Food safety first

The aim is to buy fresh foods or food products of good quality, and maintain food safety and sanitation. Simply put it means keeping food safe. Spoiled or contaminated food negatively impacts health; pathogens (harmful bacteria) can cause various food-borne illnesses such as escherichia coliform (E. coli), salmonella and listeria monocytogenes (listeriosis).

Some other pathogens that may cause food-borne illness include Clostridium botulinum (botulism), clostridium perfringens, staphylococcus aureus, and campylobacter.

Bacteria can also cause food spoilage, the food deteriorate, resulting in unpleasant taste, odours, and textures. For example, spoiled fruits and veggies tend to get mushy and slimy, while meat develops a bad odour.

You should note that people can become ill after eating contaminated or spoilt food. The pathogen produces a toxin in the food, before it is eaten or in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) after the food is consumed.

Bacteria and foodborne illness According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many people get sick annually from food-borne illness –an estimated 48 million, with at least 128,000 hospitalisations and 3,000 deaths. Overall, researchers identified several food-borne diseases which are infections caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites.

These harmful toxins and chemicals can contaminate food and cause illness. Food safety first should be the focus, as anyone can get ill from eating contaminated food. However, groups readily affected may include young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems due to medical conditions and/or diseases such as HIV/Aids, organ transplants, diabetes mellitus, liver disease, kidney disease, and individuals receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

Briefly, let’s take a look at a few pathogens, here’s some basic information to note:

Botulism – symptoms include blurred vision, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, and difficulty breathing; source – improperly canned, low-acid foods or under- processed home prepared foods. Preventive practices: heat food properly to the appropriate temperature, cleaning methods and temperature controls.

E. coli – symptoms: severe abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, fever, dehydration that can result in death; source – contaminated food usually from contact with faeces; preventive practices: good personal hygiene (wash hands thoroughly after using the restroom), proper sanitation practices and thorough cooking of food.

Listeriosis – symptoms: sudden fever, intense headache, nausea, vomiting, delirium, coma; source – unpasteurised milk, soft cheeses, eggs, and neglected hard-to-clean spots in the kitchen.

Preventive practices: thorough washing of hands, proper heat treatment or irradiation, avoid cross contamination, refrigeration to control growth.

Salmonellosis – symptoms: headache, abdominal pain, fever, nausea, vomiting; source – contaminated raw eggs, milk, yoghurt, meat, poultry; preventive practices: avoid cross contamination, good personal hygiene, practise good personal hygiene and proper sanitation, cook food thoroughly and maintain proper storage temperatures.

Staphylococcus aureus – symptoms: nausea, cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea; source – human nasal passages or on skin, poor personal hygiene or uncovered sores; preventive practices: good personal hygiene, do not sneeze or cough over food, cover cuts, sores, and boils, time and temperature controls.

What can you do? There are several points in which contamination of food can possibly occur including during production, processing, distribution, and preparation. As consumers, purchasing quality food and food products is essential.

Choose fresh produce, not wilted or spoiled and free from cuts and dirt, as well as insects. During preparation wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly. If you buy canned products ensure that they are free from dents and bulges; dry goods such as dried peas and beans should be free from pieces of broken glass, weevils, and stones. Also check for the expiration or use by date on products.

Good personal hygiene practices should be emphasised continuously.

Meal managers, cafeteria operators, and caterers should promote handwashing prior to handling food, and after using the restroom (note: proper handwashing perform correctly is the most effective way to prevent the spread of disease). Proper storage and temperature controls are vital – as bacteria can grow quite rapidly in favourable temperature conditions.

For example, bacteria grow rapidly from 41 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit; this temperature range is referred to as the danger zone.

Also, encourage food service employees or anyone preparing food to cover cuts and wounds, wear hair restraints, using separate cutting boards for fruits, vegetables, and meats to avoid cross contamination an wipe up spills immediately.

Thoroughly was and sanitise dishes, glassware, flatware, pots and pans manually or mechanically as well as clean equipment, sanitise countertops and sweep and mop floors and practise proper handling of garbage and trash disposal.

Implement Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) – a food safety system utilised in the food industry globally that seeks to identify and address hazards before they contaminate food.

There seven principles involve in HACCP which include: conduct a hazard analysis, identify critical control points, determine critical limits for critical control points, develop monitoring procedures, establish corrective actions, develop effective record keeping system, and perform verification procedures (Gregoire, 2010 and Keller, 2006).

Claudette Mitchell, PhD, RD is Assistant Professor, University of the Southern Caribbean, School of Science, Technology, and Allied Health


"Food safety first"

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