits help food establishments ensure that they are complying with the necessary food and health and safety standards and regulations.
- Audits assess various aspects such as cleanliness, sanitation, and proper handling of food to ensure that all legal requirements are met.
In this example, we will move away from the food industry and look at companies outside this industry that also need to comply with food hygiene requirements.
For example, a mining company that serves food to their staff and visitors in a cafeteria. Regulations R638 outlines strict guidelines for food safety, including proper handling, storage, and food preparation. To ensure compliance, the mining company will then regularly conduct hygiene audits in the food preparation and serving areas.
Identifying Potential Risks and Hazards
- Hygiene audits help in identifying potential risks and hazards that could lead to food contamination or foodborne illnesses.
- By conducting regular audits, food establishments can proactively address these risks and implement necessary measures to prevent any potential harm and future occurrence.
Imagine a restaurant in South Africa that specializes in serving seafood. During a hygiene audit, the auditor may inspect the restaurant’s kitchen and storage areas. They notice that the refrigerator where seafood is stored is not maintaining the proper temperature. This temperature issue can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria on the seafood, potentially causing foodborne illnesses if consumed.
In this case, the hygiene audit identified a potential food safety risk – improper temperature control of seafood storage. This risk could lead to contamination and foodborne hazards. The restaurant can then take corrective actions, such as repairing or replacing the refrigerator, to mitigate this risk and ensure the safety of its food products.
Improving Hygiene Practices
- Hygiene audits provide valuable feedback and recommendations for improving hygiene practices.
- By identifying areas that need improvement, food establishments can take corrective actions and implement better hygiene practices to ensure the safety of the food they serve.
A catering company in South Africa that regularly conducts hygiene audits as part of its food safety protocol. During one of these audits, the inspector identified a potential issue with cross-contamination in the kitchen. They notice that cutting boards used for raw meat are stored in close proximity to those used for vegetables, and there’s a risk of juices from the raw meat dripping onto the vegetables.
As a result of this audit finding, management takes immediate action. They implement a clear separation system for cutting boards, designating specific areas for raw meat preparation and vegetable preparation. They also conduct additional training sessions for their kitchen staff, emphasizing the importance of proper food handling practices to prevent cross-contamination.
Over time, with regular hygiene audits and ongoing monitoring, the restaurant maintains these improved practices. This not only ensures the safety of the food they serve but also enhances their reputation for food safety and hygiene among customers. This is a good example of how hygiene audits can pinpoint areas for improvement and drive positive changes in hygiene practices.
Key Areas Assessed During Hygiene Audits
- Audits assess the personal hygiene practices of food handlers, including handwashing, proper use of gloves (where applicable), and wearing clean uniforms.
- Proper personal hygiene is crucial in preventing the spread of bacteria and other contaminants.
Food Storage and Handling
- Audits evaluate the storage and handling practices of food, including proper temperature control, separation of raw and cooked foods, and appropriate labelling.
- Proper storage and handling practices help prevent cross-contamination and maintain the quality and safety of the food.
Cleaning and Sanitation
- Audits assess the cleanliness and sanitation practices of the food establishment, including the regularity of cleaning, use of appropriate cleaning agents, and maintenance of equipment.
- Proper cleaning and sanitation practices are essential in preventing the growth of bacteria and ensuring the safety of the food.
The Audit Process
The hygiene audit process typically involves the following steps:
1. Pre-Audit Preparation
Before the actual audit, the business should prepare by reviewing its own hygiene practices and procedures. This includes conducting a self-audit using the same checklist the auditor will use. This will help identify any potential issues that need to be addressed before the official audit.
2. On-Site Inspection
The auditor will conduct a thorough inspection of the facility, equipment, and processes. They will use their standardized checklist to assess the cleanliness and hygiene practices of the business. This may include checking for proper handwashing procedures, food storage and handling, and overall cleanliness of the facility.
3. Documentation Review
The auditor will also review the business’s documentation, such as food safety plans, training records, and cleaning schedules. This helps ensure that the business has proper procedures in place and is following them consistently.
4. Post-Audit Report
After the inspection, the auditor will provide a detailed report of their findings. This report will include any areas of non-compliance and recommendations for improvement. The business should use this report to make necessary changes and improvements to their hygiene practices.
In summary, hygiene audits are not mere formalities; they are vital tools in safeguarding public health and upholding the food industry’s integrity in South Africa and beyond.
Hygiene audits play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of the food we consume. By conducting regular audits and addressing any issues identified, food establishments can maintain compliance with food safety standards, identify potential risks, and improve hygiene practices.
By prioritizing hygiene audits, we can all contribute to a safer and healthier food environment.
Have you ever conducted a hygiene audit for your business? Let us know in the comments section below.