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Food hazards

Food hazards.

Here are a few pointers of the hazards we all work on, on our daily working basis.

A standard procedure of a food business shall ensure that any of the following operations, namely, the preparation, processing, manufacturing, packaging, storing, transportation, distribution, handling and offering for sale or supply, of food are carried out in a hygienic way.

If a good standard of food hygiene is maintained throughout the food chain, including by the retailer, customers can be confident that the food they eat will be safe and they will not suffer any ill effects. Food hazards can occur at any stage during manufacture, storage, distribution or retail.

A hazard is anything that could cause harm to the consumer and can be grouped into three categories:

- Microbiological Contamination
- Physical/Chemical Contamination
- Physical Damage

Microbiological Contamination

Micro-organisms include bacteria, viruses, yeasts and moulds. They are very small and generally can only be seen under a microscope but they are present almost everywhere. Not all micro-organisms are harmful, however, and some are essential in the manufacture of food products such as cheese and yogurt or for brewing beers.

  • Bacteria

These are the most important micro-organisms in terms of hazard to the consumer. Contamination of foodstuffs by certain types can cause illness or even death due to food poisoning. Food poisoning occurs when a person eats a food contaminated with bacteria that has either produced a poison (toxin) or has grown to sufficiently large numbers and itself causes illness. The body reacts to the toxin or bacteria and will try to get rid of them, resulting in the symptoms of food poisoning which may include: Diarrhoea Stomach Pains Headache, Vomiting Sweating Collapse, the elderly, the very young, in some cases pregnant women and those who are already unwell are particularly vulnerable and in severe cases death may occur.

Bacteria grow in number by dividing into two. In order to grow and divide bacteria need favourable conditions: food, water, warmth. For example meat, milk, cereals, vegetables or food debris. Bacteria will not grow in totally dry conditions, though moisture in the air will be sufficient to allow growth. Most bacteria require warmth to grow, normally between 8°C and 63°C. Growth will be very slow below 8°C or over 63°C for most types.

Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995 Guide to compliance by Retailers.

Time - division can occur every few minutes if the correct environ mental conditions are available and within a very short time they can multiply to levels which can cause poisoning. To avoid the hazard of food poisoning from bacteria you must both ensure that food is safe in the first place and also avoid the conditions which allow any bacteria which are present to grow in number. In the retail environment food may be contaminated by bacteria from various sources:

  • by coughing, sneezing or spitting over food
  • hands cuts, skin infections. Not washing hands after going to the lavatory or handling refuse. By touching the nose, mouth, ears or hair where bacteria are always present
  • cross contamination raw foods such as meat or vegetables carry bacteria which may be transferred to and grow on cooked and ready to eat foods
  • pests, animals, insects, rodents and pets all carry bacteria which may be transferred to foods by direct or indirect contact

It is usually impossible to tell if food has been contaminated by food poisoning bacteria or their toxins. It is not possible to see, smell or taste any difference between contaminated and wholesome food. Thus it is vital to protect food from bacterial contamination at every stage and to control growing conditions.

Certain bacteria may also cause food spoilage and these types are found in the air, soil and sometimes water. They cause discoloration, slime and odour. Meat and fish are often spoiled this way. These bacteria can grow at low temperatures so good hygiene standards are essential to avoid contamination.

  • Viruses

Certain viruses can cause illness by being carried on food. They cannot multiply and grow on food but may be transported with it from person to person. They will be destroyed by thorough cooking but ready to eat foods handled by an infected person may cause illness to the consumer.

  • Yeasts and Moulds

These are often useful for the production of foods such as bread, beer and blue cheeses. They can, however, cause food spoilage and may even result in toxins being formed in foods. Evidence of mould growth in food preparation areas or on foods indicate poor cleaning and food safety practices.

Contamination by yeasts, moulds and spoilage bacteria and subsequent growth will render most food unfit for sale.

Physical/Chemical Contamination.

This is the contamination of food by any article or substance which should not be there and is not part of the normal food product.

The most common kind of physical contamination is that of foreign objects. If prepared foods or ingredients are left unprotected at any stage they are exposed to the risk of unwanted objects entering the product.

Food Hazards - this may arise as a consequence of:

  • pest control problems (insects, mouse droppings, feathers)
  • equipment or maintenance failures (broken glass, nuts and bolts)
  • poor personal hygiene (hair, buttons, hairgrips, fingernails, coins or plasters)
  • careless cleaning (scouring pads, debris)
  • poor food handling (open foods being mixed)
  • most foreign objects will not cause food to decompose or deteriorate in any other way but they can cause injury. It is an offence to sell food affected by physical contamination
  • chemical contamination of foods usually occurs as a result of cleaning materials being incorrectly used or being spilled accidentally. The use of appropriate cleaning materials and good cleaning practices should avoid this
  • other contamination may arise from incorrect storage. Metal containers may go rusty and thereby contaminate the contents. Some foods such as chocolate or eggs may be tainted if stored next to other products with a strong odour
  • some people have particular sensitivity to certain foods, which in the case of nuts can be fatal. A special form of contamination is therefore where such ingredients find their way inadvertently into other foods. Special care needs to be taken to deal with this hazard as very small quantities can cause the adverse reaction.

Physical Damage

If food or its packaging is damaged this may allow bacteria or foreign objects to enter the product and cause deterioration. This is particularly hazardous where special packaging such as vacuum packs or cans have been used. In these cases damage will rapidly lead to products becoming unfit to eat.

Physical damage may also alter the quality of foods, such as bruising to fruit and vegetables which in turn can make them more susceptible to attack by moulds or pests.