It was all very hands-on in that we got lots of detailed hand-outs this time. We were also pointed in the direction of the 300-page-long Guide des Bonnes Pratiques issued by the Chambres de Métiers. This really is the food preparers’ bible, but few of the people on the course knew about it, including the full-time restaurateurs. Our trainer tut-tutted and said that it was up to us to find out all the relevant information we needed to know. I find this disingenuous, I have to say. If you don’t know something is out there, and don’t know what it’s called, and don’t know where to find it, then it kind of makes it hard to start looking! Surely, when you turn up to register your business and you say that it involves making occasional meals for guests in your gîte, for example, then it doesn’t seem too much to ask, in my opinion, to be given a list of training courses you need to sign up for, publications you should get hold of and a copy of any relevant legislation that you need to know about. Isn’t that what the professionals in the various civil service departments are there for – to inform you, to guide you, to, heaven forbid, help you? Sadly certain bureaucrats don’t seem to think that it’s part of their job description. When I registered, I was vaguely told to go to the DSV who would ensure that my kitchen was ‘à normes’ (meeting regulations). I thought she had said ‘énorme’, meaning that the DSV would be checking if my kitchen was enormous! My French wasn’t so good then. So I went along to the DSV, confessed that I had a very small kitchen, filled in forms and went to a workshop they did about traceability, and learned that if I planned to use my freezer to store food for clients, then I’d have to submit all its details to the DSV on the appropriate fiche. I was told that with our level of making meals, a few dozen a year, then that was all we needed to do. That, and hold onto receipts and food labels from items we used for six months. (Someone on the course thought they had to keep theirs for five years! There’s a lot of confusion and lack of hard facts out there.)
Anyway, the upshot of the hygiene course is that you need to perform HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) and have a plethora of plans in place to show how you are attempting to ensure that you are operating in hygienic conditions and following best practices. Whatever they are. If that sounds vague, then, well, it is. I possibly missed a few things during the course but there does seem to be quite a lot of room for manoeuvre within the stipulations of the law.
Anyway, perhaps the last few loose ends will be tied up when the trainer visits on Thursday to help me draw up a ‘plan de nettoyage’. It will be nerve-wracking, but informative, and at least it shows that we’re doing everything we can to be squeaky clean.