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Formalising food hygiene15th of October 2010
The Eurostars Grand Marina is a five-star hotel in the heart of Barcelona, Spain. European Cleaning Journal editor Michelle Marshall visited to see how health and safety standards in food safety and water hygiene are being monitored and upheld using a risk management system called Cristal developed by Check Safety First.
Foreign holidays and business travel are no longer seen as the luxuries they once were. Only a few years ago we may have tolerated inadequate hygiene, food standards and even illness in the hotels where we stayed – in fact they were almost seen as being part of a foreign holiday experience. Now however, we have become much more demanding as consumers and quite rightly expect the standards of hygiene we experience in hotels to be as high as those at home.
This is well illustrated by a survey carried out by Opinion Matters in July of last year in the UK. The results showed that 88 per cent of travellers questioned would not return to a hotel where they suffered an illness. And 48 per cent worry about being ill while travelling.
Spotting the urgency for an improvement in standards across the hotel industry - and the need to be able to monitor and audit the results on a regular basis – Check Safety First developed Cristal, a risk management system for health and safety standards in food safety and water hygiene. Its chairman Steve Tate explained: “Until fairly recently many people simply did not realise food safety could be checked. For example they believed contracting a stomach upset from food was just part of being abroad. So the concept of auditing and monitoring food hygiene so closely is a fairly new one. What everyone must now realise is that these standards can absolutely be measured."
The E-Cristal system software enables hotels to monitor online the daily level of risk in any location around the world. Its traffic light system allows hotel management to see at the touch of a button the areas they need to take action on – and all reports are available digitally. Its modules cover audit management; workflow management; training and knowledge management; monitoring and reporting; mobile auditing; incident management; executive risk management; and languages and translation.
The system was developed in consultation with hotels and is recognised by tour operators and health authorities in countries all over the globe. It complies with different standards from the World Health Organisation (WHO), HACCP and the Federation of Tour Operators. “We operate to minimum legal requirements in every country but our standard is common to every country,” said Tate.
At the moment Check Safety First only operates in hotels, and Tate explained why. “We decided to focus on travel and tourism so that we can be true experts in the field. Originally this type of close monitoring was stipulated by tour operators because they were concerned about hygiene levels on behalf of their customers. At that time there was much resistance from hotels - they only had us there because they were being dictated to. Now I’m happy to say that has completely changed and we are contracted to hotels because the management wants us to be there.” In fact Check Safety First now has 1,300 contracts covering 1,800 hotels in worldwide and monthly the company works in 26 countries.
The success of the programme depends entirely on the independent audits which are carried out on a regular basis, unannounced, by Check Safety First’s own inspectors – all 100 of them are food scientists, biologists or other qualified professionals. Only the first one or two are done by prior arrangement. Tate explained that when a hotel signs a contract, this is the only basis on which the operation can work. “This can be a tough sell but all our clients do accept our methods and understand we must work in this way.”
And the company can now count some highly prestigious hotels amongst its clients worldwide, the Eurostars Grand Marina in Barcelona being one of them. Check Safety First has been working here since the beginning of this year, following a pilot project which began around 20 months ago in some of the group’s smaller hotels. Now the Cristal programme is being rolled out across the group worldwide.
The Eurostars Grand Marina is a five-star luxury hotel in the port of Barcelona next to the World Trade Centre. With 291 rooms over eight floors, 47 suites, a host of leisure facilities, conference rooms and a top-class restaurant, it attracts business guests and tourists who expect the best in service and hygiene standards. General manager Carolina González explained why Check Safety First is such a valuable partner. “It’s very important to us to have a company that resolves all our problems – kitchen, maintenance, food and beverage areas.”
On the day of the ECJ visit an audit was being carried out by Jose Maria Berrio de Haro, general manager of the Spanish Check Safety First operation. “In this hotel there is an audit once a month, in some it can be once every two months,” he said. “When the system is being implemented by a hotel, the first visit serves as an assessment of what is needed in terms of hygiene monitoring and training of staff. The second visit is used to train the staff in whatever areas are felt necessary – from the most basic of processes to the highly advanced.”
Tate continued: “Here at the Eurostars Grand Marina, for example, we focused on training to improve food safety practices and due diligence. All staff at the hotel related to food safety were involved – every aspect of handling in the food and beverage areas.”
If it is part of a group, which the Eurostars Grand Marina is, the very same standards established at the hotel are also transferred to the headquarters because it is there where central purchasing for all food is handled. “The standards must run to the heart of the operation, and right through the supply chain,” Tate emphasised. As well as food safety the auditing here also extends to water hygiene, so encompassing the swimming pool, jacuzzi and all portable water.
“We monitor all ways in which water is used, whether that’s drinking, cooking, swimming, bathing, etc.” Berrio added. “And with the rise of spa hotels, there is a greater demand for hygiene in those areas too.
Guests now increasingly expect hygiene to be part of the package when they stay at any hotel.”
When carrying out the audit, the inspector is checking 55 issues, which are then divided into sub-questions. There are 250 questions in total and the final score is made up of an average across the 55 key issues. During the inspection the Check Safety First consultant may also take photos to illustrate to the client any particular issues which need to be addressed.
Certain areas come with automatic penalties if standards are not up to scratch – cleaning & disinfection and food sell-by dates for example. The inspector enters his data and the Cristal software calculates the score. The software works in six languages and can automatically translate data and reports. The client then has access to all information and reports online – González describes this aspect of the service as being invaluable.
All food checked
Berrio then started his inspection around the hotel, which follows a very definite audit trail. First is the goods inwards area. Here he is checking things such as making sure food coming into the hotel is not anywhere near waste materials. Then he goes to purchasing, where food is checked in when it arrives, and makes sure that chilled and frozen foods are coming in at the correct temperatures – using infra-red temperature monitors. If they are not, goods are rejected. Eurostars has a list of appointed food suppliers, which is issued from HQ, and only food from them is accepted.
Then we move on to food storage, where each room as a designated ‘responsible’ person. First is frozen and chilled food, and issues to be aware of here include making sure everything is off the floor (for reasons of hygiene and airflow), first in, first out rotation of food, labelling and packaging, use of plastic rather than wooden crates for easy cleaning. There must also be detergent points where fruit and vegetables are disinfected before being served. A hand wash station with no-touch operation is obligatory.
In the dishwashing area Berrio checks dirty crockery, cutlery, pots, etc are kept separate from clean for example. Evidence of infestation is checked and proper pest control systems must be visible. “It’s vital that preventive measures are also in place, baiting stations for example. And a pest control contract is a must.”
In the changing rooms all staff facilities such as lockers, washing and hand drying provision are checked, while in the waste areas – which are refrigerated here – different categories of waste must be separated.
A thorough inspection of the kitchen areas is next on the trail and we are accompanied by executive chef Didac Atoriza, who is responsible for ensuring standards are met on a day-to-day basis. All paths must be protected by fly killers and in food areas they must be sticky ones. Store rooms, the ice machine, expiry dates on food and cleaning schedules are all covered by the audit. In the main kitchen Berrio ensures filters are clean, along with ovens, all cooking equipment, freezers and cooling equipment.
Everything must be in line with HACCP standards – hand washbasins; chopping boards; cleaning schedules; separate preparation, cooking and serving areas; first-aid kit. He also inspects how the staff are working - making sure they’re wearing the right clothing, gloves, no jewellery, etc.
Scores never changed
Finally we move into the restaurant where a general check is made, focusing on the buffet area. As Steve Tate explained, buffet areas are potential hotspots for hygiene problems in many hotels. After visiting the swimming pool and jacuzzi and auditing the water system through taking samples, Berrio de Haro began to input the data and compile his report on his laptop. Tate was keen to point out: “Even though we are contracted by the hotel and it is our client, our integrity in providing entirely independent audits is never compromised. We will never change a score.”
And the implementation of such stringent systems is generally seen as a positive development by hotel staff in Tate’s experience. “People doing low-level jobs such as cleaning and food preparation are simply not recognised very often. So they welcome having a monitoring system in place because it elevates the importance of their job and puts more focus on them.”
And there is a real correlation between cleaning/hygiene and return visits to hotels, which many of Check Safety First’s clients are now recognising and starting to benefit from. “That can result in real improvements to profit,” he explained “because tour operators may pay slightly more for each room in a hotel which is recognised as having high standards.”
Hotel groups are also now more convinced about the benefits of using Cristal as a marketing tool. “They really can use it as a positive,” Tate added. “And the fact staff are being trained and invested in is also proven to reduce staff turnover. It’s the high turnover of staff in the hotel industry which is the biggest challenge to the continuity of standards.”
So what kind of hotel is Cristal most suited to? “It can work in hotels of all sizes,” Tate replied. “We have contracts in some very high-end small boutique hotels, which have small catering operations but often no specific food hygiene system. Hotels like that can use the E-Cristal system as a marketing tool. It helps them to justify their high rates.
“However in our experience it works best in large, all-inclusive hotels. Such huge operations must have proper safety systems in place and tour operators are increasingly being forced to acknowledge responsibility for ensuring the standards of hotels they market. And cleaning, hygiene and risk management are integral parts of any quality system.”
Having become so successfully established in the hotel industry, Steve Tate is now keen to expand Check Safety First’s Cristal model into other industry sectors, which is why the company recently signed a partnership deal with Diversey to market the system. “I would also like to explore the possibility of forming partnerships with cleaning contractors because I believe there is enormous potential for us to offer this service in other areas outside tourism.”