Food Poisoning Need Not Happen

June 9th, 2007 Categories: Hygiene Articles, News Tags:

With food safety now a mainstream concern, in the wake of the 1998 hygiene legislation, it is worth considering where food businesses are most at risk. According to Siobhan McEvoy, Acting Chief Environmental Health Officer, Department of Health and Children, typical hygiene breaches would include:

- Breakdown in temperature control. For example, cooked food left at room temperature for a long period or food cooled overnight in a kitchen.
- Lack of adequate hand washing facilities, which usually means no soap or drying facilities.
- Unhygienic practices, including handling raw and cooked meat without hand washing or storing raw and cooked meat side by side in the same cold room.
- Dirty surfaces, typically the accumulation of dirt on worksurfaces, equipment and cooking appliances.

Knowing where to start tackling food safety, however, can be a problem. The easiest starting point is the I.S.340:1994, a clear guide for the food operator. It is specifically approved under the new legislation and has, to some extent, demystified the law. “If businesses comply with this standard they will satisfy the law and reduce to an insignificant level the risk of overlooking a food safety issue, ” Manus O Brolchain, Standards Officer for the food sector with the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI), advises. Essentially, the I.S. 340: 1994 defines the standard stages in a catering operation and how to prevent known food risks from happening.

But the I.S. 340: 1994 alone is not enough. In tackling food safety, hygiene training for managers and staff is not only advisable but – under the law – a requirement. Increasingly, businesses are signing up to the approved courses offered by the National Hygiene Partnership. Once the hygiene fundamentals and training are in place, businesses can then introduce the full HACCP (hazard analysis) system that is also required by law.

The legislation places the onus for food safety firmly on the food operator, and rightly so, as each and every outbreak of food poisoning in Ireland is preventable.
“Training underpins the solution to many problems” according to Siobhan McEvoy. “With temperature control, for example, if staff are trained to know why food must not be left out at a certain temperature and to understand the effects of heat on bacteria growth they are less likely to make mistakes.”

Practical measures for safeguarding food include storing raw and cooked food in separate fridges or segregating them in a cold room. Colour coded chopping boards for certain food groups can also reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Zoning different areas in the kitchen for starters, desserts, raw food and cooked food is also a good idea. Infestation is very preventable and insects or mice can be tackled by insect screens on windows and doors, proper waste disposal and ultra-violet fly killers. According to Siobhan McEvoy, the main factors in providing safe food are “a clean, well designed premises, regular temperature monitoring, good waste disposal methods and soundly based work practices.”

For some people involved in the food industry, hygiene is still seen as an imposition and a distraction from the everyday challenge of operating a business. “Traditionally chefs tended to focus on ensuring that the texture, aroma, flavour and presentation of a dish was of the highest quality and as a consequence food safety may not have been given the priority which it deserved,” according to Denis Tucker, CERT representative on the National Hygiene Partnership.” He points out that there is now clear evidence of a change in the the pecking order of priorities. “Concerns surrounding food safety are beginning to challenge and even influence conventional thinking on food production.” Manus O Brolchain agrees. “Apart from the legislative requirements, people in this country are quite litigious and you can now trace the source of bacteria where contamination occurs. It is in the interest of every food business to comply with the hygiene law.”

There is no doubt that safety is here to stay as a concern for anyone involved with food. “If an outbreak of food poisoning is traced to a particular establishment and safety standards are found to be inadequate,” warns Denis Tucker, “its management will face the full rigours of the food hygiene regulations as well as loss of customer confidence. Unfortunately, while there are many progressive thinkers on food safety in this industry there are some who will be found wanting.”

The National Hygiene Partnership is the trading name for a Partnership of Government Agencies and Industry Representatives Bodies which was established for the purpose of developing , promoting and coordinating a range of food safety training initiatives for the Irish Food Sectors. The NHP is registered for VAT in Ireland, Registration number 9535893H and the business address is Abbey Court, Block B. Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1.