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Food Safety Myths


Were the pyramids erected by Ancient Aliens? Was it just a weather balloon that was captured in Roswell or something from further afield? Did we land on the Moon in 1969 or did Armstrong and Aldrin bounce around a Hollywood sound stage?

Unfortunately, we are unable to address such supposed conspiracies as we have left our tinfoil hat on the hanger. However, we do have Geoff Tooley, our resident Food Safety Training Manager, on hand to debunk the top 5 food safety myths he has encountered in his 20+ years in the business…

1. If you get a bad stomach it is always the last thing you ate

We have all been hugging the toilet like it is our best friend while cursing the spaghetti alle vongole we ate for lunch 2 hours ago (No? Just me then…), but is it right to attribute the queasy feeling to the last thing you ate?

Simple answer – NO! Food poisoning symptoms such as diarrhoea take at least six hours to rear their ugly head, and many types of food poisoning take at least a day to develop. The culprit may not be obvious, it could be anything from rice to the fact that the person preparing the food hasn’t washed their hands. Have a look at my previous foray into the blogosphere – 5 Foods to Avoid at Events – for the most likely perpetrators of your pain in the paunch.

2. Dates on food are just there to make you waste produce

Food packages nowadays have a number of dates scattered around the packaging vying for your attention, but which should you take notice of? “Best Before”? “Display Until”? “Born-On Date”? We have a handy guide:

  • “Display Until” is used by retailers to aid stock rotation, and are not a legal requirement.
  • “Best Before” is a voluntary requirement and denotes how long the product is at its best quality. Food eaten after this date is not likely to be harmful (unless it is eggs – avoid eating these after the “Best Before” date).
  • The one that is imperative to food safety is the “Use By” date. This date is a legal requirement on highly perishable foods to guarantee your safety and are worked out by strict testing and need to be followed. For full details of food labeling terms visit the Food Standards Agency website here.

Great Food at Leeds, the catering provider at the University of Leeds, follow both “Best Before” and “Use By” dates to ensure they provide safe food of the highest quality.

3. If a food item looks ok and smells ok it is safe to eat

So you bought a chicken and then leave it in the back of the fridge for a week, going past the “Use By” date by just 2 days. You open the bag and give it a sniff. Can you ascertain whether it is safe to eat by following your nose? There isn’t a fruity smell emanating from the bird and it looks the right colour, so it’s safe to eat, right?

Unfortunately contrary to popular thought and inaccurate media reporting this is incorrect. Food poisoning bacteria do not change the taste, texture or appearance food. Bacteria that make food go “off” are totally different from Bacteria that can make you ill.

4. Raw chicken needs to be washed before cooking

If you still have a cookbook from the early 80’s or before on the shelves (like I do), you will notice that a number of the recipes will instruct you to wash raw chicken before cooking. This is against all current advice, and appears to be a hangover from early 20th century cookbooks telling us to and was then repeated as gospel. Here is an excellent article about the history of chicken washing in cookbooks.

Washing raw chicken is the best way to spread food poisoning bacteria (specifically campylobacter) around your kitchen, work surfaces and clothing. Water droplets containing the dangerous bacteria can be transported across your kitchen with ease, which can cause contamination. Washing raw chicken has no benefit and will not get rid of campylobacter, salmonella or E.coli – correct cooking will kill all dangerous bacteria. The Food Standards Agency website has all the advice you need about storing and cooking chicken, along with an excellent video about campylobacter.

5. If you drop food on the floor it is safe to eat

We all have variations on the “5 Second Rule” – as long as the toast doesn’t drop butter side down (it inevitably will) you are fine to scoop it up and stuff it into your face before “5 Mississippi’s” have elapsed without consequence (other than stares of general disgust if done in public).

You know where I am going with this… Any food dropped into an area which is host to bacteria will be contaminated immediately and should be disposed of straight away.


Visit the Great food at Leeds website for the latest seasonal, locally sourced catering at the University of Leeds.

5 Foods to Avoid at an Event

There are  a number of do’s and dont’s to think about when it comes to catering at events, both as an organiser and a delegate. Here are MEETinLEEDS’ top 5 foods to steer clear of, courtesy of our Health and Safety Manager, Geoff Tooley.


MEETinLEEDS have a recurring nightmare about biting into that nice juicy chicken burger and finding something even ‘fowler’ between the buns… We have to apologise for the terrible pun: we take food safety very seriously – all of the catering available at conferences and events at the University of Leeds are serviced by the 5* Food Hygiene Rated outlets of Great Food at Leeds.

However, there are a number of foods you should try to avoid as both a conference organiser and as a delegate. You will know the obvious dishes to steer clear of tucking into when networking (barbecued ribs and garlic bread at a boardroom meeting anyone? We thought not) but we would like to highlight the foods that have the potential to turn a dream event into a gastrointestinal nightmare.

Let us introduce Geoff Tooley, Health and Safety Training Manager (among other things) at MEETinLEEDS. He takes his job very seriously – he even asked for a tour of the kitchen at his local take away to ensure it was up to his exacting standards – so over to Geoff with his 5 foods to avoid at conferences and events:


Cooked Rice Salad


Rice has always been top of the pops of the foods with the potential to cause harm. Bacillus Cereus is a particularly clever bacterium found in rice and can cause severe nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. It is able to survive cooking to high temperatures due to it producing a toxin which is highly resistant to heat. Once the temperature falls within 10°C – 50°C the bacteria’s population can double every 30 minutes, which means that the rice salad that has been left on a buffet table for 4 hours could have a bacterial army that has multiplied 256 times over! Stay safe and avoid the rice salad at the next event you attend…

A Delicious Alternative – We avoid eating rice salad which is stored outside strict temperature control and stick to the classic Seasonal Salad with Vinaigrette Dressing. If you do need a carb kick try something like Farfalle Pasta with Capers Olives and Peppers. You will not regret it.




Listeria can cause serious illness, and even death in the case of vulnerable groups in the population, such as pregnant women and their unborn babies, newborn babies, the very young, and the elderly and infirm. The bacteria are widespread in the environment and can contaminate a wide range of food, including pâté. So avoid the spreadable meat paste – it won’t be as good as in the Ardennes anyway.

A Delicious Alternative – Try a vegetarian alternative such as Middle Eastern Flatbread with Houmous Dip or any of the scrummy light bights we have on offer – not a pâté in sight and locally sourced where possible.


Cooked Meats


Cooked meats support the growth of a multitude of bacteria. Be aware of anything that is left out of temperature control for too long. Cold cooked meats can be displayed above 8°C for a maximum of 4 hours, hot cooked meats can be displayed below 63°C for up to two hours. For more details see the Hygiene Guide Booklet from the Food Standards Agency.

A Delicious Alternative – All deliveries include written guidelines detailing times by which food items must be consumed or disposed of to guarantee food safety. So tuck into our tempting Mediterranean Style Platter which includes Parma Ham, Salami and Chorizo, or delve into the Spicy Chicken Balti safe in the knowledge you are in good hands.


Chocolate Mousse


Chocolate mousse may seem innocuous, mainly because it is delicious, but it is one of many traditional desserts that may contain raw egg. Eggs may be contaminated with Salmonella or Campylobacter, which cause diarrhoea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever. A Food Standards Agency survey of campylobacter in chicken on retail sale in the UK between May 2007 and September 2008 reported that campylobacter was present in 65% of the fresh chicken samples tested, and in this case we know that the chicken came before the egg…

Government advice is still that eggs in an uncooked form are not to be used, and that it is safer to use pasteurised liquid egg yolks, which is what we use at the University of Leeds. The taste is exactly the same, without the risk of your delegates getting a nasty case of food poisoning.

A Delicious Alternative – Great Food at Leeds have a fantastic Mini Chocolate and Pear Pudding is gooey and decadent. There are also a number of options that are not quite as indulgent, yet still delicious, for those that are eating a little healthier.



peanut-624601_1280There are a couple of reasons you should be wary of nuts: the fact that many people are allergic to nuts and the bowls-of-nuts-are-full-of-urine rumour.

You don’t have to avoid serving dishes with nuts in, just ensure that it is clearly stated to your delegates (we always adhere to the new Food Information for Consumers Regulation and have friendly, helpful staff on hand to answer any questions) and make sure you know which delegates have any specific dietary requirements. You don’t want an Apprentice-style debacle!

We have all heard that the bowl of peanuts at a bar will contain at least 21 samples of urine, faeces and other delightful entities, but there hasn’t been a scientific study to back up this claim. So, let’s go with the verified fact that 40% of people carry the bacteria Staphylococcus Aureus in their bodies and on their hands. This is the bacteria that causes chaos in hospitals if the guise of MRSA, and even though we are not inclined to believe everything we read in the paper – you can do the maths…

Geoff’s Advice – Practice good personal hygiene and wash your hands thoroughly when you go to the toilet, prepare any food or go for a cigarette – our staff do! Should you see someone visit the bathroom and not uphold the etiquette of washing their hands tell them about MRSA, it might well have them running back to the sink.


Visit the Great food at Leeds website for the latest seasonal, locally sourced catering at the University of Leeds.

meetinleeds heart

Now I know I may have lived in Yorkshire for far too long and am starting to moan about everything but… given that the majority of businesses are investing heavily in Customer Care training are things really progressing?

Last week I was forced to visit one of the big name banks in the centre of Leeds. Now it is a few years since I did this in the big city, but it seems like a lot has changed.  The said bank now resembles a hotel reception area – not a grilled cashier in sight. After a few moments of doubt I realised I had to visit one of the “reception desks”.

“Have you had a lovely day” asked the very pleasant lady.

“Not really,” was my reply “I’m soaked”.

I need to explain at this point that I had just walked out of a monsoon, and would have frightened a drowned rat.

The reason for my visit was to pay in a cheque (remember them everybody?).

“Can I ask what the “G” stands for?” asks the very pleasant lady.

Resisting the temptation to say “Gorgonzola” or “Gilbert”, I gave her my name. Every further sentence then included the word “Geoff” (never liked my name much – I’ve always seen myself as a “Kurt” or “Pierce”).

The final flourish of the conversation concluded with: “Where are you going on holiday Geoff?”

“Near to the Corinth Canal” I replied.

“Oh I adore France” states the very pleasant lady, oblivious to the fact she has transplanted the canal from its usual home in Greece. At this point a bucketful of opportunities presented themselves – for once I resisted. Back into the street and the torrential set fit for Noah.

The moral of this long and upsetting tale – projecting your real personality is better than that of a false façade. I understand exactly what the pleasant lady was attempting to do (and dare I suggest had been trained in), however, it came across as natural as Katie Price in a cosmetic surgery clinic. Having looked at what Customer Care training is available it seems most providers use exactly the same template.

At the University of Leeds, and in turn at MEETinLEEDS, we employ people who have the ability to communicate naturally and also respond as individuals, as well as displaying our values. I am not convinced all the training in the world can change attitude if it is wrong in the first place. Providing a script might work most of the time… but obviously not if it’s hammering it down outside.


You can contact our real and friendly team on 0113 343 6100 or