Food Safety for Event Organisers

No matter what sort of event you are planning, food poisoning amongst the delegates or attendees would be terrible – even worse if you were running a festival or other event where there are temporary toilet and handwash facilities.

Five basic steps to food safety at events

  1. Where possible, use a professional event caterer – this might not always ensure food safety, but using someone who knows what they are doing will put you light years ahead of someone who isn’t used to catering to large groups.The experience of your catering should be as close to the event that you are planning – if someone can cook in their café or restaurant that is one thing, but having the experience to work in a temporary or field kitchen will make all the difference.
  2. Where possible, keep the catering simple – the easier the food preparation the less likely it is to go wrong. Consider the different between pizza (cooked at 400 degrees and no raw ingredients) vs chicken, beef or pork products which have to be just right – otherwise the bacteria won’t be killed during the cooking process.Also, keep to a minimum number of caterers – with several catering firms onsite for this event it could have been more difficult for the organisers to ensure compliance, management processes and food safety systems than if there had been just one provider. Its also going to make the job of investigating what went wrong even more difficult.
  3. Ensure that the caterers have the correct systems in place and have been inspected recently by their local authority. All caterers should work with a recognised food safety system (i.e. HACCP or similar) which should take into account the specific activities, types of foods being prepared and the facilities that are in place – in the middle of a festival field simple things like a continuous power supply and hot running water should not be taken for granted.
  4. Check through the risk assessment / method statement which your catering contractor will be working to – ensure that you get them in advance and read through to make sure that they make sense. Once on site speak with the people that are running the catering to ensure that they know what has been sent in advance, that temperature probes are available, that there is a recording and monitoring system for food temperatures and that handwash facilities and sanitiser are readily available.
  5. Work with your onsite medical provider (St John Ambulance, Red Cross or private company) to look for patterns and react accordingly – if lots of people attend the medical centre with the same symptoms then something is obviously wrong – it might be too late to stop them having a rough night, but by spotting patterns early it could help to stop others getting ill and aid with the investigation.

Further reading

CIEH National Guidance for Outdoor and Mobile Catering – great resource including checklists for event organisers