Key Recipes For Food Safety

22nd Apr

Helen Groves sits in a bustling cafe in Worcester city centre and reflects on life over the past couple of years. “I ended up with more work during lockdown than I have ever had…I think part of it is everything went online and virtual so people were maybe looking for support through LinkedIn and Facebook, social media, rather than going to a networking event, it was a bit strange.

“Thankfully I got to help lots of businesses through the pandemic with my COVID risk assessments that I updated each time the regulations changed.”

Networking in person or spreading the word virtually, Helen is an expert in her own specialist field of food safety, running her own consultancy business from her home in Pershore. Food Safety Logic does what it says on the tin, and she has built up a variety of clients from prestigious Oxford colleges to small sandwich shops and event companies to help them tackle the demands of keeping food safe.

As a fully qualified Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner Helen knows what she is talking about. And as someone who believes she was once deliberately poisoned out in India during her travelling days, food safety is clearly a subject dear to her heart. But more on that later…

Helen set up Food Safety Logic in 2018 following a varied career path embracing jobs in the holiday industry, hospitality, local authorities and other roles, in addition to satisfying her wanderlust across India, Nepal, Australia, Thailand, New Zealand, Indonesia and other exotic locations. It’s been a long and winding road – quite literally – from trekking in Nepal to inspecting food hygiene in Oxford colleges, as she explains.

“I set up the company because I like helping people, sorting out products, building a relationship with a business and getting them to be the best they can be. The reason my business is called Food Safety Logic is that my original thought was that I wanted to make food safety simple, demystify it, because there are a lot of myths around food safety.

“Many people think that you can just go into a business and close them down but there has to be an imminent risk to health like a pest infestation or something really serious. A lot of my work is around reassurance. It is not just about complying with the law, it is about keeping customers safe.

“Whenever you order food, potentially if people don’t wash their hands or the food is not at the right temperature or those sort of things, it can make customers ill – that is my main drive with the business, keeping customers safe.

“The first thing I do with a new business is a food safety health check – similar to a car MOT  – and from that short audit I can work out the general standards, and if there are any problems, or any issues, I can also give them recommendations for improvement.”

Hospitality and catering have been in Helen’s blood ever since her upbringing in Lancashire which eventually saw her undertake a catering and hotel management course at college in Oldham. “I have always liked cooking, baking, all that sort of thing.

“I suppose I was attracted to the hospitality industry because it is a people industry. I went to Leeds Polytechnic and did a Higher National Diploma in hotel management and then I transferred to a Bachelor of Science in hospitality management. I didn’t do A levels, I went for more of a vocational route.”

The twenty-something Helen combined her vocational pull towards the hospitality industry with a love for travel, taking herself off to France for six years working for summer holiday firms, ski companies and managing hotels.

“I went travelling in 1997-98, I did an around the world trip – I went to India and trekking in Nepal. A friend wanted to go to India and I wanted to go to Nepal, so I said let’s go together. But she got really ill and went home, which left me in Nepal on my own.

“Later I decided in my infinite wisdom to travel from Delhi to Mumbai by myself overland on a train. I do not know to this day why I did it. It was just awful, I was there as a 27-year-old woman travelling on my own.

“I met a lady on a train and she said: ‘I have got this bed and breakfast place, come and stay with us.’ I went to this place, I was the only person staying there, it was so rundown and old. I think that they poisoned me – I was stuck there and I had to keep paying them money. I could not leave the room, I was there for a long time, about 10 days.

Food Safety Logic Helen Groves | BusinessWorks Magazine
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“Later on a bus I met a really lovely couple of Indian ladies with a load of children and they took me under their wing, and told me not to eat from the roadside cafes to avoid getting ill. They had all their home-made chapatis and bread for the kids and they shared it with me – it is little things like that that I will never forget, they were really kind.”

Helen eventually found herself in Sydney, Australia, working in the bagel industry. “The company offered me the opportunity to get a visa to stay out in Australia but I think because I had been away for a long time and I was on my own, I decided not to do it.

“It was like one of those pivotal moments in your life. I have always wondered what would have happened if I had stayed, but I didn’t. I always think don’t regret stuff, you have to make these decisions in your life. That is quite similar to running your own business because you have to make decisions and not regret it, you just move on.”

Her travelling days behind her, Helen moved to Pershore after meeting her husband whilst working for a spell in London for the ASK restaurant chain, a role which would eventually provide an introduction to the world of food hygiene with a job as a food safety adviser.

Meanwhile, she was combining practical work experience with further studying, enrolling for a Master’s Degree in Environmental Health at Birmingham University. “When I finished my course, I got a job as a student environmental health officer with Birmingham City Council.

“I did that for two years – the timing was absolutely perfect because I qualified in July 2008 and my daughter was born in August 2008. I had my maternity leave and then got a job nearer to home with Bromsgrove Council as a part-time environmental health practitioner.”

Around four years later an amalgamation of council departments saw Helen working for Worcestershire Regulatory Services, overseeing environmental services, trading standards and licensing across six local authorities in the county. It’s a role she pursues to this very day, combining her council duties with running her own Food Safety Logic business.

“I have been working there for 12 years. The beginning of the week I run my business as a consultant and for the remainder I still work as an environmental health practitioner. Because my business is so aligned with what I do in my other job it is quite advantageous because I still get all the updates, I know what is going on in the industry, I am up on all the regulations – it is not at all counter-productive.

“In the council role I am a generalist so I don’t specialise whereas in my own business, I just do food safety. I am qualified to do health and safety, but it is just not my thing.”

To avoid any conflict of interest, Helen has built up her client base away from Worcestershire. “I do training but not consultancy in Worcestershire because there could be a conflict of interest with my other job, so all my clients are based elsewhere. I keep it very separate.

“I have got some quite prestigious clients, I work with a couple of the Oxford colleges, St John’s College and Somerville College. I also do work through another consultancy, as an associate.

“I have done some really interesting projects with them, including producing a food safety management system for a farm that are pasteurising their own milk and then selling it from a vending machine on the farm. I have just done another one with a company that have started to produce kimchi, or fermented cabbage, to sell in shops and online.

“If someone says to me who is your ideal client, really it is somebody who needs help but they are not big enough to have their own food safety person so they have me, I am part of their team.”

Helen can find her work taking her into the inner sanctum of a variety of businesses, from delicatessens to restaurants, colleges, hotels and others. Meanwhile, she is also branching out further into the digital world.

Helen Groves of Food Safety Logic | BusinessWorks Magazine
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“At the moment, I am promoting an app, which is a digital food safety diary and I am trying to get businesses interested in that. Everyone is going digital in some form. I also write blogs for my website which is a brilliant way of getting people to know you and know that you are expert in your field.

“I think that one of the things I have really learnt is that nobody is going to buy something from you if they don’t know you. People are constantly getting in contact with me saying ‘do you want this, do you want that?’ I just think ‘who are you, I don’t know you, I don’t know what you do, I don’t even know if you are a proper company.”

Helen says Food Safety Logic is ‘progressing well.’ “I have had to learn about all the different aspects of running a business – I didn’t really do any social media before – and then the accounting, and all those sort of things. I really believe my business kept me going through Covid….it is all about learning new stuff.

“My aim at the moment is to get more ongoing work – you work with a business and deliver four audits a year or you do some refresher training at some point in the year – it’s not just all new, waiting for the next client and you never know when that is going to happen. I would also like to employ associates who could do the audits and training.

“I love doing this. The bit that I like the most is that you get in your car, you meet the business owner, you are finding out about their company, your hear their story and how they got there, and you are really helping them and doing something positive that is tangible.”

Clearly, the environmental health expert who can still recall that food poisoning episode in India all those years ago is now devoting her energies to the wider concerns of public food safety – a logical step, you might say…..

BusinessWorks Wocestershire & Black Country spring 2022 | BusinessWorks Magazine

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