‘Deadwood dossier’ exposes wood-fired oven legislation gap

Wood

A supplier of eco-friendly fuel for wood-fired ovens has thrown down the gauntlet to the government and environmental health bodies by producing a high-impact lobbying document titled ‘The Deadwood Dossier’. 

The publication calls on rule-makers to address a “worrying hole” in food safety legislation, which relates to the wood used by chefs employing wood-fired pizza ovens to cook food at outdoor events, in street food contexts and in restaurants.

Mansfield-based Eco Fuels’ ‘Deadwood Dossier’ demonstrates how there is a food poisoning crisis waiting to happen, due to the risks attached to chefs and mobile chefs simultaneously handling both food, such as raw dough and pizza toppings, and mouldy, infested or chemically contaminated wooden logs, as they prepare food for a pizza oven and throw more logs on to the fire.

This is particularly worrying when mobile wood-fired ovens are now becoming so popular at outdoor festivals and shows, as well as at weddings and other celebrations, and when street food is the fastest growing food trend of this era, the company said.

While some environmental health departments of local councils have their own guideline and advice documents for mobile caterers, when Nottinghamshire Eco-Fuels examined over 30 of these guides, it discovered that there was not one mention of wood-fired catering and the risks arising from cross-contamination of food, thanks to mould, mosses, lichen and insect infestation within logs. Similarly, there was no mention of any fire risk that could surround catering with a wood-fired oven.

Eco Fuels said it had also discovered that a large number of councils and borough councils reference, or signpost caterers to the 2012 Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) document ‘CIEH National Guidance for Outdoor and Mobile Catering’, produced ahead of the London 2012 Olympics (June 2010). However, it fails to reference the wood-fired sector of the street food and outdoor catering industry. Consequently, there are no food safety guidelines for those cooking with wooden logs to follow, it says.

The crux of the issue raised by the ‘Deadwood Dossier’ is that caterers are using logs, which are intended for use in wood-burning stoves, within a food environment for which they are wholly inappropriate and dangerous.

Mark Thomas, director of Nottinghamshire Eco Fuels, says that logs stacked in a farmyard, or stored in an open environment after being kiln-dried, typically attract cockroaches, small insects and vermin. They are often also exposed to pesticides and fertilizers and are perfect breeding grounds for thousands of species of invertebrates, fungi, mosses and lichen.

“We were truly shocked to discover not one environmental health catering guideline document that mentioned the risks attached to the use of wooden logs within food service,” he commented. “It is clear that environmental health legislation has not kept up with the growth in popularity of wood-fired ovens over the last decade.”

Nottinghamshire Eco Fuels has sent copies of the Deadwood Dossier to the Food Standards Agency, NCASS, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and those councils whose current guidelines fail to mention wood-fired catering.

It has also written to George Eustice MP, Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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