At a recent Bidfood Food Safety Awareness Forum, the question was raised: How do you know if the dish you serve at your establishment gives your guest food poisoning? With an incubation period of up to 90 days in some cases, it can be almost impossible to know whether or not you are responsible for a guest’s illness. However, there are certain practices that chefs and managers can take to mitigate the risk factors that are inherent in preparing food. Bidfood sought to address these practices in their recent Food Safety Awareness Forum, which was held around the country.

The workshop was prompted by the recent Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa, which is the world’s worst ever listeriosis outbreak and saw over 1000 reported cases and over 200 deaths. Experts in a variety of different fields spoke throughout the day, each addressing a different aspect of food safety, including risks and how to mitigate them, the legal repercussions of food safety, and consumer reaction on social media.

Food poisoning outbreaks take place around the world regularly, but as Jane Russill from Bidfood said in the Food Safety Awareness Forum, “we don’t want it to happen ever again in South Africa on the scale that it did”. We focus on two of the talks here – the first a Listeriosis Update from Dr Lucia Anelich, and the second on Food Safety in the Kitchen by Linda Jackson of Food Focus.

Listerioisis Update

The workshop started with an update on the Listeriosis outbreak, with Dr Lucia Anelich from Anelich Consulting providing information on the recent outbreak as well as the Listeria pathogen itself. Listeria is widely dispersed in the environment in soil, decaying vegetables, water and silage, and while its optimum growing temperature is 37°C, it can still grow below 0°C. It’s the third most frequent cause of bacterial meningitis, but we often consume low levels of the pathogen with no ill effects. Mild cases of listeriosis seen in low-risk individuals typically 24 hours after ingesting high levels, but severe cases can be seen in the very young (under 1 year old), those who are pregnant, over 65 years of age or have a weak immune system.

The foods that are typically at high risk include cold meat cuts, raw milk, soft cheeses, cold smoked fish, pre-washed salad leaves and coleslaw because of its raw cabbage content. However, there have been cases of listeriosis outbreak from foods that are not traditionally risky such as pre-cut celery, cantaloupes, ice cream, mung bean sprouts and caramel (toffee) apples.

Listeria is particularly harmful as it is distributed in many environments, including food processing plants, and can grow in fridges. It is persistent despite frequent and correct application of cleaning and disinfectant products.

The World Health Organisation lists five key steps to safe food preparation:

  • Keep food preparation areas and equipment clean
  • Separate raw and cooked food
  • Cook food thoroughly
  • Keep food at safe temperatures
  • Use safe water and raw materials

Food Safety in the Kitchen

Linda Jackson from Food Focus continued the theme of food safety by focusing on the practical steps that can be taken in the kitchen to mitigate food safety risks. After all, eating food prepared by someone else is a matter of trust – the consumer has a constitutional right to safe food. Foodborne illness is preventable if foodservice professionals do the right things, and many are worried about passing a food safety audit, not because it unsafe food puts the consumer at risk but because they don’t want a bad score.

Food safety is not an accident. Foodservice outlets need to take a risk based approach to food safety as hazards are all around in people, equipment, environment and product.

Some of the hazards Linda touched on include:

  • Wearing kitchen uniform items outside of the kitchen, including shoes, jackets and hairnets
  • Long nails, jewellery and gloves
  • Incorrect wound dressing or uncovered cuts
  • Incorrectly stored ingredients
  • Defrosting items in hot water
  • Washing raw meat – bacteria spreads from raw meat to water

The law covers the minimum requirements expected of foodservice outlets, with a certificate of acceptability required to handle food. Recently amended regulations go a step further to make food safety a priority. The person in charge is now held personally liable for food safety problems, and must tick the following boxes:

  • Qualified/adequately trained in principles of food safety and hygiene
  • Must ensure all those handling food are trained in food safety
  • Conduct routine assessments
  • Ensure records are kept

More information on the amended Regulation R638 can be found on the Bidfood website.

Management failures also often result in food poisoning. These include:

  • No risk assessment done when changing menu
  • No contingency planning for breakdowns
  • Lack of communication
  • Management disincentives – keeping costs on food and cleaning chemicals down can tempt employees to shortcut
  • Commercial abuse of equipment – overloading of equipment in order to increase capacity of catering
  • Failure to recognise potentially dangerous practices/to learn lessons/implement corrective action/improve work practices for food safety
  • Unrealistic demands made on junior management or untrained staff
  • Absence of routine planning and consistent procedures

Foodservice management needs to take a risk management approach and walk through the kitchen with eyes wide open. However, correct cleaning procedures will only help so much to thwart food safety dangers – foodservice professionals should be sticking to correct temperature control, avoiding cross contamination and cooking ingredients properly in order to avoid food safety problems.

When looking at critical control points in food preparation in order to control food safety:

  • Identify potential food safety problems
  • Determine how and where these can be prevented
  • Describe what to do in these situations when training personnel
  • Implement these standards and record results every day

While one should always work with trusted suppliers, foodservice professionals must realise that pathogens are impossible to eradicate completely, and that cooking, chilling and adequately washing vegetables are important steps in food safety.

We can’t always see bacteria, and there is often very little indication that foodstuffs are contaminated. However, foodservice professionals should control what they can, namely the ideal conditions under which bacteria grows by creating hurdles for bacterial growth. And remember, that if you think food safety is expensive, try having an accident.

While we’ve just touched on two of the talks that were given at the Forum, the day was packed full of interesting speakers. For further information on the event, visit Bidfood’s website.

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