What to do when you have Sickness in a Working Kitchen.

It is that complete nightmare scenario that every cake maker and decorator dreads. What happens if I’m ill when I have orders to make?

What is classed as a problem illness?

The FSA regulations state that “you must exclude any person from food handling duties and food handling areas if they have an infection of the stomach or gut … and/or if they have an area of infected skin that cannot be covered. The length of exclusion is usually 48 hours from when their symptoms stop”.

So we’re mainly talking about sickness and diarrhoea, or a gastrointestinal infection. But you should watch out for nausea and stomach aches and pains, as these can also be symptoms of an infection – either bacterial or viral. The same would apply for infected wounds.

This is all very well for the FSA to say, but what if you don’t have a team of staff? What if YOU make all your cakes from your own kitchen?

I’m afraid there is no get-out clause or quick fix for this. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should not be producing food.

What is the danger of me preparing food while ill?

Infections are caused by either bacteria or viruses. They can be very dangerous, particularly for those at a higher risk, such as young children, the elderly and people who already have an illness. So it is extremely important to reduce the risk of spreading an infection to the absolute minimum you can.

Bacterial and viral infections are at their most contagious when the symptoms are still present, with contamination being spread mainly through an infected person’s hands or even through the air. So when you’re handling food, it’s almost impossible to prevent it spreading, particularly when you’re in contact with raw or ready to eat food, like cake.

Bacteria and Viruses

Bacteria and Viruses

Remember, it is a legal requirement to exclude anyone suffering from these types of illness from a working kitchen, so the consequences for ignoring it can be serious for you and your business, as well as anyone who might catch the infection. So it really is not worth the risk. The law states…

“No person suffering from, or being a carrier of a disease likely to be transmitted through
food or afflicted, for example, with infected wounds, skin infections, sores or diarrhoea is
to be permitted to handle food or enter any food-handling area in any capacity if there is
any likelihood of direct or indirect contamination.”

What do I do?

The short answer is, you must not prepare food for other people.

If your infection is bacterial, this can be cured with antibiotics, but be aware that it can still be spread up to 48 hours after your symptoms have stopped. So they are not a quick fix to getting back in the kitchen. Antibiotics will not do anything for a viral infection.

If you have cakes to make within a week of your illness, the best thing to do is try to find a reputable replacement supplier. You should then give your customer the option of this supplier, or finding their own.

So it’s great idea, once you’ve set up your business, to get in contact with other local suppliers, and have a ‘Plan B’ in place. Try to find someone you get on with, with a similar style to yourself. While they may be your competition, they could also be a great ally to have when things don’t go to plan. And similarly, someone who may send extra business your way when they’re unable to complete orders themselves.

You should also include something in your terms and conditions referring to the legal requirements and that you cannot be held responsible if you do fall ill unexpectedly – mention your ‘Plan B’. This isn’t a nice answer to the problem, but if your customers ask, you should be completely open that, because you work alone, there is a small possibility that it could happen. Explaining the measures you have in place for such a disaster should reassure them that you’ll do everything you can to resolve the situation.

In the unfortunate case that you can’t find a replacement supplier in time, you should have some kind of plan in place to decide how you compensate your customer. We would recommend refunding them in full but ultimately, this is up to you. Remember, it’s not your fault but customers appreciate you making the effort to show how important they are to you, and how regrettable the situation is. Small gestures often go a lot further than simply offering someone back a monetary value too, so think about whether there’s anything else you can offer them to let them know you care.

It is obviously a horrible situation that no one wants to be in – letting a customer down in this way is possibly worse than being the one with no cakes to collect! It’s an age old saying, but where illness in the kitchen is concerned, prevention is most definitely better than cure.

We hope this helps clear up the confusion. But if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can find a mountain of information about all aspects of running your own business in our Cake Business Bible online guide, including the steps you need to take to run a successful business, as well as resources for calculating costs and constructing your terms and conditions.

You can also find lots of useful information from the FSA website HERE. And the FSA Food Handlers: Fitness to Work is a fantastic resource for delving into the subject in more detail.

Jenny x

Food Standards Agency

Food Standards Agency

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