Hotel takes the lead on food hygiene issues

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 October, 2008, 12:00am

The Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers has many firsts to be proud of, but in 2006 it hit a milestone which changed the entire industry.

In the wake of several significant food and health safety crises, including the avian flu, mad cow disease, Sudan Red dye in sauces and condiments, and Malachite Green dye/antiseptic in fish, the hotel applied for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) accreditation in 2005.

HACCP, which was developed in the 1960s by Nasa to prevent astronauts from contracting food-borne illness, is a systematic, preventative process that addresses microbial, chemical and physical hazards by anticipating and preventing incidents before they can occur.

The accreditation process is rigorous and intensive and includes in-depth analysis of each step in food handling and preparation, including purchasing, receiving, storage, preparation, cooking, cooling, reheating, food display, transport and washing.

After analysis and identification, critical monitoring procedures, verification processes and exceptional record keeping are established.

In September 2006, after about only one year, the Sheraton became the first five-star hotel in Hong Kong, and one of the first in Asia-Pacific, to receive accreditation.

Lillian Hui Lai-ha, purchasing manager for the Sheraton, recalled the laborious process vividly because she was one of the team leaders responsible for spearheading the hotel's accreditation efforts. She said, 'We put together a group of team leaders from the relevant departments involved and then we hired a consultant to come in and provide us with some guidelines. Thereafter, it was a matter of painstaking analysis of every small detail.'

The hotel has more than 3,000 food items, and each required testing and verification to HACCP standards.

This included thorough, exhaustive supplier audits and subsequent corrective actions because some suppliers were initially unwilling to comply due to the investment in time and money on their part.

Ms Hui and her team spent a substantial amount of time educating them on the strict standards and overall direction of the industry and, ultimately, their efforts paid off.

The accreditation process also brought about a fundamental, all-inclusive change in the hotel's purchasing methodology.

Aside from documentation, on-site hygiene inspections and equipment checks at the suppliers and warehouses were established.

All of this led other hotels in Hong Kong and the region to look at their food safety standards and some of them are going through HACCP accreditation.

But the Sheraton is not resting on its laurels. In yet another first, in August this year the hotel became the first five-star hotel in Hong Kong to achieve ISO 22000 Food Safety Management Systems certification.