Maintaining the cold chain is crucial to food safety. Whether running a fleet of refrigerated delivery trucks or driving an ice-cream van in the summer, food-related business owners and managers are legally responsible for ensuring compliance with current food safety laws.
If you're transporting chilled or frozen food, you need to be aware of the legislation regarding the transportation of perishable foods on the road. Food that's incorrectly stored or not kept at the right temperature can produce nasty surprises for your customers, and could mean a hefty fine for you.
Food transportation law and regulation
In the UK, the main laws and regulations relating to food temperature control are the following:
- Regulation (EC) 852/2004
- The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013
- The Food Hygiene (Scotland) Regulations 2006
- The Food Hygiene (Wales) Regulations 2006
- The Food Hygiene Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006
The above are due for review in June 2018. Now, don’t worry – you don’t need to memorise every single item in each of the above. However, you need to be aware of the established practices guaranteeing the food you transport and/or serve is safe for consumption. Also note that specific requirements can vary within the United Kingdom. If in doubt, the Food Standards Agency provides valuable references you can check up on.
Foods requiring temperature control
There are separate temperature stipulations for each category of food. Generally speaking, foods subject to temperature controls (whether chill or hot holding) are those “likely to support the growth of pathogenic micro-organisms or the formation of toxins”, which include:
- Dairy products and dairy-based desserts
- Cooked products and ready-to-eat products such as meat, eggs, fish, etc.
- Some smoked or cured fish and meats
- Uncooked or partly cooked pastry and dough products
Keeping things cool when transporting food
Cold food must be kept at or below 8°C (46°F). As a safety measure, it is recommended to set your fridge or refrigerated unit at 5°C (41°F). Frozen foods, such as ice creams, must be kept at -20°C (-4°F).
Whenever you are transporting food in your van, it's very important that you prevent it from becoming contaminated with any potential sources of microbes. In particular, you should take care that the following rules are obeyed:
- Food must be transported in containers or packaging that protect it from external contamination, including from non-food items transported simultaneously.
- Raw foods that need to be cooked must be kept separate from ready-to-eat foods, and stored such that nothing from the raw items can get into the ready-to-eat items.
- Vans used to carry food must be kept in good repair and scrupulously clean. Such vehicles must also be designed for effective cleaning and/or disinfection, e.g. between loads.
Temperature control and hygiene in the workplace
You can keep cold foods above the required temperature, but only for short periods (for instance, when transporting food from the depot to the van). If you are displaying cold foods at temperatures over 8°C (46°F), you can only do so for up to four hours, at which point said foods must be either served, sold or discarded.
If not kept at the proper temperature and in suitably hygienic conditions, certain foods can become hosts to a variety of dangerous bacteria – these include dairy products, prepared ready-to-eat foods, and various kinds of smoked meat or fish. Failure to comply with food safety standards could make your customers very ill and even lead, in some extreme cases, to fatal cases of food poisoning. If your business is found to be at fault, you could face severe penalties.
This means that, in addition to temperature control, good hygiene also involves keeping your workplace very clean and well-maintained. Any premises involved in food storage or preparation must be designed with this goal in mind. Such areas will often attract pests (such as flies, mice, rats, birds, etc.), so make sure you take steps to ensure your business is pest-free – for instance, by fitting screens over windows.