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The basics of ice cream van health and safety: A quick guide

Alongside arranging an ice cream van insurance quote, keeping your loyal customers happy and healthy has to be the number one priority for any ice cream van business. So, if you want to keep everyone safe then be sure to read our quick guide to basic ice cream van health and safety and our 20 top tips on how to start your own ice cream van business. 

Staying on top of health and safety might not be as easy as getting an ice cream van insurance quote from Mobilers. But it should be straightforward if you keep these basics in mind when setting up your business.

Follow food safety and hygiene regulations

Taking into account the universal popularity of ice cream, the low-cost set-up, and potentially high-profit margins, ice cream is an attractive business to get into. But while starting a mobile ice cream van business seems simple, there are a number of laws and regulations you need to be aware of.

Failure to follow food safety and hygiene regulations can soon make your ice cream unsafe to eat and lead to customers falling ill or being injured.

In some extreme cases involving particularly vulnerable people such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women, allergy sufferers and people with weakened immune systems, there could even be a threat to life!

These days, rumours that a food business is not following food safety or hygiene standards can spread like wildfire, especially on social media. A low hygiene rating from the local council or a bad customer review can negatively affect custom and cause any mobile catering business to struggle.

As a food business, your ice cream van will need to comply with food safety and hygiene legislation. These rules and regulations have been put in place to make sure the products you sell are safe to eat and no one is injured or made ill by eating them.

The legislation includes:

  • Food Safety Act 1990 – This covers a variety of matters including food safety, consumer protection, and food information in Britain. Northern Ireland is covered by similar but separate legislation.
  • Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations – These regulations cover the enforcement of food hygiene and the Hazard Analysis and Critical Point (HACCP) principles. There are separate regulations for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Food Information Regulations 2014 – Recently amended to include Natasha’s Law, these place duties on food businesses like ice cream vans to provide information to customers about the allergens contained in products.

It’s also your duty to ensure you have the right licences, permissions and consents to be operating an ice cream van in your local area. The first thing you’ll need to do is register your food business with the local council and obtain the right street trading licence if necessary.

You’ll also need to arrange the right insurance cover as soon as possible. Speak to our team to get the best ice cream van insurance quote suitable for you and your business.

Within six months of registering your ice cream business with the local council, you should receive a visit from your local environmental health officers.

They’ll be responsible for enforcing food safety and hygiene and will assess your business under the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. 

Hopefully you will have prepared thoroughly and will receive a top rating of 5! If you don’t you could be issued with an enforcement notice. More serious offences can lead to fines, business closure and even imprisonment.

Train staff on food safety and hygiene

haccp logo

As the owner of a food business, you’ll no doubt understand how important it is to follow food safety regulations. But how about your staff?

If they’re not aware of the risks or don’t follow all the necessary measures and precautions you’ve put in place, then your business could find itself in hot water.

It’s a legal requirement that everyone who prepares or serves food (including ice cream cones) is appropriately trained on food safety and hygiene.

Displaying evidence of such training is a great way to convince local council inspectors and your customers that you take such issues seriously.

And if there is ever a problem, evidence of such training could help in any investigation or legal claim. There are three different levels of training you and your staff could complete:

  • Level 1 – This provides a basic introduction to food hygiene, and is suitable for those handling low-risk or wrapped foods such as pre-packed ice creams and lollies.
  • Level 2 – This provides a basic food hygiene certificate to prove staff understand how to prepare and handle food safely. It’s suitable for ice cream van operators and assistants preparing soft ice cream with toppings and desserts. If your van also serves hot food then staff will definitely need this training.
  • Level 3 – A step up in training for those with more responsibilities for food safety management, such as ice cream van business owners and supervisors.

There are plenty of places where you can complete online food safety training with certification. Providers such as CPD Online offer training for as little as £20 + VAT.

Know how to spot food hazards in your ice cream van

You should also ensure that everyone who works for you is aware of the HACCP principles when managing food safety hazards in your van. Originally developed back in the 1960s, HACCP can help any size of business to identify food safety risks and implement procedures to manage them.

There are four food hazards that you need to keep an eye out for. The Food Standards Agency has defined each of the following as something that could make food unsafe or unfit to eat:

1. Biological

This is when microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi or viruses contaminate food and drink. A common way for this to occur in an ice cream van is where there has been inadequate and improper freezing and refreezing of ice cream.

Listeria can be a particular problem in ice cream that has melted and then been refrozen. There was a recent tragic outbreak of this disease in the US where one person died and 22 people were hospitalised after allegedly eating contaminated ice cream.

Biological hazards can also happen when there have been poor hygiene and handling practices that have allowed bacteria to spread. Such practices include:

  • Poor personal hygiene.
  • Inadequate handwashing.
  • Unclean food preparation surfaces.
  • Use of dirty ice cream machinery, equipment, utensils and cleaning materials.

2. Chemical

In an ice cream van, chemical hazards can happen when ice cream and other food products have come into contact with cleaning chemicals. To prevent this from happening only use food-grade chemicals on food-preparation surfaces and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Eating food contaminated with harmful chemicals can result in serious harm to your customers and must be taken very seriously. That’s why earlier this year Haagen Dazs recalled a number of ice cream products in Australia over fears they had been contaminated by the chemical ethylene oxide.

3. Physical

There are many ways in which objects and other unwanted items can find their way into ice cream. Whether in the raw ingredients or during the preparation, handling or serving of the food, it’s all too easy for something nasty to slip in if you’re not careful.

Physical hazards could include something that occurs naturally in food, such as fruit pips and nut shells. Or something unnatural that really shouldn’t be present in the food, such as human hair and fingernails, plastic, glass, wood, metal, or even animal droppings!

Physical hazards can not only cause injuries to the mouth, teeth and gums but can even result in choking. And even if someone is not injured, who would want to find a hair or a used plaster in their 99!

Make sure you get an ice cream van insurance quote so you’re financially protected from any claims from customers.

4. Allergenic

According to Allergy UK, 44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy. And while many allergic reactions are mild and will resolve with allergy medication, the issue of food allergies is a serious business for mobile caterers.

The consumption of food contaminated with allergens can lead to a dangerous life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.

According to the British Medical Journal, over the past 20 years more than 30,000 people have been hospitalised with anaphylaxis caused by something they ate.

Tragically there are around 10 deaths a year in the UK due to anaphylaxis caused by food allergens. With such worrying numbers, you need to take particular care to keep products containing allergens well away from products not containing allergens.

By law, you need to tell customers if your products contain any of the following 14 recognised allergens:

  • Eggs
  • Sesame
  • Milk
  • Tree nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and brazil nuts
  • Peanuts (groundnuts)
  • Fish
  • Crustaceans - a type of shellfish such as prawn, crab and lobster
  • Soya
  • Cereals containing gluten - such as barley and oats
  • Molluscs – another type of shellfish including mussels, snails and oysters
  • Lupin
  • Mustard (liquid, powder and seeds)
  • Celery
  • Sulphur dioxide and sulphites at certain levels

There is the potential for any of these four food hazards to be present in an ice cream van. But biological and allergenic hazards are likely to present a higher risk when preparing, handling and serving ice cream.

In view of these risks to your customers it’s important to have the right insurance cover in place. As well as ice cream van insurance, you’ll also want public and product liability cover to protect your business from injury or damage claims from customers.

Ask if your ice cream van insurance quote covers such additional protection when you get a quote from Mobilers.

Stick to the 4Cs

When maintaining great food hygiene standards, it’s always worth keeping things simple. And a great place to start is by focusing on the so-called 4Cs – cleaning, cross-contamination, chilling and cooking. Let’s take a closer look.

1. Cleaning

In such a confined space, it’s essential for an ice cream van to have an effective cleaning procedure and schedule to prevent harmful bacteria and other nasties from spreading.

Here are some top tips to share:

  • Clean as you go, rather than leaving it until the end of the day.
  • All ice cream machines, utensils and equipment should be cleaned thoroughly and frequently. Consult the manufacturer for advice on the correct cleaning procedure and frequency.
  • Hands should be washed frequently with warm soapy water before and after handling food.
  • Hand sanitisers can be used, but should never replace proper hand washing methods.
  • Detergents, disinfectants and sanitisers used on food preparation areas need to be food grade quality.
  • Encourage staff to clean surfaces, equipment and machines after each use and according to a cleaning routine.
  • Schedule in regular deep cleans of your ice cream van, particularly after busy periods.
  • Make sure everyone wears appropriate and clean workwear.

2. Cross-contamination

unclean counter being cleaned with cloth

Cross-contamination is one of the most common causes of food poisoning and often occurs when food containing allergens comes into contact with surfaces, equipment or other food. Prevent this from happening in your ice cream van by:

  • Ensuring good personal hygiene.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect all equipment, utensils, cleaning equipment and work surfaces before use.
  • Separating food containing allergens from non-allergenic foods, as well as the equipment and utensils used with them.
  • Being extra vigilant when preparing or handling food containing allergens.
  • Storing food correctly.
  • Preventing and controlling pests.
  • Displaying this Think Allergy poster to remind staff about appropriate allergen procedures.
  • Reading the Mobilers’ guide to allergy advice for mobile caterers.

Be aware that if someone working in an ice cream van becomes ill, it can affect food safety. You have a legal responsibility to ensure that anyone with an infection, or showing signs of food poisoning, doesn’t handle any food.

Cover cuts and sores with brightly coloured waterproof plasters. There are many pre-made first aid kits in a variety of sizes available on the market designed for businesses like yours.

3. Chilling

While chilling and freezing food doesn’t kill harmful bacteria, it does prevent them from growing. That’s why it’s vital that you ensure that food is properly chilled, frozen and stored at all times. For example, make sure you and your staff:

  • Check chilled and frozen food is stored at the correct temperature as soon as it’s delivered.
  • Ensure refrigerator temperatures are at 5°C or below, and freezer temperatures are at least -18°C or below.
  • Check the temperature of fridges and freezers regularly.
  • Never refreeze ice cream that has defrosted.
  • Follow the storage instructions on ice cream mixes and other food packaging, and monitor use-by dates.

4. Cooking

While most ice cream vans are unlikely to be serving hot food on a regular basis, some decide to do so to keep business going through the colder winter months. If you’re cooking or reheating food before serving it, it’s crucial that cooking instructions are followed and food is piping hot before being served.

Follow manufacturer instructions for safe storage of ingredients and other supplies

While you should always follow the manufacturer's guidance for storing items, here’s a quick run down of instructions for some of the most common supplies you’ll be using:

  • UHT mix – Store at room temperature in a clean, dry place away from direct sunlight. Once opened, keep refrigerated.
  • Fresh mix – Keep refrigerated and do not freeze before use.
  • Powdered mix – Store at room temperature in a clean, dry place. Once mixed with water, refrigerate.
  • Scoop ice cream – Store in a deep freeze at -18°C. Freezers used for serving can store ice cream at -12°C for no longer than one week.
  • Cones, toppings and other dry ingredients – Store at room temperature in a clean, dry place away from any source of contamination.

Follow waste management and pest control procedures

While ice cream vans don’t produce a huge amount of waste, what they do produce is likely to be mostly food, packaging and water waste. But even if there isn’t much waste produced, if waste management and pest control procedures are not followed, it can become an unpleasant problem.

Not only could it increase the risk of food becoming contaminated, but customers and passers-by will also find it unpleasant, especially if there are ants or wasps around your van. And you’re more likely to end up in trouble with the local council.

Read our Mobilers guide to bins and waste for more insight on this.

Keep staff safe

While an ice cream van may not be the first thing you think of when someone says ‘hazardous workplace’, it can still present health and safety risks to you and your staff.

An ice cream van is constantly moving from one place to another and handles food, water, cleaning chemicals, food appliances and other machinery. What’s more, you’ll spend many hours on your feet dealing with members of the public.

There are lots of health and safety issues to consider in an ice cream van, so let’s look at some of the main risks:

  • Repetitive strain injury - This problem occurs when making similar movements again and again, for example scooping ice cream for hours at a time. This can lead to significant pain, numbness and burning or tingling.
  • Back problems – Working in the confines of an ice cream van involves a lot of standing, twisting and bending, which all takes its toll on the back.
  • Stress and fatigue - During busy periods it can get stressful working long hours and always having to be upbeat and attentive to customers,
  • Slips, trips and falls - Confined spaces, trailing cords, and slippery floors can easily cause someone to fall and hurt themselves.
  • Workplace violence - Any job where you come into contact with members of the public puts you at increased risk of abuse and violence. Ice cream van operators are particularly vulnerable as they often work by themselves.

Give Mobilers a call and get an ice cream van insurance quote

Ice cream van business owners face unique challenges. That’s why you should always get an ice cream van insurance quote from specialists who understand your trade.

Arrange insurance through Mobilers and you could enjoy policy benefits such as:

  • Instant cover
  • Premiums from select insurers
  • Full fire cover as standard                                 
  • Fixtures and fittings covered
  • Flexible payment options
  • Mirrored No Claims Discount

Be sure to get a quick ice cream van insurance quote from Mobilers today. 

Frequently asked question

Are ice cream vans exempt from ULEZ?

ULEZ, or Ultra Low Emission Zone, is a traffic control measure implemented in London to reduce pollution. Unfortunately, most ice cream vans, especially the traditional ones, are not exempt from ULEZ. These vans tend to have older engines that emit high levels of pollution. Therefore, unless the ice cream van meets the stringent emission standards set by ULEZ, they are required to pay a daily charge when they travel within the zone.

Do ice cream vans have to keep engine running?

The primary reason is that the freezers in the van need a constant supply of power to keep ice cream cool. This power is often supplied by the van's running engine. However, with advancements in technology, some newer models are equipped with standalone batteries for the freezer, allowing them to turn off their engines while parked, contributing to less fuel consumption and pollution.

Best personal hygiene practices for running an ice cream van?

Operating an ice cream van can be a delightful job, but it also comes with great responsibility. One must adopt the personal hygiene to ensure the health and safety of customers. Key practices include regular hand washing, wearing clean and appropriate clothing, and maintaining a clean working environment. It's also essential to store ice cream at safe temperatures to prevent bacterial growth. Lastly, keep all utensils and serving equipment clean and sanitized.

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