Shieldyourself: An interview with John Barnes

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Shieldyourself Strategic Advisor John Barnes

Here at Shieldyourself we’re always on the look out for talented individuals with the expertise to help drive our business forward, and it’s for this reason we’re proud to introduce the latest member of our team, John Barnes.

Joining Shieldyourself as our appointed Strategic Advisor, John has decades of experience in the field of food safety, and was made Head of Local Delivery at the Food Standards Agency in 2012. Having retired from his duties at the FSA in July 2015, John agreed to join the Shieldyourself team to assist in the on-going development and growth of the company — and we’re extremely happy to have him on board.

Given the raft of knowledge and experience John has brought to Shieldyourself, we took the opportunity to quiz him on all things food safety — so read on for the full interview.

Since entering the field of food safety, what would you say has been the biggest change to hit the industry?

Actually, there have not been many real game changers. That said, food safety standards in the hospitality sector have improved hugely over the last 30 years. In food manufacturing, increasing use of 3rd party supplier audits undoubtedly embedded more robust food safety controls. In hospitality, requirements for HACCP based management controls introduced in 1995, though painful for many – including regulators – also brought about a big change in business approach. Personally, I would not underestimate the rise and role of branded catering in improving industry control systems, and the greater transparency of everything (including food safety) from social media and the internet. A practical example is the FSA’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, which over the last 5 years has led to the most significant improvements in food safety prioritisation and standards I have ever seen.

Given your experience with the FSA, what would you say are the main areas which let businesses down when it comes to food safety and hygiene standards?

Most problems, at their heart, were due to poor management systems – which came apart during busy sessions – and key staff lacking a good understanding of basic food safety. Any staff not knowing and understanding the required temperature or cross contamination control systems will greatly increase business risks, especially when the kitchen is busy – it is as simple as that.

What attracted you to join the Shieldyourself team, and what do you hope to bring to the business?

I joined because I saw the company as a market leader with a great mix of traditional food safety compliance expertise and award-winning, innovative information technology to help its clients’ businesses. Future regulatory control models will need to be more efficient i.e. cost less, and will undoubtedly include more formal recognition of industry self-regulation and collaboration with the industry to target official interventions to best effect. Getting better for less, presents a win-win for the industry, regulators and consumers, and is something I hope I can help Shieldyourself to develop.

In your opinion, what would you say is the biggest risk facing food safety standards in the UK?

In terms of food poisoning, it has to be Campylobacter on and in poultry, which causes the majority of food poisoning cases and over 100 deaths each year. The high percentage of contaminated birds makes effective cross contamination and temperature controls, especially cooking, absolutely vital. I applaud the FSA for highlighting this issue – in the face of considerable pressure - and its work to reduce contamination at the processing level, and the subsequent risks for caterers and in the home. An emerging but significant risk is food authenticity. Local caterers and take-away businesses are currently very vulnerable to food fraud with more and more cases are being identified and prosecuted, and reputations ruined. Simple controls can significantly reduce risks here, so it is an area I recommend every hospitality-focussed business prioritises.

If you had to offer one piece of advice to a business owners operating in the food and hospitality sector — what would it be?

Prioritise the management of food safety and food authenticity. Not only will this reduce the risk of a problem occurring, and maybe a very public, low FHRS rating, it will help ensure you have a reasonable defence in the unlikely event a problem does occur. Agreeing your management arrangements through a Primary Authority is also a good approach to give you more confidence you are not doing too little, or even taking costly and unnecessary action. This all assumes greater importance with mandatory FHRS in England around the corner and new Court Sentencing Guidelines, which now greatly increase potential fines.

When do you predict the FHRS will be made mandatory in England, and what steps should food businesses take before the legislation is enforced?

We could see recommendations to Ministers (to make the display of FHRS ratings by businesses mandatory) later this year, which might result in legislation being developed during 2017. The FSA is clear that it supports mandatory FHRS in England, following the positive reaction in Wales and the recent agreement for its introduction in Northern Ireland from 1st October 2016. However, a key issue for England is the very large number of food businesses covered by the scheme and the ongoing cuts to local authority (LA) budgets.

Current initiatives to better target LA interventions to ease the burdens on LAs and good businesses are very reasonable, but they have the potential to significantly reduce the LA inspections which drive FHRS. So considerations on how to ensure all food businesses have access to reasonably current and accurate FHRS ratings, could well influence any implementation timetable in England.

Mandated or not, over 400,000 business FHRS ratings are currently readily accessible to consumers on the internet or via Apps. So my advice to any food business is to routinely and objectively check their level of food safety compliance, and certainly before any formal LA inspection. This is how most responsible businesses work anyway. The FSA have a range of guides to help businesses do this, or of course they could use a private consultancy, like Shieldyourself, to help. Either way, they should aim for an FHRS 5 rating and certainly not risk getting a low rating, as consumers are already actively using this information to choose where, or not, they eat.

How important do you think technology is in safeguarding food hygiene standards?

Hugely, be it real time screening to detect contamination, automatic sensors for critical controls or information systems providing better transparency of operating standards for managers or consumers. Of course as everyone is now saying, it is not about more and more technology and data, it is about the right data and taking the right action.

If you’re a business owner and would like to benefit from the range of safety compliance services offered by Shieldyourself, including workplace risk assessments and food safety audits, click here to visit our website. Alternatively, to speak to a member of our team, call 020 3797 2328.

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