Food safety for cake decorators

What is food safety and do I need to pay attention to it? Read on for all you need to know about food hygiene and safety.

White and pink tiered cakes with pastel-coloured flowers Image credit: Food safety advice

You probably see the words 'food safety' and immediately roll your eyes, yawn and carry on with your day. You're probably thinking that food hygiene and safety are for restaurants and takeaways, not for your little home baked creations. Well, that's where you would be mistaken! 

Now while cake baking and decorating is pretty low when it comes to risk, it's still really important to know what food safety is and ensure you're doing everything you can to keep your bakes, cakes and makes to the highest standard. 

So how can you check that the food your producing is safe? Here's our guide to everything you need to know about food safety...

Food Safety

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Registering your business

White and pink tiered cakes with pastel-coloured flowers

If you're selling cakes, then there are some things you must do, like registering with your local council's Environmental Heath Officer. They will perform an inspection based upon the perceived risk of the food you are producing. 

A somewhat difficult issue with these inspections is that the level of inspection and regulations enforced varies a lot from one local authority to another and again from one inspector to another. How hard-line they will be is pot luck, depending upon where you live. For anything you are not sure about, the best bet is always to contact your local EHO for advice.

Top tip! The key thing to remember here is that, if your cakes are your business, you must register. 

If you're unsure as to whether you are running a business, here is a perfect definition:

Business is the activity of making one's living or making money by producing or buying and selling products (such as goods and services). Simply put, it is any activity or enterprise entered into for profit.

If that still doesn't clear things up for you, simply contact your local EHO, explain your position and they will be able to let you know whether or not you need to register. You can register and find contact details for your local authority right here.

Your responsibilities 

Cake shop

The website clearly lists out precisely what responsibilities you have if your business deals in food. These are:

  1. Make sure food is safe to eat.
  2. Make sure you don’t add, remove or treat food in a way that makes it harmful to eat.
  3. Make sure the food is the same quality that you say it is.
  4. Make sure you don’t mislead people by the way food is labelled, advertised or marketed.
  5. Keep records on where you got food from and show this information on demand - known as ‘traceability’.
  6. Withdraw unsafe food and complete an incident report.
  7. Tell people why food has been withdrawn or recalled, for example by using a leaflet or poster.
  8. Display your food hygiene rating (if you sell food direct to the public).
  9. Food additives: If you use an additive in food you must only use an approved additive and only use it if it's approved for use in that food. The food additive must not exceed the maximum permitted level.

Food Hygiene

Food contact materials decorating tools

Your responsibilities 

Part of complying with food safety is managing food hygiene.

HACCP plan

You usually have to write a plan based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Contact Point (HACCP) principles if you run a food business. This keeps your food safe from biological, chemical and physical safety hazards.

Food contact materials

Not only do you need to be aware of the food hygiene and safety of edibles, but any materials that could come into contact with foodstuff. Materials and packaging that can be reasonably expected to come into contact with food are called ‘food contact materials’ and can include:

  • Packaging
  • Food processing equipment
  • Cookware
  • Work surfaces

Keeping food safe for consumption

You need to therefore ensure that the above potential food contact materials are to the correct standard to keep food safe for consumption. This can be done by following these points of advice:

  • Make sure food contact materials don’t transfer anything to food they touch
  • Make sure food contact materials don’t change the food they touch
  • When inspected, be able to show where the food contact materials came from

Bacteria and food poisoning

To keep food safe from bacteria, you should follow HAACP. Bacteria that cause serious health problems are:

Food hygiene training

Training chefs

If you are a large business and employ people, you as an employer are responsible for staff hygiene training. It can be either a formal programme or informal training, such as on the job training or self study.

Food allergies

Gluten free sign

If you're a food retailer or caterer you need to manage food allergies when preparing and selling food. This means informing customers if any of the consumable food you produce and sell contains any of the 14 main allergens as an ingredient. These allergens are:

  1. Celery
  2. Cereals containing gluten – including wheat (such as spelt and Khorasan), rye, barley and oats
  3. Crustaceans – such as prawns, crabs and lobsters
  4. Eggs
  5. Fish
  6. Lupin (a type of yellow legume)
  7. Milk
  8. Molluscs – such as mussels and oysters
  9. Mustard
  10. Tree nuts – including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts
  11. Peanuts
  12. Sesame seeds
  13. Soybeans
  14. Sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million)

This may seem like an awful lot of hassle, but just bear in mind that a bit of extra work for you could genuinely save someone's life. Makes it feel a lot more worth while we think!


Writing inspection

You can be inspected by your local council at any point. All inspectors must follow the Food Law Code of Practice. Usually, you won’t be told an inspection is going to happen. How often you’re inspected depends on the risk your business poses to public health. You might not be inspected as often if you’re a member of a recognised assurance scheme (you can find these online).

If you’re a food retailer or caterer you'll be inspected on a more regular basis to make sure you comply with food safety laws. Your premises, food, records and procedures can be inspected. Food samples can be taken as well as photographed.

After the inspection

You’ll be sent a letter confirming any improvements you need to make and by when. Usually, you’re responsible for confirming these improvements have been made. 

Advice on ingredients & equipment

Reaching for food

Best before and use by dates

There's a lot of debate over which dates are acceptable when baking cakes for sale. While cooking at home, many of us totally ignore use by dates (as long as it's not blue and fluffy, it's all good, right?) 

(It's not good. Just FYI).

This is what has to say about best before and use by dates:

"Use by date is about safety... Foods can be eaten (and most can be frozen) up until the use by date, but not after. Best before date is about quality and not safety... will be safe to eat after this date but may not be at its best."

If you raid your cupboards, you'll probably struggle to find anything commonly used in a cake that wasn't labelled with a BEST BEFORE. For example, eggs, butter, spread, flour, sugar, trex, sugarpaste, flower paste and food colourings. 

So, if any of your ingredients that are about to go into your cakes are past their best before date, from a legal perspective, you're generally in the clear to use them.

We're not saying use mouldy butter or flour riddled with weevils, but a little common sense goes a long way! Especially with cupboard ingredients such as food colourings, a few days beyond their best before is not going to cause a problem.

Toxic and non-toxic

Glitter cake

Now this is the big one in the cake world... *drum-roll please* GLITTER! Companies are pretty good these days when it comes to labelling their glitters, however it's best to follow the legal guidelines from the government. states that:

"Dusts or glitters that are edible will include permitted additives. Only glitter or dust clearly labelled to show it is suitable for eating should be applied to food for consumption. ‘Non-toxic’ glitters and dusts are not made from edible materials and must not be eaten. Only ‘non-toxic’ and inedible glitters that have been tested and meet with the requirements of the legislation on food contact can be applied to food for decoration, but not for consumption."

It's another case of common sense really: non-toxic glitters are not for eating! So it's cool if they're on bits that can be removed, e.g. glittery stars on cupcakes or a big shiny number, but not if it's sprinkled over everything and thus cannot be removed. One could argue that a teeny bit of glitter, as it's non-toxic, won't do any harm... but the legislation exists for a reason and it's just not worth the risk.

There are plenty of edible glitters on the market now, so we can all have safe sparkles! If you do use non-toxic glitters or lustres etc. communication is key, so that the eaters fully understand what must be removed and why. 


Cosmetic brushes

While there are seemingly hundreds of different cake decorating tools, often we do find ourselves having to turn to non-cake-specific equipment when baking and caking. 

Take brushes for dusting or painting on flowers and cakes as a great example. Many of us will have noticed that make-up brushes are great for petal dusts - a whole range of shapes and sizes. But are they food safe?

There's no official guidelines on this unfortunately, so we'll advise to the best of our knowledge on this one. It's more than likely that brushes sold under cake brands are made in the same factory as the ones sold in art shops. If you do want to use non-food-specific brushes, we would advise that you buy it, wash it and use it ONLY for cakes. This applies to lots of things that aren't technically designed for cake making.

Once again, let common sense dictate that you avoid the rusty tools or play-doh encrusted cutter. If you're baking for a business and selling your wares, it's always better to be safe than sorry. So proceed with caution and, if in doubt, stick to tools and equipment specifically labelled for cake making and decorating!

As you can see, food hygiene and safety is a long (pretty boring) and wordy way of telling you to be careful when you sell food.

If you found the ins and outs of food safety useful, be sure to check out our article on how to price your cakes. It's easy to forget how valuable your time and your cakey creations are!

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