Food Safety

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Food Poisoning Prevention

How do you get food poisoning?

The biggest cause of food poisoning (foodborne illness) is consuming contaminated foods and beverages.

What is contaminated food?

Contaminated food refers to items which are infected with harmful diseases. This can range from bacteria such as salmonella to contagious viruses which cause gastroenteritis and harmful prions which cause mad cow disease.

How is food contaminated?

Food contamination happens due to a whole range of contributing factors. It is relatively easy for food to become contaminated. Within the food retailing and hospitality sectors a foodborne illness outbreak can potentially affect a large number of people.

  1. POOR HAND HYGIENE

    Arguably one of the biggest causes of foodborne illness is poor hand hygiene. Businesses involved in food preparation such as manufacturing, hotels and restaurants must pay special attention to hygiene standards and enforce safe practices.

    The human hand is responsible for spreading 88% of infections. Harmful pathogens such as bacteria and viruses present on a person's hand can easily be introduced during food handling.

    Hand Hygiene Tips

  2. PESTS

    Pests present a big risk to the food industry. Not only can they cause damage to a business’ reputation, but can also contaminate food throughout the food supply chain.

    Rodents and cockroaches are known for spreading harmful bacteria and viruses through their urine, droppings, vomit, and also their feet and bodies. If a pest comes into contact with an item of food then there’s a strong possibility for foodborne infections such as Salmonella could be transmitted.

  3. FOOD STORAGE

    For foodborne illnesses to develop the microbes which cause them need to multiply into large numbers. For this to happen, microbes need warm, moist conditions. Food left out overnight is often at great risk.

  4. FOOD PREPARATION

    Food preparation areas can be at high risk of food contamination. This can happen through a range of ways; however the main source is cross contamination.

    Cross contamination happens by transferring germs from one food to another. This can be done through using the same knife, cutting board, and other utensils on multiple food products without washing properly in between each usage.

  5. ANIMALS AND PLANTS

    Many germs responsible for creating foodborne illnesses (such as E.coli) can be found in the intestines of healthy animals. Although these germs remain in the sections of the animal which are discarded, the edible sections can become contaminated during the food manufacturing process. It only takes a small amount of the animal’s intestinal contents to cause a foodborne infection.

    Plants such as fruits and vegetables (even organic ones) can also be contaminated. This can be via a range of different factors such as being grown in infested soil, or being washed with water contaminated with faeces and excrement.

Who is at risk of food poisoning?

Unlike some diseases, foodborne illnesses can affect everyone. Anyone can catch food poisoning, and relatively easily.

Some people are more likely to develop food poisoning than others. Apparently some people are naturally more resistant to food poisoning that others. Factors such as stress can also play a part in a person's resistance to foodborne diseases.

Certain groups of people are naturally less resistant to foodborne illnesses due to a weaker immune system, these are:

  • The elderly
  • Sick people
  • Babies and young children
  • Pregnant women

Foodborne illness symptoms?

Although there is a wide range of different foodborne diseases you can catch, they all show relatively the same symptoms.

Foodborne illness can have various symptoms including:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Fever

The number of these symptoms present and their severity depends on the type of foodborne illness.

Treating food poisoning

Whilst foodborne infections are fairly common, thankfully treatment can be quite simple. Food poisoning can usually be treated at home on your own, without the need for medical intervention.

Treatment for food poisoning

  • When treating a foodborne illness it is important to replenish your fluids by drinking plenty of water. Avoiding dehydration is key to recovery.
  • You can also treat food poisoning by resting as much as possible.
  • Try to eat, if and when you feel up to it. But stick to small, light, non-fatty meals first. Bland carbohydrates such as toast, crackers and rice are a good option.
  • Avoid alcoholic, caffeinated and carbonated drinks as well as spicy and fatty foods. These will make you feel worse.
  • If you find yourself not recovering after a few days, or if you’re showing severe signs of a foodborne illness, get professional medical help.

Preventing foodborne illness

Preventing foodborne illnesses is relatively simple. In order to prevent food contamination from harmful pathogens, always follow food safety guidelines and basic food hygiene practises..

Food safety

Food safety is a scientific discipline that ensures the prevention of foodborne illnesses through the handling, preparation, and storage of food. It includes a number of food hygiene routines that should be adhered to in order to prevent the potentially severe health hazards foodborne diseases can cause.

5 principles of safer food

According to WHO the five key principles to safer food are:

  • Keep clean
  • Separate raw and cooked
  • Cook thoroughly
  • Use safe water and raw materials

Keep Clean

Following proper food hygiene and hand hygiene practices can ensure the spread of foodborne illnesses is kept to a minimum.

The harmful microorganisms which cause foodborne illnesses are carried on hands, wiping cloths, and cooking utensils. Even the slightest bit of contact can transfer these organisms to food.

You can prevent foodborne illnesses by:

  • Ensuring hands are washed regularly — before and after handling food, during preparation, and after using a washroom.
  • If wearing gloves, remember to dispose of them safely and wear a fresh pair when handling different items of food.
  • Wash, sanitize and disinfect all surfaces and equipment used within the food processing cycle.
  • Protect food supply and preparation areas from pests such as rodents, cockroaches, flies and stored product insects.

Separate Raw and Cooked

Raw food, and in particular meat, poultry and seafood are riddled with dangerous microorganisms (which are eliminated during the cooking process). These microorganisms can easily be transferred during food preparation, transportation and storage and lead to infection from a variety of different foodborne illnesses.

You can prevent foodborne illnesses by:

  • Separating raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods during preparation, transportation and storage.
  • Use separate equipment and utensils such as knives, chopping boards and plates whilst handling raw foods.
  • Store raw foods in airtight containers and away from cooked foods, and items such as fruit and vegetables which don’t require cooking before consumption.

Cook Thoroughly

The majority of the microorganisms that cause foodborne infections are eliminated through heat. Studies have shown that cooking food to a temperature of 70℃ can help ensure it is safe for consumption by thoroughly eradicating any pathogens on the item. 70℃ is the advised temperature as it can kill off even the highest concentrations of microorganisms within 30 seconds. However, it is advised by food safety professionals that food is held at 70℃ for 2 minutes to reduce harmful bacteria to a safe level.

You can prevent foodborne illnesses by:

  • Ensure all food is cooked through thoroughly, especially meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Use a thermometer to check food has reached 70℃ before serving. For meat and poultry make sure the juices run clear.
  • Reheat cooked food thoroughly before serving.

Keep Food at Safe Temperatures

Improper food storing methods can lead to products becoming infected with foodborne illnesses. The microorganisms responsible for causing these diseases can multiply very quickly in food stored at room temperatures.

Ensuring that food is stored at temperatures below 5℃ and above 60℃ (63℃ in the UK) slows down and stops the growth of these microorganisms. However, it is worth noting that some dangerous microorganisms can still grow below 5℃.

You can prevent foodborne diseases by:

  • Ensuring cooked food is not left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
  • Promptly refrigerating all cooked and perishable food, preferably below 5℃.
  • Keep cooked food at 60℃ (63℃ in the UK) or above before serving.
  • Quickly cool and store leftovers.
  • Prepare food in smaller amounts to reduce the amount of leftovers.
  • Do not store food for longer than 3 days, even in the refrigerator.
  • Do not thaw frozen food at room temperature, use a refrigerator or another cool location instead.

Use Safe Water and Raw Materials

Raw materials, ice, and water can be contaminated with dangerous microorganisms and chemicals. Damaged and mouldy foods are often littered with toxic chemicals as well. The same can also be said for soil.

You can prevent foodborne infections by:

  • Taking care in the selection of raw materials.
  • Washing and peeling fruit and vegetables before using.
  • If growing produce, ensure the soil and water used is free from chemicals.
  • Do not use food beyond expiry date.
  • Opt for foods processed for safety such as pasteurized milk.
  • Avoid using food which is damaged or rotting.
  • Throw away smashed, swollen or oxidized cans.