food allergy

The Difference Between a Food Allergy and Food Intolerance

Food Allergens: What’s the Difference between an Allergy and Intolerance?Food Intolerance

Some people react negatively to certain foods but does a dichotomy exist between an allergy and intolerance? If you have a food intolerance, it means that once you eat that food, your body cannot properly digest it. Or rather, your digestive system is irritated by that particular food or ingredient. If this is the case, eating that food will usually result in nausea, diarrhoea, cramps, abdominal pain, among other symptoms. Usually, even if you are intolerant to a certain food, you may be able to eat it without much trouble. You can do this by consuming only small amounts of the food, or substituting certain components, such as drinking lactose-free milk, for example, if you have lactose intolerance.

There are various reasons why one might develop an intolerance to a certain food. These include:

  • An absence of the enzyme required to digest a particular food, for instance in the case of lactose intolerance.
  • Toxins that may be present in contaminated food leading to food poisoning.
  • Some food additives that are used in preservation of foods may trigger attacks in sensitive people.
  • There are times when the thought of a particular food may make one feel sick. This psychological factor has however not been fully understood.
  • People with celiac disease react to foods containing gluten in the same way that people with food allergies do.

A food allergy, on the other hand, is a more serious condition. When one is allergic to a particular food or ingredient, their body’s immune system reacts to the presence of that food in the body as it would to an invader. An allergic reaction involving the release of histamine in the body results, leading to breathing problems, tightening of the throat, vomiting, a drop in blood pressure, swelling and even abdominal pain, among others. An allergic reaction can be life-threatening (anaphylaxis) and can be triggered by something as simple as eating microscopic amounts of the food or even inhaling it.

Food intolerance and food allergies usually exhibit similar symptoms, which is why many people confuse the two. If you have a severe food allergy, you should always carry an emergency injectable epinephrine, as well as totally avoid the problem foods at all times.

If you are not sure whether you are allergic or intolerant to particular foods, you should speak to your doctor who will help you clearly determine which of the two categories you belong to. This way, you will always be prepared because if you are truly allergic to a certain food, you should take steps to ensure you do not place yourself in a life-threatening situation.


Louis Pasteur and Food Safety

Louis PasteurWho was Louis Pasteur, and what was his contribution to Food Safety?

When most people hear the name Louis Pasteur mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the pasteurization process that is named after him. The truth is pasteurization is just one of the many things Pasteur gifted the world with. Born in 1822 in France, Pasteur received his early education in Arbois before moving to Paris where he received his doctorate in chemistry in 1847.

At the age of 27, Pasteur was a chemistry professor in Strasbourg, and at the same time he embarked on a study to understand fermentation. Fermentation, a process which involves break down of organic materials, had long been used in the brewing industry even before it was fully understood scientifically.  Pasteur specialized in bacteriology and studied the growth and reproduction in microorganisms. Through his studies, Pasteur further disputed the theory of spontaneous generation which had put forth the theory that living things could develop directly from non-living things.

Pasteur became the first scientist to show that microorganisms were capable of growing in sterilized broth, but only if this broth had been exposed to the reproductive cells of the said microorganisms, leading to the development of the cell theory of the origin of living matter. Pasteur further put forward the theory that although bacteria could grow almost everywhere, their growth and spread could be controlled.

It is from this knowledge that the pasteurization process was born. While continuing his scientific studies in the 1860’s, Pasteur discovered that the reason wine could turn bitter was because certain microbes are able to enter the wine while it was being made. The solution to this was to apply a controlled amount of heat which killed the microbes without tampering with the flavor of the wine. This use of heat to kill microbes and consequently, preserve food, came to be known as pasteurization. Its use extended to milk, beer and food as well.

Pasteur’s discovery of the roots of food and beverage spoilage was revolutionary in contributing to modern day food safety. It is only by correctly identifying the cause of the problem that steps can be taken to ensure elimination of those threats. Indeed, some have referred to Pasteur as the foundation stone of the food safety industry. Currently, all milk sold in stores today is pasteurized, and consumers no longer have to worry about bitter wine.

Many years after Pasteur’s death in 1895, his contributions to the scientific world continue to be felt and appreciated. And for every safe food product that can be attributed to him, we, as consumers, should be extremely grateful.


Genomics and Food Safety

The Future role of Genomics within Food Safety

There is a growing demand for food that is both fresh tasting and quick and easy to prepare; something that is demanded by today’s fast-paced lifestyles. Unfortunately, this type of food carries with it the potential for food poisoning if certain safety procedures are not followed.   Measures must be put in place to ensure that any potentially dangerous bacteria present in food are easily and quickly identified, and then eliminated. Currently, the process of identifying such bacteria is relatively slow and cumbersome, which means that in the event of a food poisoning outbreak it can take some time to identify its source. Thankfully, there is a new technology available to address this particular problem

Genomics will allow scientists to quickly identify the microorganisms present in food products, and observe how these microorganisms respond to the preservation methods applied. Microbial genomics involves comparing the raw product against chips that contain information of thousands of genes belonging to the microorganisms that cause food spoilage. Genomics will in future make it so much easier to prevent food poisoning and quickly identify treatment measures, without using as much energy as is currently needed.

Understanding the genetic make-up of the microorganisms that may be present in food will also help scientists discover how they can use these microorganisms to the advantage of the consumer. In fact, genomics has been identified as one of the top strategic priorities as far as combating food safety issues is concerned; and it is expected that genomic technology will be highly transformational as far as public health microbiology is concerned. Foodborne disease tracking will become much easier once genomics are applied.

Many of the laboratory methods used to test and detect foodborne illnesses are effective, but take too much time and require so many resources, so that by the time the cause is detected, and the treatment offered, it is usually too late. The single fast method offered by whole genome sequencing will simplify this process, and help curtail outbreaks before they become full blown.

What’s more, genomic technology will not only be used in food preservation. Rather, application will extend to all processes where living microorganisms are present. Metabolic engineering, development of risk assessment procedures and even tailoring of novel preservation methods will be facilitated by genomic technology. It will also be possible to use genomics to trace the path travelled by food from the farm to the table, which will ensure there is greater accountability in food supply chain  logistics.

food fraud

Food Fraud

What is Food Fraud?

With the ever widening global food supply chain, food fraud is becoming an increasing problem that is of major concern to suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, and, of course, consumers.

So what exactly is food fraud and why should the public be worried about it? Food fraud refers to any situation where food is tampered with or misrepresented with an intention of deceiving the consumer, with the main goal being to gain financially from such acts. There are many different types of food fraud, and these have been explored at length in scientific journals by various scholars. However, the two main types of food fraud are:

Sale of food that is unfit and has the potential to harm

This type of food fraud includes sale of beef and poultry with unknown origins, recycling of animal by-products with an intention of getting them back into the food chain, and even knowingly selling food products which have exceeded recommended use by, or safe to eat, dates.

Deliberate misrepresentation of food

Substituting products with cheaper alternatives and making false statements about where the food products originated from are some examples of this type of food fraud.

If animals have been stolen and illegally slaughtered, the sale of such meat constitutes food fraud, the same being true for wild game that has been poached.

The deliberate contamination of food for financial gain is worrisome in that it poses serious health risks to the consumer. With chemicals such as melamine and heparin making their way into the food chain there are serious implications for the long-term health of consumers.

Indeed, it will take a lot of vigilance to ensure that tampering of food products is curtailed. With the increasing fragmentation of global food supply chains, it has become much harder to trace the sources of food, which makes it difficult to detect tampering when it occurs. In the recent horse meat scandal for instance, the meat product travelled across several networks in several European countries, undetected.

Considering that the horse meat scandal is just a tip of the iceberg, it is no surprise therefore that consumers, investigators and regulators are anxious to identify any suspicious products that may be passed off as legitimate food products.

Consumers are entitled to the highest standards of food safety and manufacturers need to be completely transparent in disclosing details of where exactly they source their food, and what safeguards they have in place to prevent food fraud.

Hand Hygiene

Hand Hygiene: Ignaz Semmelweis – A Man of his TimeIgnaz Semmelweis

In today’s modern medical world, it is required practice for surgeons to thoroughly wash their hands (referred to as scrubbing) before undertaking an operation. Many years ago, in the 1840s, a Hungarian physician by the name of Ignaz Semmelweis was criticized for suggesting that there was a connection between the poor hand hygiene of physicians and maternal deaths and neonatal mortality. Here’s what happened:

In 1846, a young Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis reported for his new job as head of the maternity clinic at the General Hospital in Vienna. Semmelweis became interested in finding out why many new mothers and their babies were dying from puerperal fever or childbed fever. So he embarked on a process of collecting crucial data which would help him find out the possible cause of the deaths.

At the beginning there seemed to be no obvious connection to the deaths, but later on as Semmelweis was examining the body of a colleague who had died, he realized that that colleague had died of childbed fever. This made him realize that the fever didn’t just affect mothers and newborn babies. Semmelweis arrived at the conclusion that the death of his colleague (a pathologist) must have resulted from cadaver contamination when the pathologist was working on an autopsy.

Semmelweis made it a requirement for his medical staff to wash their hands and instruments with a chlorine solution. At the time, he did not know anything about germs, but he knew that the best way to get rid of the smell of the cadaverous particles was to use chlorine. After this directive, the rate of childbed fever fell. However, the other doctors were not happy with Semmelweis. His directive made it look as if they were the ones passing on childbed fever to the mothers in the maternity clinic, an image the doctors were not ready to accept. Consequently, Semmelweis’ directives were resisted and he eventually lost his job. During the following years, Semmelweis suffered from mental illness and was committed to an asylum, where he died at the early age of 47.

Semmelweis was indeed a man of his time, a physician who practiced in an age where physician-scientists were beginning to look at illnesses from an anatomy point of view, unlike previously when illnesses were said to be caused by evil spirits. Today, hand-washing remains one of the most critical tools of public health. Hand hygiene is known to combat the spread of diseases and should always be practiced by food handlers.


Using Cleaning Cloths Safely and Hygienically.

Using Cleaning Cloths Safely and Hygienically.

cleaning cloths

In response to a frequent question we receive regarding the use of dish cloths for cleaning and disinfection in the kitchen, here are some of our thoughts on the subject, in the context of food and food safety.

Cleaning cloths, improperly used, have the potential to be the cause of cross-contamination; spreading food borne pathogens around kitchens and food rooms. Studies have recognised that cloths used in both domestic and commercial kitchens can harbour very high levels of pathogenic bacteria, including E. coli and Salmonella. Combine this with food handlers who have an inadequate level of food hygiene knowledge, and you have a food poisoning disaster just waiting to happen!

It’s important to note that there’s no point in having segregated areas, surfaces and equipment for food production and preparation if all surfaces and equipment end up being cleaned with the same cloth.  Damp dish cloths, ingrained with grease and food residue, left lying around for hours on end, provide the optimum environment for the growth of bacteria. The bacteria is then spread around causing contamination each time the cloth is used; sometimes a single cloth can be used multiple times by several different food handlers, further exacerbating the danger and therefore exposing many more people to food poisoning.

The number seven is widely acknowledged to be the complete number, so here are seven very straightforward safety tips to prevent cross-contamination when using cleaning cloths.

  1. We would recommend when practicable, using single-use, disposable cloths. This method is always preferable; as it means that the cloth (along with any pathogens) can be disposed of immediately after cleaning; reducing the risk of contamination. In some instances, this could mean replacing traditional cloths with a blue paper towel, but only if the paper is sufficiently durable to cope with the task in hand.
  2. Where possible, colour-code your cleaning cloths. There is a wide variety of different coloured cleaning cloths on the market today, which can be purchased inexpensively. If it’s not practical to have a full set of colours, it can be as simple as having blue ‘J Cloths’ for the cooked, ready-to-eat areas of production in your kitchen, and red cloths for the raw areas.
  3. It’s imperative that cloths are replaced regularly, but especially when they start to tear or become damaged.
  4. Ensure cleaning cloths are thoroughly washed after each use. Never use the same cloth for cleaning between different tasks, especially between raw and cooked areas!
  5. Subsequent to washing, best practice would be to fully immerse the cloth in hot water above 82°c for several minutes, (to disinfect). All cleaning cloths should be laundered daily either in a washing machine on a boil wash and/or in a dishwasher, and always left to thoroughly air dry before reusing.
  6. Provide a clearly designated receptacle in the kitchen for all dirty cloths. This is a practical measure you can take to prevent them from being reused before they have been washed. Likewise, make sure that all clean cloths are stored separately and hygienically away from food.
  7. Ensure there is an adequate supply of fresh cloths at the start of each working day so that food handlers are not tempted to keep reusing soiled cloths.

Other important points to consider

Make sure that your cleaning procedures and cleaning schedules are up-to-date, and that cleaning procedures are written down. The policy on cleaning cloths should be clearly documented on the schedule, along with cleaning methods and the approved chemicals which are to be used. When using cleaning chemicals, it is absolutely essential that the manufacturer’s instructions are followed at all times. This includes dilution rates and the required contact time. It’s also a very good idea to check that your disinfectants and sanitisers meet the required standards, as many don’t! The Food Standards Agency state in their E. coli O157 Cross-contamination Factsheet – Caterers (2014) that “…Disinfectants and sanitisers must at least meet the requirements of one of the following standards: BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697; or other standards that meet the same conditions and requirements.”

Cleaning and disinfection must be carried out on all hand and food-contact surfaces and equipment. Effective cleaning precedes effective disinfection, disinfection won’t work on visibly soiled surfaces; one follows the other. Another obvious point to make is never to spray cleaning chemicals around open food, as this could easily result in chemically contaminating your products, but more seriously, damaging the health of those people who go on to consume the food.

Finally, and very importantly, managers and supervisors must clearly communicate standards to food handlers, and ensure this is underpinned by ongoing and effective supervision. Managers can massively help implement standards and maintain a good food safety culture if they lead by example and put into practice ‘what they preach’. Hypocrisy is a big turn-off. A manager who is sloppy will often find that their staff are too – and in all probability, to a greater degree. This principle applies and extends into all areas of food safety.



optimal cooking temperature

Safe Low-Temperature and Sous Vide Cooking

Safe Low-Temperature and Sous Vide Cookingsous vide cooking

Mention “sous vide” and most people will think of food that has been cooked at a very low temperature.  Sous vide cooking involves sealing ingredients in a vacuum pack bag and cooking in a water bath, a combination oven, or indeed any other cooker that can set and hold a target temperature. Essentially, sous vide cooking is about preparing dishes at an optimal cooking temperature; the temperature being sufficiently high enough to eradicate thermo-tolerant pathogens, whilst still being low enough to maximize flavour. Once cooked, the product is usually served immediately, or it can be seared and / or served or stored in a refrigerator (preferably below 3 degrees Celsius). This makes sous vide a flexible option for the busy caterer, as it enables high quality dishes to be prepared and stored in advance of busy service times.

Sous vide cooking has caught the imagination of chefs from all over the world because it is considered one of the best forms of cooking for enhancing the flavour and texture of food. When food is cooked at low temperatures there is minimal moisture loss. Foods, especially meats, become tender and more succulent when prepared at lower temperatures. This style of cooking also has a reputation for enhancing the visual appearance of food as well as its texture.

However, food cooked at low temperatures has the potential to cause food poisoning because there is a risk that pathogens may be able to survive the cooking process; therefore only those chefs who fully understand the risks associated with sous vide, and have received the appropriate food safety training, should engage in it.

Chefs must ensure they take all necessary steps to mitigate the risk of food poisoning, and that includes only using the freshest of ingredients from a reputable and traceable source. They must also be totally familiar with the equipment, temperatures and times to be used in the cooking process, and to have received the correct and sufficient training.

Personal and environmental hygiene is also extremely important in sous vide cooking; food handlers must make sure that they personally are scrupulously clean, as well as the kitchen in which it the food is to be prepared.

To summarise: Sous vide cooking should only be carried out by professionally trained chefs who fully understand this particular cooking technique and the potential food poisoning hazards  associated with it.

If you would like to have your staff professionally trained in sous vide cooking and the food safety training necessary, please contact us today.

The Benefits of the National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme

The Benefits of the National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme

Have you checked the hygiene rating of your favourite restaurant or food outlet lately? You may be in for an unpleasant surprise when you do!

Most consumers will judge the hygiene standards of a restaurant merely based on appearances; if the premises and staff appear to be clean they will assume the food is safe to eat. However, the National Food Hygiene Rating gives the consumer a much more accurate picture of how well the business meets the required standards by checking-out those areas of the business that the customer can’t see. By knowing the rating of a restaurant in advance of reserving a table you may decide to switch to one that has higher standards.

By maintaining good food hygiene standards, and consequently achieving a high rating, businesses are able to offer the best to their consumers and also remain competitive. The rating scheme is run by local authorities who conduct inspections to ensure that the businesses operating in the food industry have met all the requirements. The information they obtain is then published on the Food Standards Agency website.

The rating is normally applicable to those places where people eat out, e.g. restaurants, cafes, hotels, pubs, as well as institutions like hospitals and schools. You may also find some shops and supermarkets that sell certain types of foodstuffs included within the food hygiene rating scheme.

Before a rating is given, a food safety officer visits the businesses premises to conduct an inspection. The officer will check not just how the food is served to customers, but the entire process from delivery of the food from the wholesaler right through storage, preparation, cooking and disposal of waste. An inspection will also be done to assess the structure and suitability of the building in which food is stored, prepared, and cooked. The officer will pay particular attention to provision of hand washing facilities for staff, fridges and freezers for storing food, as well as lighting and ventilation in food preparation areas. The officer will also want to see evidence of a well-documented food safety management system specific to that particular business.

When the food safety officer’s visit is completed, and they are satisfied the business is in compliance with the law, and standards are being maintained to protect the consumer from deadly foodborne illnesses, they will be given an appropriate rating. The business will then be subject to further regular inspections to ensure standards are not only being maintained, but improved upon.

The food hygiene rating scheme not only allows consumers to keep track of their local food businesses, but is a motivating factor for proprietors and managers to maintain high standards of hygiene. The introduction of this scheme has really helped to enhance the provision of safer food for the nation.


The Wastage of Food

The scandalous amount of food we waste! 

Back in March 2105, the BBC contacted us for comment on the shocking amount of food that is wasted within the UK. In a world with nearly a billion malnourished people, it’s incredibly hard to comprehend why 18 to 20 million tons of food is wasted in the UK every year. The amount of wasted food is enough to adequately feed each one of these malnourished individuals. But food is continually being wasted by households, food service businesses, manufacturers and waste

But who exactly is responsible for discarding the highest quantity of food? According to an estimate given by WRAP, the highest level of food wastage is from consumers who are estimated to discard a horrifying 8.3 million tons of food every year! Retailers on the other hand are responsible for 1.6 million tons of wastage per year and food manufacturers waste around 4.1 million tons! Restaurants and other groups are reported to waste more than 6 million tons of food.

The water used for irrigation to grow surplus food (which will eventually be wasted), is enough to fulfil the domestic needs of 9 billion people! Yes, you read it correctly; 9 billion people! This means that if something isn’t done about food wastage, the UK will be utilising its resources on wastage.

In the UK alone, it’s reported that 20 to 40% of fruit and vegetables are not accepted in shops by major retailers because they do not meet the strict cosmetic standards. Foods such as fish are sometimes thrown back into the North Atlantic and North Sea, simply because they’re not considered the proper size, shape or species.

Food wastage has found its way in schools too. Research shows that 24 to 35% of school lunches are thrown in the bin! Households alone waste around 20% of the food they buy. Some of the food is discarded because it has reached the expiry date before it is consumed.

Retailers are not obligated to report the amount of food which is discarded. There is no law that requires them to report on food wastage, so keeping track of the amount of food that’s eventually discarded can be somewhat of a challenge. The UK Government has recognised that a lot more needs to be done in order to reduce the amount of food that is wasted every year.

Another shocking revelation on food wastage is the fact that the average UK household wastes food worth circa £60 a month, which is nearly the amount an average family spends on groceries per week!