Bacteria are responsible for the highest number of outbreaks. 80% of all food poisoning cases are caused by bacteria.
Chemicals such as cleaning products, excess additives and preservatives, fuel fumes, strong after shaves/perfumes, agricultural chemicals, pesticides. In 1997 aluminium sulphate was inadvertently dumped into a reservoir in Camelford, Cornwall, UK. Twelve years later many relations of people who have died from Alzheimer’s disease, claim that the contamination in 1997 caused their deaths. (Autopsies of Alzheimer victims show a large proportion of aluminium in their brain cells compared to people who have not suffered from dementia).
In the 1970s an Austrian wine company deliberately sweetened their produce with industrial anti-freeze.
In the 1980s a Spanish company passed off used, industrial motor oil as virgin olive oil.
In 2008 a Chinese company deliberately added melamine to baby milk powder.
In the above examples there were a considerable number of deaths.
When certain moulds grow on fruit or grains, they produce a poison called a mycotoxin, such as aflatoxin, ochratoxin A and patulin. They can cause cancer and organ damage.
Metals such as cadmium, zinc, lead and mercury can cause illness. Also one has to be careful what type of metallic container acidic fruit is cooked in. In the catering industry we mainly use aluminium saucepans. If acidic fruit is cooked in aluminium, the metal becomes discoloured and the fruit retains a metallic taint. Probably not life threatening in the short term, but certainly illegal as far as the UK legislation is concerned. The best container to use would be one that would not react with the fruit such as stainless steel or glass.
Only food safe plastics must be used for storage of food items. Plastic containers bought from hardware stores that are not meant for food storage contain industrial dyes, which can contain arsenic and strychnine, which could leach into the food.
Natural poisons include poisonous fungi, rhubarb leaves, deadly nightshade and dried red kidney beans. Always ensure you identify the edible species of fungi if you like foraging for wild mushrooms. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid (wood bleach), which is deadly poisonous. Deadly nightshade was found in dried fruit tea, imported from Germany, several years ago, which caused severe illness. Dried red kidney beans contain a natural toxin. In order to deactivate the poison, the beans must be boiled vigorously for at least 15 minutes before using. The boiling can be before or after soaking. Canned red kidney beans are safe; they have already been processed to de-activate the toxin.
Fresh fish must be thoroughly cooked before eating. Do not undercook as serious parasitic infection could ensue. The freshest fish to eat is frozen fish, strangely enough! All fish, whether from fresh or sea water, from cold or warm temperatures contain parasites within the flesh. Cooking the fish to the right temperature will kill all parasites and the fish will be safe to eat. If the fish is undercooked, as some telly chefs would insist, then you can develop a parasitic infection, which can be quite serious. If fish is to be undercooked, then it must be frozen first, which will kill the parasitic infection.
Under UK health and safety legislation, all fish used for use with Sushi rice, must be frozen for at least 36 hours at -20°C before being used.
All animals, including fish, must be refrigerated immediately after slaughter, to prevent any build up of bacterial growth and toxin production. Depending on the fishmonger’s or supermarket’s location, it can take as long as 7 days for the fresh fish to be transported from water to display. If the integrity of the cold chain has been compromised in any way, the fish can be hazardous.
Fugu (Puffer or Blow fish) is a delicacy in Japanese restaurants. The internal organs: the ovaries, liver and skin, contain a deadly toxin (tetrodotoxin). If the fish is not prepared correctly, the toxin can leach into the flesh and cause lethal poisoning if ingested. The poison causes paralysis of the muscles while the victim stays fully conscious, and eventually dies from asphyxiation. There is no available antidote. In order to prepare fugu, the chef must be licensed. The training course for licensing lasts for two years. Part of the training course involves eating their preparation. 75% of trainee chefs fall seriously ill, some die, during the training course. If you see this delicacy on a menu, give it a wide berth, unless you are one to live on the edge! A good Fugu Chef will serve a customer just the right amount of skin with flesh to give them an apparently pleasant tingling sensation during eating!
Food Safety – Safe Food Means Higher Profits
The benefits of good food hygiene practices far outweigh the costs of poor food hygiene practices. The benefits include:
A good reputation for the company. This is important for all businesses, especially in the food industry. Word of mouth is a far better guarantee than any other marketing campaign.
Satisfied customers are a result of good hygiene practices. Safe food served in a clean environment.
The clean environment provides good working conditions for staff, providing high staff morale, a healthy, happy, motivated work team and, to the company’s advantage, increased productivity.
If the company is part of a chain, there is increased brand protection. Many high street food retailers have a very good food safety record. The retailers may have branches throughout the country with similar food safety records, thus protecting the brand.
Food safety is covered by legislation and the company with good food hygiene systems will remain within the legislation.
A clean kitchen will not attract pests, which bring with them other diseases.
Part of good food safety practices is to check all dates of food products and therefore there will be longer shelf life on products, due to date control.
There will be a reduced risk of food poisoning in a hygienically clean food premise.
Staff will be trained in Food Safety, covering all aspects of providing safe food to customers. The training will include an introduction to food safety, microbiology, food poisoning and foodborne diseases, personal hygiene, cross contamination, temperature control, food preservation, design and construction of food premises, food pests and how to control them, waste management, cleaning and disinfection and food safety legislation.
The training must be carried out by a trainer providing accredited qualifications. In the UK, food safety qualifications must be recognised by Ofqual, Dcells, Ccea and form part of the QCF. If they are not recognised by these educational bodies they will not be accepted by environmental health departments, employers or customers. Training is the most important part of any business, especially the food industry, where an untrained person can literally kill a customer. Always ensure training is carried out by an accredited trainer delivering accredited qualifications.
Some training companies will offer online courses leading to a food safety qualification. Beware if the courses are of less than 6 hours duration, which is the recommended study time by the main qualification awarding bodies, including Highfield Awarding Body for Compliance (HABC). All HABC accredited qualifications are recognised by the above educational bodies in the UK.
The costs of poor food hygiene include food poisoning, which could result in death, food complaints, brand damage, loss of business, closure, fines and legal costs, compensation claims, pest infestations, waste food, low staff morale, loss of production and high staff turnover, or loss of staff.
If you run a food business, you can see that the advantages of good food hygiene practices far exceed the disadvantages of poor food hygiene practices. Food safety is paramount in providing safe food for consumers.
Eating food kills! That doesn’t mean by way of overeating and obesity, causing heart attacks, it means by food poisoning. Food poisoning kills several hundred people in the UK every year and several thousand in the USA. How can this happen in the 21st century? Food poisoning and Foodborne disease are more prevalent now than they have ever been. Do you really know what is in the food you eat? Do you want to know? Read on…..
BOUTINOT LTD RECALLS THE NOVAS WINEMAKER’S SELECTION WHITE 2006 BRAND OF CHARDONNAY MARSANNE VIOGNIER WINE DUE TO INCORRECT ALLERGEN LABELLING INFORMATION
GINNI ENTERPRISES LTD WITHDRAWS SOFT DRIED APRICOTS DUE TO INCORRECT ALLERGEN LABELLING INFORMATION
Allergen: Sulphur Dioxide
WM MORRISON SUPERMARKETS PLC RECALLS ITS MORRISONS GREEN THAI STYLE STIR FRY SAUCE DUE TO INCORRECT ALLERGEN LABELLING INFORMATION
CO-OP RECALLS INDIAN COOKING SAUCES
The Co-op is recalling three of its Truly Irresistible Indian Cooking Sauces, because the acidity levels are too low. As the acidity levels are too low, this means micro-organisms may grow and the sauces will be past their best before the ‘best before’ date that appears on the jar.
DR PEPPER WITHDRAWN IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Coca Cola Hellenic Bottling Company has withdrawn certain batches of Dr Pepper in Northern Ireland, because of high levels of benzoic acid.
TESCO WITHDRAWS BROWN RICE
Tesco has withdrawn two batches of its own-brand wholegrain brown rice because they might be contaminated with insects.
Safe food is defined as food which is free from contaminants and will not cause illness or harm.
Food poisoning is an acute illness (quick onset) caused by the consumption of contaminated or poisonous food.
There are four classes of contaminants: Microbial, Chemical, Physical and Allergenic. All have been implicated in making people ill and causing death.
Food hygiene is defined as all practices and procedures that food handlers adopt to ensure the safety of food. Poor food hygiene practices are a major cause of food poisoning, not just in the commercial world of cafes, restaurants, take-outs and pre-prepared TV dinners, but also in our homes.
Implicated food vehicles and causative pathogen/ toxin in foodborne outbreaks (1992-2009) Health Protection Agency
The figures above are the reported cases. But what about the unreported cases, the cases we don’t report because we only suffered 1 bout of diarrhoea or the occasional feeling of nausea.
If you suffer any signs or symptoms of food poisoning, in the majority of cases, it is food poisoning.
Every year the Food Standards Agency sends out questionnaires to a selection of the UK asking if they have had food poisoning during the year and not reported it. A staggering 10-14% of those asked did not report. This equates to 7.5 to 10 million cases of food poisoning in the UK. A similar exercise is undertaken in the USA where 30 million cases are unreported. So why the increase, rather than decrease over the past 15 or more years?
- Increase in the purchase of cheap, intensively farmed poultry. Poultry farmed in closed buildings. 14 birds reared in an area of 1 square metre. Each bird pecking at each other, at each others urine and faeces, causing infection. That is not to say that free range, organically raised poultry are free from disease, far from it. Free range states that chickens have access to the outside, not necessarily that they take that option! Even if they reach outside, they peck at soil and faeces, again causing infection.
- Intensive feeding of farm animals was responsible for starting BSE in the 1980s. Farmers feeding dead, scrapie (a TSE disease) infected sheep’s’ carcasses to cattle was the probable cause. If farmers leave their sheep and cattle to graze naturally, it takes longer for them to reach maturity than if they are fed supplements. Farmers have to get their animals to market as quickly as possible. It makes good business sense, this way they will make a profit more quickly and cash flows. However, in order to bring their produce to market sooner they use supplemental feeds based on high protein, usually meat or fish derivatives. From an ethical point of view they are feeding vegetarians animal based protein? From a business point of view it also makes good sense to use the cheapest animal food they can source. Unfortunately a lot of the cheap food is not sterilised to kill microbial contaminants. This is transferred to the animals and to us.
- There has been a dearth of ethnic food outlets sprouting up throughout all rural communities. The problem here is not one of race or ethnicity; it is not being able to provide food hygiene courses in their native tongue, which is not usually English. Many large cities will have training providers, but not the rural areas, where the eateries are located. Although food hygiene books are provided in the majority of non-English languages, people will not learn just from books, they must attend an interactive lesson or online course. Books are so easily tossed to one side to gather dust.
- Mobile catering trailers are a big source of bacterial infection, both burger vans and ethnic vehicles. Before you buy any food from the trailer, step back and check out the state of the van to begin with. Is it clean, inside and out? Do the staff wear protective clothing? – As a minimum their external clothing must be completely covered with a white coat/overalls, apron, trousers and head-wear. Is the protective clothing clean? Are they clean?
Do they have hand-washing facilities? Do they use them? They must wash their hands after handling raw produce such as raw meat and eggs. If they handle these and don’t wash their hands they will cross-contaminate your food with pathogenic bacteria, which cause illness and can kill in some circumstances. E coli 0157 is the most virulent serotype of E coli and is present in raw meat, especially beefburgers.
E coli 0157 and Campylobacter is present in the faeces that is present on egg shells. E coli cause renal failure and is a big killer with susceptible groups, such as the young and elderly. In 1996 over 20 elderly people died in Wishaw, Scotland, in the World’s biggest outbreak of E coli 0157 food poisoning. Campylobacter, which is present in poultry and birds (domestic and wild), is the UK’s biggest cause of diarrhoea.
Make sure they are using a digital temperature probe to test the food is cooked to the correct temperature to kill the pathogens (at least 75 °C). Do they have smoking, drinking or toilet breaks and if so do they wash their hands (and dry them) before they commence work? Are they continually touching parts of their body, including hair, face and mouth and not washing their hands?
Do they have food hygiene/safety certificates and are they less than 3 years old? If they do not adhere to the minimum personal hygiene and food safety practices as above, then walk away or you will become ill after eating their food.
One recent example of a problem burger trailer started with me asking for a cup of tea. You would think nobody could mess that up! Wrong! After I ordered the tea, the female staff member broke an egg onto the griddle before serving me. After breaking the egg, she did not wash her hands and picked up a polystyrene cup, to pour hot water into. Her egg-contaminated hands came into contact with the rim of my cup. Eggs have faecal contamination on the shell, and after breaking, hands must be washed thoroughly. She handled money from several customers and, without washing her hands (money holds pathogens), handled bread rolls.
I noticed that she wore a dark coloured apron (light coloured would be better as stains would be easier to see and it could be changed more often). There was not any headwear being worn, which is not life threatening and you don’t mind hair or scalp particles in your food. The main danger from exposed hair and skin is S aureus, which require several hours’ incubation on high risk cold food to cause a problem. As all food being sold was hot, it did not pose a serious food safety hazard.
She placed several raw slices of bacon on the griddle with her bare hands and dipped her finger tips into a bowl of, what appeared to be, water, and dried her hands in a linen towel. She picked up several raw beef burgers and placed these on the griddle to cook. The burgers were separated with waxed paper disks. After placing the burgers on the hot plate to cook, she crumpled up the paper disks and threw them into the onboard bin. Without washing her hands, she wiped them in the same towel she had previously used. Next, she used that same towel to wipe down internal work surfaces, servery, counter and front fascia. Aaaagh!! Beefburgers contain E coli 0157 pathogens. These are killer bacteria. A normal healthy adult might be lucky and escape with severe diarrhoea. More susceptible customers, such as elderly and very young, could suffer kidney failure and possibly death.
- Pre-prepared foods such as ready meals, TV dinners, desserts, etc are prepared out of our control. Do you really know what has been included in the preparation, can you trust the ingredients list, and can you guarantee the personal hygiene of the food handler? My background as a chef gives me adequate knowledge to prepare my own meals from raw materials. I know what goes into the preparation and cooking. But what about the raw materials? That’s one chink in my food preparation armoury.
- Barbecues are a major source of food poisoning every year. Here we have two problems. One is the handling of raw and ready to eat food. If there is one thing you must remember about food it is this: all raw meat contains food poisoning bacteria (pathogens). This is without exception. Meat is prepared in abattoirs, which are not the most sanitary of facilities. There is a lot of splashing and spillages from intestinal fluids and faeces of the animals being prepared for the table. These residues contaminate the prepared carcasses.
If raw meat is handled and one’s hands are not washed, the meat juices, along with the pathogens, can be transferred to ready to eat food, (bread roles for example), and cause illness. Food tends to cook quickly on a barbecue, especially the outside, but not the inside, not enough to kill pathogens. Foods must be cooked to the right temperature to kill bacteria or illness will ensue.
- More bacteria variants are mutating, causing more illnesses than ever before. The more chemicals we use to try to destroy them, the more they develop immunity to the chemicals.
- We tend not to let our children play in insanitary conditions, such as in mud. We feed them highly processed food, which is totally devoid of bacteria. We are not allowing them to develop immunity to pathogens.
- When we buy ready to eat chilled food from an outlet, it must be kept chilled. Examples are: ready to eat cold meat, filled rolls/sandwiches/baguettes, scotch eggs, pork pies. These foods will contain pathogens, in small numbers, from the food handlers, customers, environment, etc. They will also contain spores from certain pathogens. If the food is not kept cold, the spores will germinate and start to grow as bacteria, the bacteria already present will also grow. This growth will then cause illness, even if the food is placed in the fridge, on arriving at home. The damage is done, it is too late.
- There are less chemical preservatives in foods than there used to be. Scientists have found and are still finding that certain chemical additives can cause diseases such as cancer. Manufacturers strive to use more natural preservatives such as sugar, salt, vinegar, lemon/lime juice, herbs, and spices to prevent decay.
So what should we do?
- Cheap poultry is a good source of cheap protein, especially for families who cannot afford more expensive protein. Cheap poultry will continue to be produced until the market dictates otherwise. Ensure the meat is cooked to the right temperature to kill the pathogens. Check the thickest part of the meat to ensure the temperature is constant throughout.
- Intensively fed animals will still be produced as families look for cheaper cuts of meat. Again any pathogens will be killed by adequate cooking.
- More effort by countries governments to fund courses for ethnic food outlets should be encouraged. Whilst I am on the subject of ethnic outlets, please beware of the rogue kebab takeaways. Kebab meat (lamb or chicken) is raw meat; it is therefore a harbinger of pathogens. The kebab meat is placed on a skewer which rotates in front of a heat source. The only part of the meat to be cooked is the outside surface. When the meat is sliced it is still partly raw, therefore containing bacteria. The outlet should now place the shavings of meat on a griddle to finish cooking. If not, and the meat is served straight away, it contains pathogens and will cause illness. If you drink alcohol before you order the kebab, be especially aware! Alcohol reduces your immunity to food poisoning and the end result could be twice as bad! The other problem with kebabs is the exo and enterotoxins present in the meat, which is constantly heated and chilled, allowing the toxins to develop. The toxins give rise to fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.
- Prepare your own food from raw materials. Cut out the middle person who might contaminate your food.
- If you handle raw foods during barbeques, wash your hands before handling other foods such as bread rolls. Ensure the right temperature is achieved before serving food. Check the thickest part of the food.
- Avoid using chemicals wherever possible. The best disinfectant (a product which kills bacteria) I know is very hot water, for example straight from a kettle.
- Let our children develop immunity to pathogens. Let them play outdoors (under supervision); feed them freshly prepared foods, especially raw foods such as salads which, although containing no valuable nutritional value apart from water and fibre, have many naturally occurring bacteria.
- Keep chilled food cold, either by packing the food in thermal boxes with ice packs or mixing your frozen foods with your chilled foods in the same bag.
- Check labels on containers to see what storage conditions are required. It either has to be refrigerated after opening or retained in a cool storage area, such as a kitchen cupboard.
Supermarkets are recalling food products almost on a daily basis due to contamination or mis-labelling. Food poisoning is on the increase due to incorrect handling of chilled food, intensive farming/feeding, language barriers with ethnic eateries, BBQs cause major problems, eating out more, eating more pre-prepared foods, more bacterial mutations. Good housekeeping and a common sense approach to eating can help prevent many cases.
Dehydration kills many people every year, because clean potable water cannot be provided. Fresh fish, if not cooked correctly, can cause serious parasitic infection. Manufacturers have deliberately poisoned food and murdered people for monetary gain. A major water company poisoned a town’s water supply causing many to allegedly suffer the indignity of Alzheimer’s disease and death.