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.