A Question Relating to Food Safety: Brendon Ireland Responds

A question from the HSE People network – 


I was wondering if you can help me please. I run a small café in Essex and we have been targetd on Tripadvisor by trolls saying our premises are dirty, the staff don’t wash there hands properly etc.  We have our food hygiene rating on display (a 5 by the way) and no other complaints. Is there anything else we can do to demonstrate that we run a tight ship and that there aren’t any issues?

Thanks in advance

Brendon Ireland responds –

First and foremost, deal with the complaints professionally with replies that show you take food hygiene seriously and improve standards all the time.(e.g You could include that all staff follow the FSA guidance on hand washing.)

It’s obviously worth doing ongoing training with all staff just to make sure everyone knows how to do simple tasks such as washing hands.

I use a UV gel to train hand washing and you’ll be surprised how many people fail this test even after working in hospitality for 20+ years.

Another good idea is to inform the environmental health of complaints and reply this with the guests that have complained whilst also supplying your local environmental health contact details encouraging them to file a complaint themselves. 

This works against malicious complaints as the environmental health food safety team will want their name and details to follow their investigation. Usually when you have malicious complaints they aren’t willing to disclose their information if the complaint isn’t genuine. 

The most important thing is to never offer any form of compensation (free meals/money back ect). By doing this you are accepting liability and admitting guilt which can cost you a lot more in the long run than a couple of free meals.

My final piece of advice would be to publicize your food handling areas and how clean they are. 

You can include pictures on your TripAdvisor and also on social media to showcase your high food safety standards.

I’ve worked in hospitality all my life and I agree malicious complaints happen all the time. Sometimes these happen from the business competition, other times it’s from disgruntled guests. It’s sadly part of running a food business.

Some years ago I received a complaint of food poisoning and immediately considered the worst. Luckily I kept a level head and logged the complaint in my daily diary and then forwarded the complaint to the environmental health. The local officer came down to my kitchen and did their normal checks when starting an investigation. 

Following the inspection I was asked to inform the guest to contact the environmental health to discuss the food poisoning. The guest was reluctant to discuss this with the officer, And once the officer asked them to provide stool samples to their doctor for testing the communication ended. 

The point I’m making here is that if you have a system in place, even something like complaints can be a relatively straightforward process.

Thank you so much Brendon! Do you have a question about food safety or another industry? Get in touch and the HSE People Panel will do their best to assist – info@hsepeople.com