So this is the dreaded first post on the blog. I’ve taken multiple attempts at starting it now, without success – hopefully I actually finish this time!! I have got a few ideas for future posts, but I figured it is probably best to start with a quick introduction to myself and my background.
I’m a Chartered Environmental Health Officer (those people wearing a white coat and hat, usually brandishing a torch and probe thermometer AKA an EHO). Environmental Health covers a spectrum of areas – including Food Safety, Health & Safety, Environmental Protection, Housing Standards and Public Health. Most people think of EHOs as the ones inspecting food businesses, but in reality the area of Environmental Health is extremely broad, EHOs will get involved in:
- Dealing with noise complaints – from noisy takeaway extraction units to noisy neighbours;
- Reviewing planning applications, to take into consideration any potential impacts from contaminated land, etc.;
- Running services such as dog wardens and pest control;
- Dealing with poor standards of housing, rogue landlords and empty properties;
- Issuing environmental permits for a broad range of polluting industries;
- And much, much more.
Fairly early in my career I decided to specialise in Food Safety and Health & Safety and have now been working in these areas for over 10 years. This was partly where my interest lay and also where I saw the most opportunity for career progression beyond working in local authority.
Many EHOs follow the time tested route of starting out in a local authority Environmental Health department, eventually moving over to the private sector and ending up working as a consultant to food businesses. My career has been no different. I started in a local authority on the outskirts of a major city in the UK, learning the ropes from more experienced EHOs. I was involved in a whole host of interventions from inspections of food manufacturers and takeaways through to getting involved with the pest control team.
Eventually I decided to move on from the world of local authority. I found an opportunity at one of the UK’s major supermarkets working in a small team responsible for compliance across all stores, warehouses and associated services such as logistics, maintenance, etc. Compared to my life at local authority this was very different. The role had a mixture of proactive and reactive work – responding to EHO visits and enquiries, projects to revise existing policies and procedures and supporting other departments with safety considerations for various projects they were carrying out. I started off by spending a bit of time working in store – doing everything from stacking shelves to sitting on the tills and running shifts, moving on to working in the warehouse, gaining an understanding of all departments before moving to the safety team. There was no easing into my life in safety within the supermarket – I was very much thrown in at the deep end.
After a few years at the supermarket I decided to make the jump to working as a consultant. This vastly increased the variety of work – I moved from just being focused on supermarkets to developing experience of Food Safety and Health & Safety management in pubs, restaurants, hotels, caterers, coffee shops and takeaways. My work has taken me from Michelin starred restaurants through to local community pubs serving just burger and chips. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work for a number of well-known brands and given the chance to work across the UK and even Europe. I have enjoyed the challenge of consultancy, it’s given me a huge breadth of experience.
My career has allowed me to see into places that the public generally do not go or even think about. Everyone eats out, but rarely do they really consider the kitchen that their food is prepared or the inspection regimes that are in place. The Food Standards Agency’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme has gone someway to improve the awareness of food safety, with the green stickers being well recognised by most of the public. I feel Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is far from perfect – as I will likely cover in a post in the future, but it has done a pretty good job at starting to raise the profile of Food Safety. I am hoping this blog will fill some of the gaps about what happens in the often unseen world of Food Safety, some failings of the current Food Safety controls, as well as some tips and tricks for food businesses and the public in making sure they stay safe.