Volunteer/Parent Info

Guidance for charity and community groups providing food

This section gives safe catering advice links for volunteers and charity groups that want to provide food in a village hall or other community setting.

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Questions and answers for volunteers and charity groups  

Applies to England

This information is for:

  • volunteers and charity groups that want to provide food in a village hall, or other community setting

I’m making food for lots of people at a fundraiser event. What general advice can you give me?

When you’re making food for large numbers of people, it’s important to keep food safe. Here are some general practical tips:

  • plan ahead – if you can prepare food in advance, this should make things easier later
  • wash your hands and any equipment you are using in hot soapy water
  • keep food out of the fridge for the shortest time possible
  • even if people are waiting to eat, don’t reduce cooking times
  • always make sure food is properly cooked before you serve it
  • keep raw and ready-to-eat foods apart
  • do not use food past its ‘use by’ date
  • know what is in the ingredients so information about allergens can be provided (e.g. provide a ’contains nuts’ label for cakes)

Which people are particularly vulnerable?

If food is being provided to vulnerable people – this can include the elderly, infants under five years of age, expectant mums and anyone with a serious or long-term medical condition – you should take particular care to ensure the food is safe. The advice here will be helpful and the FSA also recommends contacting the local authority, who can provide free advice.

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Is it okay to sell homemade cakes at the school fair?

There is no rule banning the sale of homemade cakes at school fetes or other community events. Homemade cakes should be safe to eat, as long as the people who make them follow good food hygiene advice and the cakes are stored and transported safely.

At home, people making cakes should follow these tips:

  • always wash your hands before preparing food
  • make sure that surfaces, bowls, utensils, and any other equipment is clean
  • don’t use raw eggs in anything that won’t be thoroughly cooked, such as icing or mousse
  • keep cheesecakes and any cakes or desserts containing cream or butter icing in the fridge
  • store cakes in a clean, sealable container, away from raw foods, especially raw meat

On the day, people bringing in cakes from home or running the stall should follow these tips:

  • transport cakes in a clean, sealable container
  • wash their hands as frequently as possible
  • make sure that cheesecake and any cakes or desserts containing cream or butter icing are left out of the fridge for the shortest time possible
  • when handling cakes use tongs or a cake slice instead

How long can I leave food out on a buffet?

In general, food that needs to be chilled, such as sandwich fillings, should be left out of the fridge for the shortest time possible. If it is left at room temperature for a long time, bacteria can grow or toxins can form, and both of these could cause food poisoning.

If you are preparing a buffet, you should try to keep food out for a short time and not more than four hours. After this time, any remaining food should be thrown away or put back in the fridge but if you do put the food back in the fridge, don’t let it stand around at room temperature if you serve it again.

Do I need to label cakes and jams sold for charity?

If you sell food for a charity or other community organisation, you will have to follow Food Labelling Regulations 1996 only if the charity or organisation is a registered food business. So, in general the labelling regulations won’t apply to most food being sold for charity and so won’t need to be labelled, including food sold at one-off events such as church fêtes and school fairs which are not registered.

However, even if you’re not legally required to label a food, you could label it voluntarily. For example:

  • the product name
  • a list of ingredients (in descending order of weight)
  • details of any ingredients that could cause an allergic reaction – such as egg, milk, sulphites, peanuts and tree nuts

If you do label a food, you must make sure that the information you provide is clear and accurate.

From December 2014, new labelling rules will apply. Again the laws will only apply to registered food businesses but, if a person providing food in a village hall voluntarily provides allergen information, it will need to be accurate and in the correct format, especially if it is deemed to be pre-packed, such as a jar of jam or lemon curd.

Registered food businesses will need to provide mandatory information which includes allergen information. More information on the new allergen labelling rules can be found via the link below.

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