Shieldyourself Interview — John Barnes on the Catering Guide

This month the BHA have launched their long-awaited update of the influential Catering Guide written by food safety and hygiene expert. The guide has long been the must-have guide for all businesses serving food, so what does this new version bring?

As a contributor for the original guide, Shieldyourself Strategic Advisor John Barnes gave us his review on the updated version and what this means for the industry.

What are the reasons behind the launch of the new and updated catering guide?

The main reason is because the original Guide was published over 20 years ago. So an update is long overdue considering the importance of guidance from a practical and legal context. Also, the Regulation which the previous Guide referred to was consolidated into a new Regulation a few years ago. Whilst this process did not materially change the basic hygiene requirements for catering businesses, it did change the technical legal references. Given the legal status of the Guide, the FSA have been keen for some time to have the Guide updated with the new legal references as well as wanting to review and improve the advice provided.

Does this mean the old version is outdated now?

Yes, and I have already purchased my copy and BHA App version of the new Guide. As one of the original drafting panel for the previous Guide all those years ago, it of course pains me to consign the old Guide to history, but the new BHA Guide has up-to-date legal references, important new material and a layout which is probably more suited to caterers. The new Guide has practical information on dealing with important new issues such as allergens and food fraud, and additional annexes with other relevant information for caterers which is provided in a very accessible format. So my view is that it is time to get an updated Guide, which you can get right now through Shieldyourself for £16. The Guide which contains concise information detailing the law, practical information on how to comply with it and also information on best practice seems great value to me.

What are the significant changes in the new guide? What effects will they have?

The main changes are the legal references (ie the Regulation number, sections and annexes) and the layout of the document. The old 3 column format layout – legal requirement, how to comply with it, and best practice – has been removed and the flow of the document is improved. The Guide is split into sections ie structural requirements, hygiene and safety procedures, and management controls, which is likely to be better suited to caterers. There might be a few tears from some Local Authority enforcers who liked the previous 3 column layout and Regulatory format, as did I, but the new approach is very clear. The word search facility and extensive links to other useful material mean the electronic version of the Guide is a one stop shop for most relevant food safety legislation and guidance. There is also slightly changed guidance on temperature control and cooling which businesses should find useful.

How does the Guide benefit those in the food industry?

Recognised Industry Guides to Good Food Hygiene, such as the Catering Guide, are very beneficial for the industry. The way they are developed and formally recognised by Government means they have more status in law than other food hygiene and safety guidance material out there. So caterers can follow their advice confidently. The Regulations are also risk based and make much use of terms like ‘adequate’ and ‘where necessary’ when describing requirements. The Guide clarifies for caterers what this actually means in practice, providing a common currency on what constitutes compliance between the food business and food officer, allowing the former to plan and invest in their business knowledgeably and confidently. This is particularly useful as many businesses have less access to LA advice in the current economic climate.

Given the significantly increased penalties introduced by the recent Sentencing Guidelines knowledge of and adherence to the advice in the Catering Guide assumes even greater importance. On a more positive note, I think any business following the compliance or best practice advice in the BHA Guide would be a shoe in for an FHRS 5 rating! Some of my recent work with Shieldyourself has been creating some upcoming courses that will help both caterers and enforcers make the best use of the new Guide and quickly get to grips with the update, whilst also receiving practical advice from well-placed individuals in the industry.

How would you recommend businesses to implement the new guide and maintain standards in the future?

I would advise business owners or managers to use the launch of the new Guide as both an opportunity and platform to review their policies, systems and practices. This is to make sure they are in line with the new guidance, especially the recently added allergen information – like a timely hygiene system’s MOT! Adherence to the guidance on compliance or best practice will reduce the risk of problems occurring or, if they did, provide a very good legal defence. The Guide provides an excellent summary of necessary training levels for managers and staff, so I would review training and ensure the approach and content were in line with the BHA Industry Guide. This one-off Review or the equally important routine monitoring and management reporting of standards should be carried out by a suitably trained person in the company. It is of course something any good food safety consultancy company such as Shieldyourself, would be able to help with.

You can order your hardcopy of the guide through Shieldyourself now by calling 0203 740 3744 or visiting our website. Keep an eye out for our training sessions on the updated guide – coming in September and delivered by industry experts.

The information contained in this blog article has been created for marketing purposes and is not official guidance and should not be used as a substitute for official food safety, health and safety or fire safety advice. Shieldyourself take no responsibility if the information in the blog article is used to form part of a safety management system or used to form part of any legal or regulatory compliance for your business. For official guidance and to engage with Shieldyourself services please do call our team on 020 3740 3744 or email

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John Brennan

Food Safety

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