Frequent food temperature and safety checks are fundamental to the safe operation of food businesses. Some foods will become dangerous if maintained at the wrong temperature. Whether you’re a caterer or retailer, own a five star restaurant, run a mobile hot dog van, sell food privately or publicly, for profit or fund raising, you will need to comply with Food Hygiene Regulations (England 2006), which apply to every type of food business.
If the regulations aren’t met, besides breaking the law, you run the risk of cultivating harmful bacteria or toxins, failing health and safety audits, and seriously jeopardising someone’s health.
What Are These Regulations?
Chilled foods – It’s a legal requirement to ensure fresh produce that’s liable to ‘go off’ is kept at 8°C or below. To ensure this, the air temperature should be between 0°C and 5°C. Food requiring refrigeration can be kept at a higher temperature for no longer than 4 hours. Once this time has elapsed, the food temperature must be lowered to 8°C until sold or discarded. It is recommended that freezers are maintained at -18°C.
Hot Foods – It’s a legal requirement to ensure hot-held foods are kept at 63°c or above. These foods may be held at a lower temperature for up to a maximum of 2 hours. Once this time has elapsed, the food temperature must be raised to 63°C or above until sold or discarded.
Identifying Risk – It’s a legal requirement to identify food safety hazards in your business. Potentially risky foods such as red meat; poultry, and food containing egg, should reach a core temperature of 75°C or above. At this temperature harmful bacteria cannot survive and will be destroyed. If you’re working with liquids, some chemicals are prone to react violently at excessive temperature levels.
Bacteria thrive between 8°C and 63°C. This temperature zone is known as the ‘danger zone’ in catering. In most circumstances, keeping food temperatures for appropriate food at 8°C or below, or at 63°C or above will satisfy government regulations.
How Do I Check On Temperature?
It’s industry standard to use thermometers to measure temperature, however, it’s vitally important to choose the right thermometer(s) to suit your intended application(s). In today’s market, more thermometers are used without firstly being checked for traceable accuracy, or suitability of purpose, yet the accuracy and suitability of your thermometer to its intended application could be the difference between meeting, and failing to meet food hygiene regulations.
When you’re choosing a thermometer, it’s important to understand its associated application, temperature measurement range, resolution, accuracy, and the maintenance required to achieve repeatable measurements. In a professional environment, the accuracy of your reading will ultimately affect the safety of your food.
Fixed probe thermometers – These are designed to deliver instant temperature readings of foods, liquids, and semi-solid samples via a fixed probe, which will be suitable for both immersion and penetration. They are ideal for use in the catering trade for hygiene testing, retail outlets, and laboratories. Being very easy to use and highly portable, probes will vary in size, material, and manoeuvrability.
Wired probe thermometers – These are similar to fixed probe thermometers, the difference being that the probe is attached to the thermometer via a wire. This maximises utility without compromising accuracy.
Traditional bi-metal thermometers – These are ideal for monitoring fridge temperatures and have a spirit level indication. When monitoring fridge temperatures, it is suggested you do it first thing in the morning before the fridge is repeatedly opened and closed.
It’s always best practise to use a thermometer which measures to HACCP regulations.
Cleaning Your Thermometer Probes
It’s very important that your thermometer probe is kept clean and disinfected before use with food. It’s advisable to use anti-bacterial probe wipes to clean the probe. The wipes contain an alcohol solution of polymeric biguanide hydrochloride that is an extremely efficient hard surface and probe disinfectant. It reduces surface and probe microbial contamination, and does not create harmful or unwanted side effects such as taint, odour, handling hazard etc. These wipes are suitable for hand use.
If you can choose the thermometer best suited to your intended application, AND provide traceable instrument calibration to an auditor, you can always be assured of your measurement’s creditability. If you’re unsure of a thermometer’s suitability, always consult the help of a professional body.