Catering Health & Safety – How to Manage Risks

Paying keen attention to catering health and safety is vitally important in a commercial kitchen. The fast paced environment has many hazards that should be indentifed via a risk assessment.

a chef using a knife to safely slice tomatoes

Putting measures in place to ensure you are catering safely is a key part of the duty of care that all employers must fulfil. Our guide looks at the main hazards in a commercial kitchen, and how to put measures in place for safer working.


Catering Health & Safety Hazards

When running a catering business, the health and safety aspect can feel daunting. There’s so much to remember. With the kitchen environment specific rules and regulations will apply depending on the type of business and how many staff you’re employing.



There are six main safety hazards that you need to pay attention to:-

1. Slips and Trips

It’s probably the most likely accident you’re going to come across in catering. A common hazard is slipping on spillages, tripping on things that aren’t where they should be…. These hazards can be present in the kitchen environment, but also during food service. In a fast paced environment, these hazards can be difficult for staff to spot when things are busy.

Look out for leaks, make sure that you and your staff know to mop up any dropped or spilled food immediately. Be extra vigilant about uneven or bad quality flooring that could cause trips. Boxes, bags, cabling, these are all hazards that could quite literally ruin your day, so be aware of them when you’re rushing around trying to get things organised.


2. Knives

It might seem flippant, but when you work in an industry that uses sharp implements you really do have to be a bit careful. The essentials of knife safety in the workplace are:

  • Training – staff should understand which knife to use for which task, safe working practices and sharpening.
  • Carrying – don’t carry knives with the blade pointing upwards.
  • Protection – use gloves and protective aprons for tough jobs like de-boning and be careful when you’re washing up.
  • Storage – store knives safely in the kitchen, and don’t leave them lying on worktops.

3. Musculoskeletal Injuries

You and your staff could be at risk of back injury if there’s a lot of lifting and carrying involved in your day to day duties. It’s essential to get staff up to scratch on proper lifting and carrying techniques to avoid injury.

Repetitive work such as chopping, grating, slicing and kneading can also lead to problems with upper limbs, which can affect wrists, arms, shoulders and neck too. You can download a free advice sheet from the Health and Safety Executive that will give you tips on minimising the risks of musculoskeletal disorders in the catering industry if you need more guidance.


4. Burns and Scalds

When catering staff are in a hurry, and dealing with hot surfaces, it doesn’t take too much imagination to work out what could go wrong. The best way to avoid the risk of nasty burns is by using gloves and being careful around hobs, ovens and grills.


5. Dermatitis

There’s a lot of cleaning and washing up involved in a catering company. The chances of you or one of your staff members coming into contact with something that might cause a reaction are pretty high. Dermatitis is considered one of the risks of the job.

However, the chances of a nasty reaction are reduced if you take the right preventative measures.

  • Keep your hands away from direct contact with food, water and cleaning products wherever you can. Use a dishwasher rather than washing up by hand. If you do have to wash items by hand, always wear protective gloves. When you’re handling food, use the right equipment and utensils rather than picking up with your fingers.
  • Wear protective gloves whenever you come into contact with chemicals or substances which might irritate your skin. Keep your hands well moisturised too, to make up for the effects of frequent hand washing and sanitising.
  • Keep an eye on your skin, especially on your hands, for any signs of a reaction. If you notice dry, red or itchy skin, you should report it to your doctor and a supervisor if you have one, and always try and treat the symptoms as soon as they appear.

6. Catering Health & Safety Advice

You can find advice on everything from emptying fat fryers to the safe handling of knives on the Health and Safety Executive website. The comprehensive list of resources includes links and downloads to guides and occupation specific publications.

You can also find plenty of help with food safety issues – making sure you also keep your customers healthy and safe – from the Food Standards Agency.

You should also contact your local council Environmental Health Office, where you can be assessed and given a Food Hygiene Rating. Many local councils offer free food hygiene training which is essential if you want to make sure that staff are kept up to date on all the regulations and guidance.


Catering Health & Safety Case Study – Vintage Feast

Of course, staying safe at work encompasses more than legal obligations and minimising risk of injury. It’s an on-going task, making sure that you and your staff members stay healthy, happy and safe in their work.

Christina set up two catering businesses, Vintage Feast and Feast Food, in London.

“We cater for events. Feast Food focusses mainly on corporate catering. We are supplying clients with anything from small sandwich lunches to doing full catering for conference of 1,000+ delegates.”

“Vintage Feast specialises in afternoon teas, and we have launched a picnic menu too. I have been running my own catering company in one form or another for just over a decade. Feast has been a key business for the last five years. At the moment I have three employees on PAYE, several freelance chefs and numerous casual staff who work the events.”

When I decided that I wanted to go into catering, the first place I went to for advice was my local environmental health officer. I asked her to come along to the unit we were intending to use as our kitchen and she was very helpful. She gave me lots of good advice on ventilation and general hygiene requirements. Also what was absolutely necessary and what we could do to keep costs down.


Risk Assessment

“I had also researched how to do a food hygiene risk assessment online and I’d carried one out for the business. During the visit, I went through this with the EHO which reassured her we knew what we were doing.”

I wasn’t really daunted by all the rules and regulations that applied to catering. It all seemed like common sense to me. Making sure I was very thorough in my research was key. I found that my local EHO was more than happy to offer advice when I needed it.


Outside Catering

“We have an environmental health folder to help us when we’re working from other people’s premises. As you can imagine, this is something we do a lot of the time. We take the folder along to every event we cater for. All our food is transported in our chiller-van in thermal boxes with chiller blocks so we are quite self-sufficient! We make sure we have a probe with us and carry out random temperature checks on all foods. Of course everything is a bit more complicated when we’re out of our premises. Often we don’t have the space to do things the way we’d like, but generally speaking we manage just fine!”


No Power on a Sunny Day!

“We’ve only ever had one incident to deal with. That was when we’d set up a stand at a food festival. When we arrived there wasn’t any power. It was a sunny day and we needed to get our fridge plugged in to keep everything chilled down. We didn’t panic – we simply bought bags of ice and packed the fridge out with them to keep everything cold until the power came on.”

As far as my own health and wellbeing go, stress is probably my main complaint as running my own business can be extremely stressful at times. This is especially true when dealing with cash-flow and staffing issues. I have also had back problems from working long hours on my laptop.

I make sure that I work out at the gym at least four times a week. We also have regular staff nights out to help with morale and relaxation. The last one was when we went bowling and to karaoke! My number one words of advice for anyone who wants to go into catering are: Do lots of research and do your costings before you do anything else.


Catering Accidents can Happen to Anyone

No matter how many training courses you send people on, accidents do happen. They happen to the best establishments, too.

A waiter at the Savoy was given £9000 in compensation after he slipped on a greasy kitchen floor, while he was carrying a tray of drinks. He damaged his foot, leaving him only capable of working a few hours a day. If it can happen to the Savoy, it can happen to you, so be careful!

Further Reading

Our guide on kitchen health and safety has more detail on the safe running of a commercial kitchen.

24 thoughts on “Catering Health & Safety – How to Manage Risks

  1. Coz says:

    I work at a Nursery as a cook. Building work is being done all over the nursery. Just been told work man are knocking down a wall in my kitchen. Should the kitchen be closed until work has finished as i feel this should take place. Management say it ok to carry on working ( Catering for small Children) I’m sure there’s a law for this Please help.

  2. Aggie says:

    I work in an office canteen and we are in a basement, without windows. The temperature is extremely hot… we roast chickens behind the counter. I literally sweat all day. I reported not feeling well to my manager and she said it could not be the heat and she left. I fainted 5 minutes later. I burn myself a day earlier and she always assume that you must have done something wrong and she blames you instead of thinking about a solution. I satred the job a month ago and have no idea how to approach the meter.

  3. Lana says:

    I work in the grocery shop.We have three kitchens there and one of them is always cold,especially in winter time.Staff should work with coats and winter hats on to keep them warm.Hands are freezing and very hard to cut something. What actions should we take and what can be changed in the kitchen to make it warmer(there is no heat as it is salad and fruit area)

  4. Tekergeri says:

    I have had to call sick today and the head chef said f* you mate and hung up the phone on me. Since I work here I barely called sick, but the last year I had 11 days absence. My health is getting worse since I work there, because of the environment and the treatment. We make the job of two persons, I loss weight and suffering from insomnia. I am about to get another job, but I don’t know shall I take any action about the issues above?

  5. Chaddy says:

    My wife has just made redundant from her employer after 4 years in a cafe. Her employer wanted her to take a job on that she normally does with 2 other members of staff. Wanting her to also work alone and run the business doing the work of 3 people but also not offering her any increase in her wages. I as her husband advised her against it as I feel it is to much of a work load and also not safe. Her employer as also not done any risk assessments or any safety training I think it is just an excuse to get rid of her current workers so she can hire her own staff as she has recently just taken over the business. Any advice on this matter would be greatly appreciated thank you x

  6. Becky says:

    I work in a cafe kitchen and we’ve just today had screens installed to replace the paper ticket orders that were printed via the till. The screen has been installed far too high and in just one day has caused myself and another colleague neck pain and headaches

  7. Coxy says:

    My daughter is 16 and just started her first part time job. Her place of work have her cooking meals for kids party’s, burgers, hotdogs chips cutting meat and veg etc and cleaning down the kitchen; and all this unattended. Is this ok…????? Any advice is very welcome thank you.

  8. Manso says:

    For 2 an half years I have been putting 6 ft tables an chairs up to 700 people in rooms,changing set ups every day mostly on shift myself,5 large rooms,nightshifts on own,pulling large trollys up to 100 kgs,carring steal tables up stairs,constantly complaining it’s to much I need help,finnly my lower back has give in and I’m forced on the sick and can only walk for about an hour a day,have to lie down the rest of day,would you say this is fair on me,when I first started there would have been at least 3 men on the shift I was made to do alone.

  9. teddy says:

    I work in a care home with 40+ residents. I am a cook. I am ledt alone from 8am to 6pm. I do cooking job also all the cleaning and washing up. Is this legal for me to do all this plus work alone. Lifting heavy pots weighing up to 30KG. Please help. Thank you.

  10. Phil says:

    As an apprentice in a cafe can I and one other apprentice be left one our own all day to open up run the cafe all day and close the cafe at the end.can anyone help with the legal side of this please

  11. Larry says:

    My son recently injured his thumb quite badly whilst sharpening a knife in his place of employment. The method of sharpening was quite new as previously his employer had used an outside firm to do this but as a cost-cutting exercise had installed their own equipment. The only training offered (and given) was on-line. Is this legally sufficient or should some form of supervision also have been offered?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Larry – You’d have to consult with a legal professional over this as we do not have sufficient detail as to the type of knife or the sharpening equipment. The Health and Safety Executive may be able to offer advice/information. Here is their information on knives

  12. fleetypops says:

    Does a restaurant which provides outside eating areas have to provide some area of shade in the hot weather? I regularly frequent a restaurant with an outside patio. They have black tables and chairs and the tables get so hot in hot weather that you can’t touch them. Worse still there is no shade provided by means of large umbrellas or otherwise. Are they obligated to provide some form of shelter from the heat of the sun?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @fleetypops – Not that we are aware of, especially if inside seating is available for you to use. Check with your local council to see if there are any locally implemented conditions.

  13. Mummsie says:

    I would like to know when it would be classed that a kitchen is to hot and unsafe to work in especially in the hot weather.

  14. Dawn says:

    My daughter is 17 she works at a well know sandwich shop Saturday through to Sunday 12-6pm,I am concerned because she works alone for all of this time operating ovens,tills ect she has no break as there is no one to take over. Is any of this lawful??please help any advice is great thank you

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