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Food Safety Focus (176th Issue, March 2021) – Food Safety Platform

Good Hygiene Practices in Food Premises

Reported by Ms. Melva CHEN, Scientific Officer,
Risk Communication Section, Centre for Food Safety

Poor hygiene of a food premises will not only damage its online ratings and reputation, but also put it on the verge of foodborne disease outbreaks, resulting in hazards to the consumers as well as litigation. This article will discuss Good Hygiene Practices (GHPs) and how GHPs can help food business operators (FBOs) to ensure food safety and safeguard consumers’ health.

Five Keys to Food Safety

Contaminated or spoiled food can cause foodborne diseases. Over the past few years, the main causative agents of food poisoning outbreaks at local food premises and food businesses are bacteria, contributed by inadequate cooking, cross-contamination and improper storage temperatures of food. To prevent food-borne diseases, FOBs need to introduce ways of handling food that will help ensuring good food hygiene is in place. This can be achieved by following the Five Keys to Food Safety (Five Keys), namely (1) ’Choose‘ (Choose safe raw materials), (2) ’Clean‘ (Keep hands and utensils clean), (3) ’Separate‘ (Separate raw and cooked food), (4) ’Cook‘ (Cook thoroughly), and (5) ’Safe temperature‘ (Keep food at safe temperature). The Five Keys are the basic guiding principles for ensuring food safety.

Good Hygiene Practices

Food can become contaminated at any stage during food production, including at the farm, during slaughter and processing, during preparation in kitchens, or during storage and delivery. FBOs need to understand the hazards including microbiological hazards (e.g. bacteria), chemical hazards (e.g. detergents) and physical hazards (e.g. broken glasses) associated with the food they produce, transport, store and sell, and the measures required to control these hazards.

The purpose of practising good hygiene is to prevent contamination hazards in food, making sure that the food served is eventually safe to eat. For example, FBOs of restaurants need to make sure their premises, especially kitchens, utensils and food contact equipment, are clean, and have pest control and proper waste disposal in place. Food handlers should wash their hands before handling food, wear clean clothing, and follow the Five Keys when working; they should be refrained from handling food if they are sick. GHPs are the foundation of any effective control of hazards associated with their businesses. For some food premises such as restaurants, implementation of GHPs can help address food safety effectively.

According to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, GHPs refer to all practices regarding the conditions and measures necessary to ensure the safety and suitability of food at all stages of the food chain from primary production through to handling of the final product.  It recommends GHPs be implemented in eight aspects: (i) primary production (e.g. farming and animal husbandry), (ii) design of facilities and equipment, (iii) training and competence, (iv) establishment maintenance, cleaning and disinfection, and pest control, (v) personal hygiene, (vi) control of operation, (vii) product information and consumer information, and (viii) transportation. In practice, depending on the nature of the food businesses, there are specific instructions and requirements applicable to them.  Some of those are legal requirements or licensing conditions depending on different jurisdictions.

For certain food businesses, especially food processing plants or large scale catering services where the food production chains are more complicated, a more advanced food safety monitoring system, such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, is recommended. HACCP is a scientific and systematic approach to identify, assess and control hazards in the food production process, from purchasing, receiving, transportation, storage, preparation, handling, cooking to serving. GHPs are a prerequisite programme for HACCP. With GHPs implemented, most hazards that may contaminate food can be avoided.

On-Going Training is an Important Element of GHPs

FBOs should also note that GHPs are not only about cleanliness – GHPs emphasise the need of on-going training. Inadequate hygiene training and supervision of all people involved in food-related activities pose a potential threat to the safety of food and its suitability for consumption. Food handlers, full-time, part-time or temporary, should be trained in food hygiene to a level appropriate to the operations they are to perform. The Centre for Food Safety has been promoting the importance of GHPs. FBOs and food handlers are encouraged to attend relevant food safety talks and visit our website for more information.