Salmonella in Eggs?

Salmonella

It’s been nearly 30 years since Edwina Currie, MP and Junior Health Minister made a bold claim that caused a massive slump in the sale of eggs and incurred the wrath of poultry farmers up and down the land. In 1988, ‘Eggwina’, as she has been known, stated that most of the egg production in the UK was infected with salmonella. She was forced to resign after a huge backlash but her assertions were subsequently found to have some truth in them. Since then, poultry farmers have made great strides in hygiene and a salmonella vaccine for hens which was first rolled out in 1998 has all but eradicated salmonella in eggs in the UK and, just this month, it was reported that British eggs with the red ‘lion stamp’ are now safe to be eaten runny or soft boiled. There is a greater risk in imported eggs. But what is salmonella and is it just found in eggs?

Salmonella is bacteria first discovered in pigs in the late 19th century and it can cause sickness in humans; symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, fever and stomach cramps. It is found in the intestines of animals, birds and people. If the faeces of an infected animal or bird makes its way onto food during the production process, it can result in the food borne illness, salmonella poisoning, for the consumer. It is mostly found in raw meat products, poultry and poultry products. Occasionally, it can be found in seafood and fruit and vegetables but this would only be because the water it is fished from or washed in is contaminated, so this is very unlikely.

It is not just fresh products that can be affected and, even with the strictest procedures in place on production lines and the best will in the world, there are still some that slip through the net. It was only in June this year that Mars recalled some of its Galaxy bars, Minstrels and Maltesers from the shelves in the UK and Ireland over salmonella contamination fears. The Mars company emphasised that it was only a precautionary measure and it should be stressed that this is a highly unusual and rare case.

Salmonella poisoning makes no exceptions and anybody can catch it, although it is rarely life threatening. It is highly infectious and can be passed from person to person and can last for over a week in particularly bad cases. If you are unfortunate enough to contract salmonella poisoning you should stay away from work and from others for two full days after the last showing of any symptom. The best option is, of course, to avoid getting it altogether and there are a few basic, common sense measures you can take:

• Always wash your hands before and after preparing raw meat and poultry
• Always cook meat thoroughly so that it is piping hot throughout (if you have a probe thermometer, check the meat is cooked to at least 75◦C at its thickest point)
• Always store cooked and raw foods separately and ensure there is no risk of seepage onto other food items
• Always wash your hands thoroughly after preparing raw meat and poultry and going to the toilet, – especially public toilets

These are simple and easy measures to put in place but they could make all the difference. For your health’s sake, and the health of others around you, it’s worth the extra effort.

Why is Cooked Rice considered High Risk?

In response to various questions we have had over the years on the subject, we thought it would be worthwhile to dedicate this post to explain in very simple terms, why it is that cooked rice is a high risk product.

For most of us, eating a leftover takeaway for breakfast is not generally acceptable but for some others, it’s a positive treat.  A piece of pizza or the scraps of rice and bhuna from a left-over Indian meal are, to some, a delicious breakfast which will set them up for the day.  When it comes to rice however, it’s probably fair to say that most people tend to over order on their takeaways or overestimate when cooking and end up with huge volumes of the stuff (we never learn!), but is there a danger lurking in this staple of so many people’s diets?

Rice in its raw form often contains bacterial spores of a pathogen called Bacillus Cereus.  The spores are harmless all the while the rice is uncooked but, it is once the cooking process has been completed that the risk arises as the spores are activated by warmth.  Bacillus Cereus spores will often survive the cooking process. This is not an issue, so long as the rice is either consumed when cooked, hot-held above 63ºC, or cooled rapidly and chilled subsequent to cooking. The problem arises when the rice is left out post cooking and enters the temperature rage commonly referred to as the ‘danger zone’ (5ºC – 63ºC, but particularly 20ºC – 50ºC). Once the temperature is favourable, the spores will then begin to germinate, and will release exotoxins in the rice. It is these toxins which cause food poisoning.  The symptoms of Bacillus Cereus food poisoning are often vomiting and diarrhoea and in most cases generally last for about 24 hours; unpleasant and unwanted. It is also worth mentioning however, that there is a second type of Bacillus Cereus which produces an enterotoxin within the intestine. The incubation period for this is often slightly longer than the first type (12 – 24 hours), with the symptoms primarily being abdominal pain, diarrhoea and fever.

Control measures

Freshly and thoroughly cooked, steaming rice should be safe.  The problem comes when rice is left to cool slowly and the bacteria go into overdrive, specifically between the temperatures of 28ºC and 35ºC.  The longer the rice remains left out of temperature control once cooked and is not adequately cooled and refrigerated, the greater the risk.  Avoid rice that has been left out for too long, it really isn’t worth chancing it!

If you are not intending to eat the rice as part of a hot meal but want to eat it cold, we would strongly recommend cooling it quickly and placing it in the fridge within one hour, keeping it at a temperature of 4ºC or lower.  This should make the rice safe to eat when cold; after all, a nice rice salad is an essential part of any good buffet.

If you’ve overestimated on the amount of rice you’ve cooked or purchased and don’t like to see things go to waste but plan on having it the next day as part of another hot meal, the same cooling process should be followed.  Cool it and place it in the fridge within one hour.  When it comes to reheating, make sure you heat it thoroughly (> 75 ºC), so that the rice is steaming, piping hot throughout.  It is recommended that you reheat rice once only and within 24 hours.  If you still have some left over it is best to discard it.

At this point it is important to note that cooked rice, purchased as part of a takeaway meal, would probably have already been reheated. The initial cooking would normally take place at the ‘mise-en-place’ stage in the restaurant’s preparation.

Following these simple guidelines should help you to avoid any food poisoning incidents.  Some rice (not intended for immediate consumption) can be refreshed and cooled instantly under cold running water. However in the absence of a blast chiller and especially for rice dishes with other ingredients and flavours incorporated (such as the base of a risotto or rice salad) a helpful tip when cooling is to decant the rice into a number of separate, shallow  containers; thus spreading out the surface area, enabling  it to cool down faster so that it should be cool enough to place it in the fridge within the hour.

Perhaps we associate food poisoning mostly with undercooked or poorly reheated meat or poultry, but this simple food grain poses just as high a risk and we need to be just as careful.  With that in mind, it is worth thinking twice about that pile of leftover rice on the side, inviting though it seems, and discard it completely.  If you’ve got a food bin, you won’t have to worry about it going to waste as it’ll be taken away for recycling, leaving you to rest in the knowledge that it will be utilised safely and productively and nobody will suffer any ill effects: surely the preferable outcome!

Chlorinated Chicken – Is There A Problem?

It was never going to be too long before another food scare hit the headlines and it’s now the turn of the humble chicken or, more specifically, the humble, chlorinated chicken.  With the Brexit process underway, trade deals are being pursued with a number of countries, one of the most sought after being the US.  A major coup by any standard but alarm bells have been sounding in the press over potential chicken imports because of their method of supplying chicken to consumers, leaving the end product with a considerable level of chlorine.

Although we share a common language with our American friends, we do not share the same food safety processes.  In the UK, there is a strict procedure throughout the whole rearing process of animals which seeks to eliminate bacteria at every stage, right through to the end product.  With chicken, stringent processes and protocols are in place from the incubator, the rearing sheds on farms and the abattoirs, through to preparation for point of sale.

This differs from the method they tend to use in the US which bypasses the various stages at which hygiene processes could be implemented and, instead, a chlorine wash of the end product is carried out to eradicate any bacteria on the meat to ensure it is safe to eat.  The US claims that this method kills off bugs and, particularly, salmonella.  These imports are currently banned by the EU as EU law stipulates that nothing but water should be used to clean meat that is being prepared for sale.

Interestingly, although banned, it has not been deemed unsafe or unfit for consumption.  The European Food Safety Authority has declared that there is no serious concern over the use of chlorine and other chemical washes in poultry and its subsequent consumption by the public.  The British Poultry Council concurs with this, as do scientific studies conducted by various American agencies.  In a nation that is as litigious as the US, it is unlikely an unsafe product would be so widely available.  It is also worth noting that low levels of chlorine have been added to our drinking water in the UK for years, the first case of chlorine water treatment being in the town of Maidstone, Kent in 1897. Chlorine is also used in most pre-prepared fruit, vegetables and salads we purchase in our supermarkets.

The bigger concern is the disparity in the breeding and rearing hygiene processes between US and UK farmers which lead to the point of sale product.  This could impact UK farmers negatively and undermine all the work that has already been done to develop safe processes throughout the slaughter procedure and it is important to maintain and to continue to develop the high standard of hygiene to which UK farmers adhere.

To date, large numbers of our politicians are not backing down and are refusing to accept chlorinated chicken as part of a trade deal.  Their resolve might not hold, however, and, if a trade deal is sealed with the US and chlorinated chicken makes its way onto our shelves, as one MP says, it will be down to us, as consumers, to decide.

 

Make sure your Summer al fresco celebration doesn’t end inside…with food poisoning!

Spring has had its day and we’ve passed the first official day of summer, the solstice of 21st June, and with that milestone comes the season for al fresco eating, so beloved by the British people. Picnic baskets will have been dusted off and plastic plates and mugs dug out from the back of the cupboard.

It is worth mentioning that cases of food poisoning in the UK rise significantly over the summer months! Most people love a good picnic but, away from our fridges and freezers and clean running water, it’s wise to be extra mindful of food safety risks and helpful to have some guidelines to follow to get the most out of your al fresco dining experience.

When you’re getting ready – the first steps:

• When preparing the food at home, make sure usual hygiene procedures are followed; wash your hands, keep cooked and raw meat separate to avoid cross contamination and pack the food up separately in airtight containers or keep individual items covered in foil or clingfilm

• If it’s the first time you’re venturing out this summer, give all those implements and containers that have been lurking in the dark corners of your cupboards a thorough clean

When you’re ready to pack up and go:

• Use a cool bag for cold items: a good cool bag lined with ice blocks or frozen gel packs will keep your food cool for a good 2-3 hours. Keeping the food at a low temperature, similar to that of your fridge at home (5°C), will prevent any bacteria from multiplying. It’s best to leave packing the cool bag until just before leaving home so that the food is stored straight from the fridge and is as cold as possible.

• Like you would when stacking your fridge at home, keep any raw meat that you might intend to cook completely separate from other food and place it at the bottom of the cool bag so that there is no danger of any leakage onto other foods.

• Make sure all items are separately contained or wrapped so that you avoid cross contamination.

• If you’re really pushing the boat out and taking hot food, the safest way to transport it is in a thermos box to ensure it retains its temperature. Hot food should be held above 63°C.

• Keep the cool bag in the coolest place possible when in transit, somewhere shady away from the glare of the sun.

When you’re ready to serve up and eat:

• Clean or wash your hands. If there’s a facility for washing, great, but if not, take some anti-bacterial gel with you to ensure you rid your hands of any bacteria you might have picked up running your hands through long grass or making sandcastles.

• Only serve up what you’re intending to eat. Keep the rest in the cool bag until you’re ready for it. In hot weather, food should not be left out for more than a maximum of one hour.

• Keep raw foods and cooked/ready to eat foods strictly separate.

• Make sure you cook any raw meat thoroughly, until the juices run clear and there is no pink left. Use a clean knife to cut into the meat to check the colour and juices if you need to.

• Keep any cooking utensils or implements used in preparing food separate and wrapped up to prevent any bugs or animals touching them and contaminating them.

• Avoid putting food onto unclean surfaces such as the ground, picnic tables etc. Bring plates or even a tablecloth from home if you can.

When you’re ready to come home:

• If the ice packs in the cool bag are still cold and there is leftover food, it should be fine to take home, refrigerate and re-use, – provided it has not been left out but the safest rule is; if in doubt, chuck it out!

Most of all, enjoy it while it lasts and make the most of the sunshine whenever you can because, in this country, you never know when you’ll see it again!

Aspartame: Is it Safe?

What is Aspartame, and is it safe?

With the new sugar tax coming into effect from April 2018, it can be expected that companies will be using low calorie alternatives in their products even more frequently as a means to avoid paying any extra revenue, as you would anticipate they might.

For a number of years, there have been several food additives used as a substitute for sugar to sweeten food and beverages and one of the most popular is aspartame.  Aspartame is an artificial sweetener often used in soft drinks, chewing gum, sweets, yoghurts, crisps and vitamin tablets, not forgetting the little white sweetening tablets found in the small dispensers so many buy to use as an alternative to a spoonful of sugar in their tea or coffee.  It is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar.  The intense sweetness means that only miniscule amounts are needed to sweeten products and so the calorie count is significantly reduced, indeed, in products where sugar would usually be the main calorific ingredient, it makes the calorie content far more palatable.  For those with the occasional craving for something sweet, this would seem to be the perfect solution.

As with any miracle product though, it is always worth digging a bit deeper.  The components that make up aspartame are phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol.  Once ingested, the body breaks aspartame down into those original three elements.  Phenylalanine is particularly dangerous for those who suffer from a very rare condition called, phenylketonuria.  These individuals’ bodies are unable to process phenylalanine meaning it can build up in their blood and brain, potentially causing brain damage, so it is important that they monitor what they are ingesting.  With such a toxic effect on this small percentage of the world’s population, it would seem prudent to exercise caution. 

There have been countless controversies about aspartame since it was first developed in 1965 and pronounced safe by the EU in 1994.  Some studies have claimed it causes, amongst other things, heart palpitations, headaches, dizziness, migraines, seizures, brain tumours, diabetes, cancer, epilepsy and even birth defects. It should be noted that none of these have been formally substantiated and that the European Food Safety Authority conducted a study in 2013 which concluded that aspartame was safe, however, these claims will not go away.  There is a constant flow of scare stories about aspartame which continues to cast a shadow of uncertainty over its safety.

In 2007, Marks & Spencer, Asda and Sainsbury’s all announced that they would no longer be using aspartame or any other artificial additives in their own brand products.  They now use some of the other alternative sweeteners that are available such as sucralose and sorbitol.  A product which is widely available and naturally occurring is Xylitol.  This has been known about for over half a century and can be extracted from birch trees or corn cobs so comes from a natural source, although it does have to go through a processing procedure to bring it to point of sale.

Avoiding sugar and replacing it with alternatives about whose side effects there is still debate is not the only option available to us.  A balanced diet including moderate amounts of sugar together with regular exercise is always to be endorsed and will help maintain good health but for those who suffer health issues which mean sugar is a no-go zone, then it’s worth doing your research about the type of sweeteners that are available so that you can make an informed choice about just what you’re putting into your body.

What is Clostridium Botulinum?

Clostridium Botulinum

For those of us born before the technological age, our childhoods would probably have involved playing outside for much of the time, making our own entertainment.  For many, playing in the mud and dirt was a great pastime.  You might be one of those that made mud pies and got absolutely filthy, to the despair of your parents.  Some children actually proceeded to tuck into said mud pies but have turned out just fine.  Little did we know, however, that something pretty sinister was lurking in the very same soil from which we were making our mud pies.

Sources, Causes and Symptoms

Clostridium botulinum is bacteria which is present in untreated water, soil and dust all over the world and can also be found on a number of food items, for example, anything which has been grown in soil may have had contact with the bacteria.  The bacteria in its natural state is not harmful but, as an ‘obligate anaerobe’, if it is deprived of oxygen, its spores start to produce toxins which can, in very rare cases, be fatal.  It is no exaggeration to say that it is probably the most dangerous of food borne illnesses that can be contracted.  The toxins attack the nervous system, disabling the neurotransmitters which carry instructions from the brain to our muscles, thus causing paralysis.  Symptoms include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, double vision, drooping eyelids and paralysis amongst others.  It can be treated with antitoxins which prevent the toxins from travelling round the body so an immediate visit to the doctor or hospital is absolutely imperative.

Foodborne botulism is generally contracted from canned foods which have not been processed correctly at source.  In food in canned form, the bacteria are deprived of oxygen and toxins develop so that, when consumed, the illness strikes.  In the UK, hygiene regulations are very strict so food being processed incorrectly is a real rarity.  Canned food is subject to intense heating and sterilisation processes which should eradicate any risk.

Clostridium Botulinum in Children

Infant botulism is the most frequent form of the illness and occurs mostly in babies under the age of 6 months, although it tends to occur through botulinum spores releasing the toxins once ingested, rather than pre-developed toxins in foods.  At this age, their bodies have not yet developed to deal with botulinum in bacteria form, as adults’ immune systems have.  For adults, it is the pre-developed toxins that pose the risk.

Controls

It should be noted that cases of botulism are very scarce but there are measures you can take to ensure avoiding contact with these potentially deadly toxins.  Never eat food from a can which is bulging or leaking, or which shoots out unnaturally when being opened, as it could be contaminated.  Heat food which comes from cans properly.  The World Health Organisation states that, ‘the toxin produced by bacteria growing out of the spores under anaerobic conditions is destroyed by boiling (for example, at internal temperature greater than 85 °C for 5 minutes or longer)’.  Never give honey to children under 1 year old as this is a common cause of infant botulism.  If you are going to can food at home, make sure you find out how to do it properly so that you can follow the strictest hygiene procedures.  Always put leftover and cooked food in the refrigerator, as low temperatures help to prevent the formation of toxins.  Decant any leftovers from cans into other containers and refrigerate.  Simple measures which are easy to follow and which could make all the difference.

Botox

On a final note, it’s not all bad news.  The botulinum bacteria is the main ingredient used in botox, where the skin is effectively ‘paralysed’ to reduce the appearance of wrinkles so, for those who seek the elixir of youth, the botulinum bacteria is one of the finds of the modern age!

 

Is The Sugar Tax Justified?

Thoughts on the Sugar Tax

If you have a sweet tooth, you might have found the proposals to impose a tax on sugary drinks in the latest Budget slightly disappointing.  There is no denying that childhood obesity is a problem in the UK and that steps need to be taken to combat it, but is a sugar tax the right step to take?

From April 2018, the sugar tax will be levied upon producers, importers, retailers and consumers of any soft drinks which have added sugar.  Some alcoholic drinks, with a volume of up to 1.2% will also have the tax applied.  Fruit juices are exempt as they contain naturally occurring sugars, but purchasers will be advised to limit their consumption.  There will be two levels of tax; a lower rate of 18p per litre which will apply to those drinks which have 5g or more sugar per 100ml and a higher rate of 24p per litre for those drinks which have 8g or more sugar per 100ml.  Your standard 330ml can of coke contains 35g of sugar, the equivalent of 7 teaspoons, so will be hit hard.

Many organisations including Diabetes UK and the charity, Action on Sugar, have been campaigning for this outcome for some time and have welcomed the news.  It also has the backing of dentists as a means of reducing tooth decay.  A triumph for many it seems, but is sugar getting an unfair press?

Sugar is a naturally occurring carbohydrate and is present in the structure of most natural products in one form or another, e.g. fructose in fruit and lactose in milk.  We tend to think of it as it is most commonly used, in granulated crystal form, sourced from sugarcane and sugar beet.  It is used in baking, e.g. cakes and biscuits and is added to other foods for sweetening and flavour.  Sugar is also a natural preservative, causing bacteria to lose water which impedes its ability to live and multiply, prolonging the shelf life of many products.

It would not be unreasonable to say that sugar is essential in our diets because it is.  Sugar provides vital energy for our muscles and helps to keep our brains functioning effectively. There is a recommended daily allowance of added sugar per day of 30g or 7 teaspoons for adults.  The problem comes when too much is consumed as it can lead to all sorts of health problems including diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.  All these are on the rise amongst children.

Is a tax on sugar the answer to these issues and will it stop excessive intake?  It is true that there is almost an epidemic when it comes to childhood obesity but a hike in prices is unlikely to reduce consumption.  Most people that this is aimed at will continue to buy what they want and be prepared to pay the extra pennies, as we have seen with exorbitant petrol prices and 5p carrier bags.  It would be more effective to roll out an educational programme for adults and children, perhaps through television or social media, which presents them with the key information they need to know about sugar and added sugar in items like soft drinks so that they can make their own decisions and take action if required.

Producers are already looking at other ways to reduce added sugar and a popular method is to use alternative, synthetic sweeteners which are still, at this point, somewhat of an unknown quantity in terms of effects on the body.  Some groups do not want the tax to stop at soft drinks and are calling for it to be imposed on other goods such as sweets and confectionary.  Where will it all end?  Sugar should not necessarily be demonised, it does have its place and should be a small part of your staple diet, but in moderation and it is that moderation which should be encouraged and promoted in a helpful, informative way that gives the public the freedom to make their own choices.

Hepatitis E in Pork

There is usually one food scare or another in the media to keep us on our toes and, after the furore over horse meat found in some products had died down, the latest to hit the front pages is the risk of Hepatitis E in pork. This story broke last week in the papers but it is not news to everybody.  Several studies have already been carried out to investigate these reports and the findings are interesting.

Hepatitis E (HEV) is a virus that affects the liver and the main symptoms include jaundice, pale stools and darker than normal colouration of urine.  The good news is that it is a virus the body’s natural defence system can deal with and it usually resolves itself fairly quickly.  Some cases can be more serious for those with pre-existing immune conditions or pregnant women, so it is always advisable to see a doctor.

In countries where sanitation is poor, it is most commonly transmitted through water and food contaminated with sewage from infected people and animals.  In other countries, it can be spread from animals to humans, mostly through undercooked pork and sometimes processed pork.  HEV is widely found in pigs, hence the suspected risk.  It is highly unusual for humans to contract it from another human.

In recent years, there has been a significant rise in cases of HEV in a number of developed countries, including Japan, France, the Netherlands, the US and the UK.  Those mostly affected tend to be men over the age of 50.  A study was carried out in 2009-10 by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge that found there was evidence that the virus was potentially passed on during pork production.  They collected samples from slaughtered pigs at various points of manufacture, right through to the final product which lands on our shelves.  As a rule, the percentage of the virus found in samples of point of sale items was low, but it was discovered.  Of 63 sausages tested, 6 were found to contain the virus.

A later study in 2013, initiated by Defra and backed by other public bodies including the Food Standards Agency and Public Health England, concluded that, of the approximately 60,000 human cases of HEV in the UK each year, two thirds in England were NOT transmitted from UK pig products.

What does this mean for us?  It is apparent there is a very small risk that some point of sale pork products could contain HEV, however, most products you buy at the supermarket will be safe.   Make sure you buy your pork products from a trusted source.  All good suppliers will only purchase meat from approved outlets and abattoirs with robust HACCP and food safety management systems in place.  Since these studies were carried out, it is likely that even more stringent procedures will have been implemented by any good manufacturer.

The Food Standards Agency advises that, when cooking pork, it should be ‘thoroughly cooked until steaming hot throughout, the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear.’  This will minimise any risk of any foodborne illness, not just HEV.

Finally, if we even need to say it, always remember to wash your hands thoroughly before and after preparing pork and clean and disinfect the equipment and utensils used thoroughly to avoid cross contamination!

 

What is HPP?

There’s really nothing nicer than fresh produce to get the maximum enjoyment of flavour and texture but, for most of us, cooking and eating fresh produce every day isn’t always possible.  Many of our eating habits are dictated by time constraints imposed by our busy lifestyles, leaving little opportunity for daily visits to the supermarket for fresh items with which to prepare our meals.

Fresh products will spoil fairly quickly as any bacteria present in food multiplies and makes the food unfit for consumption.  Some bacteria are beneficial to us, such as those present in yoghurts, but others can cause illness and are known as pathogens.  It is these pathogens that pose a threat to our health when they multiply in foods; defiling them and rendering them unsafe to eat.  Other types of bacteria will simply cause the food to spoil and perish, making it inedible.

Therefore, the tendency is often to rely on foods which have been preserved by one method or another that we can keep in our fridge longer than just a few days.  Some of the most common ways of food preservation include adding chemicals to stop the bacteria from growing, high heat or thermo treatments and dehydration.  All these options are effective but can bring with them a depreciation in taste and texture and often a loss of nutrients.

The food industry is always looking for ways to improve and a relatively new method of preserving products called high pressure processing (HPP) is gradually gaining a foothold in the trade as awareness of its benefits increases.  Interestingly, the knowledge of this process has been around since the 19th century, but it has only really been developed to greater potential in the last twenty years.

HPP is a method which uses high pressure to pasteurise foods, making bacteria inactive.  Unlike most other methods, it pasteurises the food once it is sealed and in its final packaging.  It works by passing food items through an industrial container which is then filled with cold water and the pressure increased to about 6000 bars.  This is equivalent to the pressure of being at least five times deeper than the deepest point of the deepest ocean.  ThyssenKrupp, a company which specialises in HPP and high pressure technologies compares this to, ‘the weight of three jumbo jets acting on an area the size of a smartphone’.  This pressure is what makes the microorganisms inactive and the food safe.  However, it is worth mentioning that the degree of microbiological inactivation will be affected by things like the pH, water activity and protein and sugar content of the product itself.

Its trump card is that it requires no heat and no chemicals so the food can retain its flavours, nutrients and texture.  Another big advantage is that as the product is in its final packaging, any risk of recontamination, which is possible with other methods, is massively reduced.  In a progressively more demanding market, this is good news for consumers and for food suppliers who want to ensure their products are as safe as possible.

The process can only be used if the item is vacuum packed and sealed in flexible packaging or in a plastic bottle so it does have its restrictions.  A glass container, for example, would be obliterated under the pressure so, at present, HPP is regarded as an alternative to other thermo methods and companies use it mostly for fruit juices and smoothies but it is developing quickly.

In a world where food waste is an increasingly big issue with millions of tons being thrown away each year, HPP is great news.  Companies claim that the process can extend shelf life by up to 10 times the normal length.  Items are safer for longer whilst still maintaining much of their original freshness, flavour and nutrients, resulting in overall food wastage being reduced.  This can only be a good thing for the food industry and, as HPP continues to be advanced, things can only get better.

 

What is Acrylamide?

We’ve all done it. We’ve popped the bread in the toaster and gone away and forgotten about it. The next thing we know, the smoke alarm’s going off and our toast resembles a lump of charcoal. Some of us will consign it to the dustbin, but others adhere to the old adage, waste not want not, and continue to consume it, attempting to overcome the burnt flavour with lashings of their favoured topping.

For years, there have been rumours circulating that burnt toast is carcinogenic but, realistically, is there any evidence for this?

Studies have shown that a chemical called acrylamide is formed naturally when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures (anything above 120˚C). Food items that this applies to are potatoes in various forms, e.g. roast, chips, crisps etc., bread and some cereal products. The sugars in the foods react with naturally occurring amino acids when exposed to high temperatures to form acrylamide.

Scientists tested the impact of acrylamide on rodents and it was found that exposure to the chemical increased the risk of developing several types of cancer quite significantly. As a consequence of these results, food scientists are concerned that this evidence indicates there is a potential cancer risk to humans. There are a few caveats to this, however. It should be noted that the rodents were subjected to exceptionally large doses of the chemical, doses which would be far greater than any amount contained in your Sunday roast potatoes or a bag of crisps, for example. Studies in humans are still incomplete and are, at present, inconclusive. It is impossible to say that a chemical will affect animals and humans in exactly the same way so the results must be considered rationally and cautiously, but it is sensible to pay attention to the scientific findings and take some precautions.

This year, the Food Standards Agency has launched a campaign called, ‘Go for gold’. Contrary to how it might sound, they are not encouraging people to enter the Olympics, but have issued guidelines on how to attain the optimum shade of gold when cooking your starchy foods. With any form of cooking, whether it be frying, roasting or toasting, the goal should be to achieve a light golden colour. Cooking starchy food for too long and at too high a temperature will increase the amount of acrylamide. They also advise against keeping potatoes in the fridge as this can cause the sugars to multiply, thus raising the amount of acrylamide in the end product once cooked. Always check the guidelines on the packet when cooking things like oven chips. The food industry is attempting to do what it can to reduce the acrylamide concentrations in food so it would be prudent to follow their cooking guidelines.

It is easy to be alarmed by these reports about such staple fixtures of our diets, but it is important to remember that the studies on humans are inconclusive and that the risk is not yet substantiated. The Food Standards Agency recommends that a balanced and moderate diet including your standard 5 a day will help reduce the risk of cancer. Let moderation be our watchword and maybe that piece of toast really should just go in the bin.

 

Here is a video from the Food Standards Agency with some basic information on Acrylamide and their ‘Go for Gold’ Campaign.

Should Celebrity Cook Books Contain Food Safety Advice?

If you take a quick scan of your bookshelf, the chances are you’ll have at least one celebrity cookbook amongst your collection.  Some great recipes no doubt but what is missing?  A recent study carried out by the North Carolina State University, published in the British Food Journal, finds that cookbooks are lacking adequate advice on food safety awareness.

The study took a selection of recipes containing raw meat from 29 cookbooks and examined them for advice on cross contamination and accurate cooking temperatures.  Of those recipes chosen, only 8% provided a safe cooking temperature and, unnervingly, just over 25% of temperatures given were inaccurate.  As a general rule with the majority of recipes studied, the guidance given on establishing whether something was cooked properly or not was fairly unclear.  Katrina Levine, one of the co-authors of the research, stated that, ‘the most common indicator was cooking time’.  She went on to explain that this can vary enormously depending on type and efficiency of cooker, whether the meat is chilled or not before placing in the oven and other ambient factors, so it is not always an appropriate method for gauging whether food is sufficiently cooked or not.

Your favourite celebrity chef might have some novel culinary ideas for a different twist on a popular recipe or food combinations which they want to share with you but, hand in hand with that should go the responsibility to educate on basic food safety principles, including thoroughly researched, safe cooking times and advice on how to avoid cross contamination by adopting a few simple hygiene practices.  It is improbable that the majority of the general public will have received food hygiene training unless working in an industry that requires it.  Therefore, awareness of risk of cross contamination and ensuring correct temperatures for eliminating pathogens to prevent food borne illness is likely to be fairly low.

The study concluded that the lack of, and in some cases incorrect, direction concerning food safety practices in cookbooks could increase the risk of foodborne illnesses.  Currently, it is unclear how consumers translate the information provided in cookbooks and it was conceded that further research is necessary to study the consequences of user habits and actions when following a recipe.  However, regardless of how consumers mimic their gastronomic guru, the study does appear to establish the need for cookbooks to include basic food safety advice and principles that will promote safe food practices in the home.

 

The Training of Food Handlers

The Training of Food Handlers

By law, those responsible for running a food business must ensure that food handlers receive food safety training which is ‘commensurate’ to their level of responsibility. In other words, the level of training that each food handler receives should be appropriate for their individual job role and work activities. This basically means that food business operators are required to evaluate the risks associated with the different job functions their food handling staff perform and then provide them with the appropriate food safety training.

Failure by food business owners to follow high standards of food safety can easily cause food to become defiled or contaminated, resulting in potentially fatal consequences for the business’ customers and financial disaster for the business’ owner.

The Benefits for Employers

Whilst the law does not demand that all employees go through a formal or an accredited food safety training programme, it would be very inadvisable to not do so. Based on our experience and dialogue with food business operators from a wide range of sizes and sectors within the food industry, the message is that these recognised courses are inclined to be more rigorous and the outcome in most cases tends to be a lot better; promoting a greater level of work engagement from staff and an increased commitment to their job requirements and areas of responsibility.
Employers should not see training as an optional extra or just as something to ‘get done’ to ‘tick’ the proverbial ‘box’. Neither should it be viewed as something to do to placate auditors or enforcement officers. But rather, as something positive which can have a direct effect on peace of mind and the overall profitability and reputation of the business.

The Benefits for Employees

As well as complying with the law, the main benefit of investing in training is ensuring that staff members are equipped to carry out their jobs competently, safely and confidently. It also ensures that standards across the establishment remain high and that consistency is maintained. As well as enabling employees to keep their knowledge and skills up-to-date, staff training also has a direct impact on morale and productivity. For example, where staff members recognize that the business owners value their contribution because they have invested in training and development, this will generally show in greater commitment and longevity, and retaining skilled staff is key to any successful business. Just on a practical level, trained staff who are motivated to come to work because they feel valued is what all potentially successful businesses need.

Training does not stand alone

Training does not stand alone nor is it a panacea against food poisoning, mal-practice or contamination. Remember that knowledge without application is effectively useless. It is imperative that knowledge gained from training is applied. It is worth noting that in a lot of food poisoning outbreaks, ignorance is not always responsible.
Training should be underpinned by effective supervision, and is something that is not a ‘once for all’ event. Refresher training and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) should be carried out regularly to ensure that skills and knowledge are kept up-to-date.
Want a successful food business?
Start by investing in staff training!

CaterSafe can deliver a range of on-site and off-site courses by professional trainers, ensuring that you and your staff comply with the law and develop skills and knowledge to enhance your business.
For more details, please contact a member of our training team.

Keeping Food Pests out of your Food Business!

A few weeks ago, ASDA were fined £300,000 for food safety breaches, but specifically for the abysmal lack of pest control, after dead mice and flies were discovered in the aisles of one of their home delivery depots which distributes food to online shoppers across London and Essex.

All food businesses are susceptible to pest infestations and pest harbourage and any pest infestation is a very serious problem, which does not just affect the profitability of your business – but which has potentially serious financial, moral and legal ramifications. It is worth noting that food premises have been closed down by environmental health officers due to an infestation of, or failure to control, pests.

Therefore it is absolutely vital to ensure that your food business has adequate pest-proofing in place and that products are safeguarded from contamination and defilement from pests.

Simply put, a food pest is any animal, insect or bird that can contaminate food, both physically (from fur, droppings or feathers) and microbiologically. As well as damage to products, food pests such as cockroaches and rodents carry a number of harmful diseases, which can be transmitted in various ways. For example by direct contact, scratches, or ingesting food or drink contaminated by them. Moreover, a number of rats carry bacteria called Leptospirosis (which can develop into Weil’s disease) which if left untreated in humans can kill.

It is therefore imperative that food pests are kept out!

Remember, it is much easier and simpler to stop pests from entering in the first place, than to deal with an infestation once it’s taken hold. As with most problems, prevention in the first instance is better than the cure. It is therefore important to make sure that appropriate controls are put in place to avoid an infestation of food pests.

 

Here are some very basic control measures to observe:

  • Firstly, always ensure you have an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system in place. This involves monitoring, prevention and control. This would normally be done in conjunction with a competent person / professional pest control contractor.
  • Make sure all windows in food rooms and food areas are ‘fly screened’.
  • Always check deliveries for signs of pests or pest activity. Reject deliveries if you have any evidence of contamination or harbourage.
  • Always store delivered goods in pest-proof containers and always off the floor.
  • Make sure the premises are well maintained and designed in such a way as to prevent entry of food pests.
  • Ensure that no ‘daylight’ can be seen below or around external doors.

 

Here is a video from the Food Standards Agency aimed at small food businesses:

New regulations on Rare Burgers – here’s what you need to know

The trend in serving and eating undercooked or rare burgers has greatly increased in the past several years within the UK. Various outlets and restaurant chains offer rare or undercooked burgers as an option to their customers. From the 1st March 2017, new regulations came into force, stating that all businesses supplying minced meat products or other meat preparations, which are intended to be served less than thoroughly cooked, now need to acquire approval by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) or by their Local Authority to do so. The new regulations take effect following on from a consultation period by the FSA, and will apply to any business offering anything less than fully cooked burgers. Any food establishment wishing to serve less than thoroughly cooked burgers will now need to obtain verification from their butcher or meat supplier that they are approved. This requirement will be applicable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Food service businesses should not see this requirement as yet more ‘regulation’ and ‘red tape’, but rather this should be viewed as a positive step, particularly as it will ultimately ensure a higher level of control and consumer protection – particularly from pathogens such as E. coli O157 and Salmonella. Every year there are around 900 recorded cases of E.coli poisoning.

The main reason why undercooking burgers has been traditionally frowned upon is because bacteria tends to be found on the surface of meat. When raw meat is minced, the bacteria prevalent on the surface is then mixed all the way through. This is why up until now the consistent advice from the FSA (with regards to cooking burgers) is to ensure they are thoroughly cooked to the accepted core temperature and time of 70°C for 2 minutes or 75°C for 30 seconds, as advised by the ACMSF (Advisory Committee on Microbiological Safety of Food). This still remains the safest and simplest option. However, the FSA have also acknowledged that “the risk from rare burgers served in catering establishments is not so unacceptable as to justify removing the adult consumer’s right to choose to eat it, provided a validated and verified food safety management is applied”.

What to do if you are serving rare or undercooked burgers

If you are a food service business choosing to sell, or exploring the possibility of serving less than thoroughly cooked burgers, you must ensure that you have a validated and verified Food Safety Management System (FSMS) in place, which includes the FSA control measures summarised below:

  • Your meat must be sourced from premises that are approved under EU law to supply minced meat intended to be eaten uncooked or lightly cooked
  • Your meat supplier needs to have sampling and testing systems in place that will identify pathogens including Salmonella and E. coli O157
  • Businesses must identify how the burgers would be prepared and cooked, i.e. how the minced meat would be cooked to reduce the possibility of 100,000 E. coli to a maximum of 10 E. coli after cooking. • Stringent temperature control to prevent the growth of bacteria along with safe and hygienic storage, preparation and cooking procedures, must be in place and followed.
  • Evidence that cooking times and temperatures have been monitored correctly and recorded accurately.
  • Provide clear and unambiguous consumer advice on menus, which lay out the additional risk from burgers which are not thoroughly cooked.
  • The FSA still maintain that children and other vulnerable people such as the elderly or pregnant women should only be served burgers that are thoroughly cooked.

Slower cooking methods

It is perfectly acceptable to cook burgers at lower temperatures. The general principle is that when you cook at lower temperatures you must extend the cooking time in order to reduce the risk of pathogens surviving. Here are some tested examples of temperatures and cooking times for low temperature cooking:

60°C for 93 minutes

65°C for 14 minutes

Bear in mind that a lot depends on the size and thickness of the burger, but based on current data, the above temperatures, if applied to their corresponding length of time, will reduce the numbers of vegetative pathogens to safe levels. It is worth remembering that some thermotolerant bacteria may grow at marginal cooking temperatures. For example, when slow cooking a product that may contain Clostridium Perfringens at temperatures of 52ºC or below, this introduces the risk of this organism multiplying to levels that would constitute a risk to the consumer.

 

Final notes

When monitoring temperatures, always ensure you use a calibrated and disinfected temperature probe. Always check that when taking the temperature the tip of the probe is in the very centre of the burger. Many times we observe chefs probing food where the tip of the probe is touching the tray, not the core of the product.

If you are a food business serving, or looking to serve rare burgers, and would like to talk to someone about the new regulations or would like some advice, please contact CaterSafe today.

freezing food properly image

Practical Tips for Freezing Foods

How To Freeze Food

Last Thursday, 21st January, I was invited by BBC Radio Kent to be the guest on Julia George’s morning phone-in programme to discuss and answer questions on the topic “What’s in your freezer?”  I thought it would be helpful to follow up the programme with a short article dealing with the food safety issues associated with freezers and frozen foods.

The freezer is an integral part of any kitchen and allows the busy cook to plan and prepare meals well in advance of when they’re actually going to be consumed.  A well-stocked freezer can significantly cut preparation time and enable great flexibility with menu options.

Almost any type of food can be frozen, but being able to freeze food and being able to use it after defrosting are two entirely different things.  Some foods simply do not freeze well at all, e.g. eggs in shells and egg-based sauces, cream and emulsion based sauces, lettuce and soft leafed herbs.

Raw meat, poultry, game and fish definitely maintain their quality longer than their cooked counterparts because moisture retained during the freezing process is lost during cooking.

Is Frozen Food Safe?

Contrary to the popular misconception, freezing food does not kill germs, but rather will retard and inactivate any pathogenic and spoilage bacteria.  Yeasts and moulds are more likely to grow on frozen foods, however, in reality very few organisms grow below -10°C.  This is why it’s very important to maintain accurate temperature control of your freezer; ensuring that frozen foods are kept at a temperature of at least -18°C.  At temperatures below -18°C the oxidisation of food significantly slows up, which aids in the preservation of the product.

The same rules apply for foods stored in a freezer as for those stored in a fridge.  Raw frozen foods must be kept completely separate from frozen but already cooked ready-to-eat products.

Remember: If food goes into the freezer already contaminated with pathogens, once defrosted it will still be contaminated with the same harmful bacteria.  Therefore it’s absolutely essential that thawed food is then cooked to the recommended temperature of a least 75°C; this is the only way to ensure the food is safe to eat.

How Long Can I Freeze Foods For?

Most foods will keep for prolonged periods in a freezer, although a recommended ‘shelf life’ is given because of degeneration of the quality of a specific product – in terms of flavour, texture, colour and nutritional quality.  All packaged food which is purchased already frozen should be used within the date given by the manufacturer of the product.  However, as a general recommendation, vegetables, fruit and meat stored below -18°C can be safely stored for up to 12 months, and fish, sausages, butter and soft cheeses for up to 6 months.

Theoretically, you can freeze and refreeze food as many times as you wish, however, one very important point to be aware of is that refreezing will significantly diminish the quality due to the loss of moisture in the thawing process.  Although food which has been refrozen may be safe to eat, from a quality standpoint, I would never advocate refreezing food that has been defrosted.

Wrapping and Packaging

If you’re freezing food for short periods, then wrapping in Clingfilm or placing in plastic freezer bags is usually adequate.  However, when you wrap foods, make sure they’re wrapped very tightly to exclude all air.  This will reduce the risk of what is known as “freezer burn, which occurs when air comes into direct contact with frozen food.  It’s worth noting that whilst freezer burn does not necessarily make the food unsafe to eat, it does adversely affect the food in terms of quality, particularly the colour and texture of the product.  Vacuum packaging foods prior to freezing will safeguard against freezer burn and will also assists in protecting foods which are more susceptible to oxidisation.

When freezing food for longer periods, it’s a good idea to use wrapping and packaging which is more robust, such as heavy-duty freezer bags and plastic containers.  Never put glass or china in the freezer, as the extreme cold can quite easily cause it to crack or shatter, leading to physical contamination of products.  It is always best to use packaging that has specifically designed for freezer use.

Labelling

Unless you label the food you’re freezing, you might not remember what it is, let alone when it was frozen.  Always clearly label the food, stating exactly what it is, when it was frozen, and when it must be used by.  It’s advisable to use food specific colour-coded labels: blue labels for raw fish, red for raw meat and poultry, and yellow labels for cooked and ready-to-eat products. Make sure you label the food clearly and plainly, this is very important, not least because food can be tricky to identify after it’s been deep frozen for several months.

Defrosting Food

Frozen food should always be thawed prior to cooking, unless the manufacturer’s instructions on the label state otherwise.  Cooking partially thawed food, will in all probability lead to uneven cooking, which subsequently will cause harmful bacteria to survive the cooking process.  When defrosting food, especially when catering for larger numbers, always plan ahead!  It’s always best practice to thaw food such as turkeys, chickens, and joints of beef in the fridge for at least 24 hours before they are to be cooked.  It’s worth noting that large joins of meat can take anywhere between 36 and 48 hours to defrost.  When thawing raw meat and poultry, ensure they’re covered and placed in a deep container in the bottom of the fridge completely separate from other food, especially ready-to-eat food.  This will stop thawing blood or juices dripping down onto other food stored in the same fridge.  If you haven’t got the fridge space to defrost, then find some other very cool but hygienic place, as mentioned already, cold temperatures slow down the multiplication of pathogens.

Once thawed, however, microorganisms can again become active, multiplying under the right conditions to levels which can easily lead to food poisoning and foodborne illness.  Therefore, you must apply the same principles to defrosted items as you would to fresh, perishable food.

Ecoli warning

What is E. Coli O157?

E. Coli O157 – What Is It & Why Do You Need To Be Aware Of It?

 

Escherichia coli, or E. coli for short, is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines and is a normal part of the intestinal flora of humans and of animals. There are various strains of E. coli, most of which are innocuous (such as E.coli K-12) some types, however, can make you very ill indeed.

The main strain of E. Coli associated with human disease in the UK is E. coli O157. Symptoms of which commonly include severe abdominal and pain bloody diarrhoea. However, in more serious cases, E. coli O157 can cause kidney failure and even death! E. coli O157 produces a toxin (poison) called ‘Shiga toxin’.  There are also other types of Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) to be aware of, some of which can make you just as ill as E. coli O157.

One of the most severe complications associated with E. coli poisoning is something called: ‘Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome’ (HUS). This is an infection that produces toxic substances which literally destroy red blood cells, which in turn, cause damage to the kidneys. HUS will typically require intensive care, kidney dialysis, and sometimes transfusions.

Although E. Coli O157 can multiply in food, it has a very low infective dose involving less than 100 bacteria. This is why food handlers must be so very careful and fully aware of the dangers! The main food vehicles associated with E-coli O157 are undercooked meat products, especially burgers and minced beef products. Other foods implicated include raw (unpasteurised) milk and soft cheeses made with unpasteurised milk. It is worth noting that E. Coli O157 can grow at a pH of 4.4, hence the reason why apple juice has also been implicated. E.coli O157 is relatively tolerant of acidic conditions and can also survive freezing, although numbers do start to decline at circa 4°C.

1996 saw the worst outbreak of E.coli 0157 ever recorded in Scotland; the outbreak, which was traced back to a butcher’s shop in Wishaw, resulted in 21 deaths, most victims being over 69 years of age.

E.coli, like most pathogens, can simply be destroyed by normal effective cooking. As a food handler you make sure that you:

  • Wash your hands always and often throughout the day
  • Ensure that you handle high-risk, ready-to-eat foods as little and as carefully as possible
  • Always segregate and keep completely separate raw and cooked foods
  • Have separate preparation areas for raw and cooked food
  • Clean and disinfect ‘as you go’.
  • Cook food properly (>75°C)

Food Safety audit

10 tips for an Effective Food Safety Audit

How To Do An Effective Food Safety Audit

There are many benefits of carrying out regular audits, which include; honest self-assessment, giving feedback to management and identifying whether the systems, processes and procedures in place are working and meet the required objectives.  Audits should be proactive rather than reactive, and can identify potential future problems before they occur. Whether you are responsible for internal audits of your food premises, a third party auditor, or verifying HACCP and Food Safety Management Systems, here are some practical tips for carrying out an effective audit.

  1. Identify and ensure the competency of the auditor. The auditor / inspector should be highly knowledgeable and competent in food safety and HACCP (or the specific area which is to be audited). The auditor must be in full agreement about what is to be covered and the standards and set criteria thereof. This applies to internal as well as external audits.
  1. Before carrying out an audit it is essential to plan ahead! It has been said many times: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Planning is vital to a successful and effective audit. As well as establishing the clear aims and objectives of the inspection, planning should take into account practical things like; the size and complexity of the business, the amount of travelling involved, site restrictions (such as opening times etc.), level of in-house expertise and any language barriers of staff.
  1. Communication is an integral part of carrying out an audit. It is important that the auditor communicates clearly and concisely. Be polite, affable, and professional. Don’t be overly familiar or effusive, but at the same time do not be too serious or austere. When verbally questioning staff and auditees make use of open, leading, and sympathetic questioning techniques. A good auditor will not just check, but will watch, listen, and ask questions. When talking to employees do not become side-tracked or distracted. While some ‘small talk’ is acceptable and sometimes necessary, always stick to the point.
  1. The auditor should be impartial, fair and objective, and act with integrity.
  1. Be methodical and systematic. Carry out the audit in a coherent manner. For example, the auditor should go through what they are auditing in a logical order from the beginning to the end. It’s more than merely being guided through mechanically by the audit checklist! It’s really about linking things together and checking the process meets the procedure, and the corresponding documentation. Always take notes as you go, whether written or on a smartphone, iPad or tablet.
  1. The auditor should take photographs as and when necessary – but only of what is relevant to the audit. What can’t speak can’t lie! Again, best on a smaller device such as an iPad or smartphone, rather than a large camera. We tend to use the iPhone 6s, which are discreet and have a good built in camera.
  1. If an audit is carried out at a busy time – don’t get in the way and definitely do not spend time interviewing people. Most of the time should be spent observing working practices. Also, do not stay longer than necessary. As soon as the objectives have been met you should depart. On the other hand, never leave until you have made sufficient judgement and your outcomes have been achieved.
  1. It is fundamental that auditors keep up to date with latest industry trends, scientific and epidemiological research and information. For example, within the context of a food business, the threat of Campylobacter in raw chicken is a greater problem today than salmonella. Advice may change as understanding increases.
  1. Always write up the audit report in a timely manner. This should be as close to the event as possible. Ensure that you write concisely and clearly. Avoid emotive or ‘flowery’ language. Write as dispassionately as possible. Opinions are fine, as long as they can be substantiated and are pertinent; however, reports should be written on fact and backed up by quantifiable and empirical evidence. Give clear recommendations and prioritised timescales which are practical, measurable, and achievable. Actions which need addressing immediately or within a few days should be dealt with and remedied at the time of visit, following verbal advice. However, it’s still good practice to record this in your report.
  1. When giving recommendations, it is very important that the auditor clearly distinguishes between recommendations based on best practice and legal requirements. Inexperienced auditors often get the two confused!

To learn more about being an effective auditor, contact us , and we’ll also let you have details of the next Level 3 Auditing and Inspection Skills training course that we are running in your area.

thawing the christmas turkey

Seven Safety Tips for Defrosting Your Turkey this Christmas

How To Safely Defrost A Turkey

The build-up to the festive period has begun once more, and with it comes the prospect of lots of good food, family fun, and social gatherings with friends.

Christmas is definitely one of the most wonderful times of the year – so don’t ruin it by giving your guests or yourself food poisoning! Cases of food poisoning tend to significantly rise over the festive period. During this period it is more likely you will be cooking for several generations of people, many of whom would fall into the ‘risk group’ of people who are more susceptible to food poisoning and more likely to die as a result. We must be particularly careful when preparing food for young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and all those people who are immunocompromised.

For the majority of us, turkey will feature heavily on our Christmas menu; but improper or inadequate defrosting of frozen poultry provides a way for pathogenic bacteria to spread, leaving you with a turkey dinner that may look and taste delightful, but containing an invisible risk that can’t be detected by your senses.

There is nothing wrong in using frozen turkey, however, if you are, then it’s essential that you follow these 7 safety guidelines:

  1. Always purchase your turkey from a reputable retailer or supplier.
  1. Always follow the specific defrosting instructions on the label.
  1. Never wash your turkey, either when still frozen or when defrosted, as this can spread harmful bacteria around your kitchen by splashing!
  1. Always plan ahead! When defrosting raw turkey it is always best to thaw in the refrigerator at least 24 hours before it is to be cooked. It’s worth noting that large turkeys (around 25lbs) can take up to 48 hours to defrost. During thawing, ensure that the turkey is covered and placed in a deep container in the bottom of the refrigerator completely separated from other food, particularly ready to eat food. This will prevent blood or juices dripping down onto other food stored in the same fridge. If you don’t have the fridge space to defrost, then find some other very cool but hygienic place. Remember: Cold temperatures slow down the multiplication of pathogens on food.
  1. Always make sure that your turkey is defrosted thoroughly prior to cooking. If not, it will probably lead to uneven cooking which in turn will cause harmful bacteria to survive the cooking process.
  1. Once defrosted, keep the turkey stored in the bottom of your fridge until it is ready to cook. Leaving in the kitchen at room temperature may significantly increase the risk of food poisoning!
  1. You must always wash your hands thoroughly both before and immediately after handling the turkey, ensuring that all surfaces that have come into contact with the raw meat are thoroughly cleaned using a propriety sanitizer.

 

In recent years, goose has made a comeback on the Christmas menu. If you are using goose instead of turkey this Christmas, the above rules would still apply.

 

Merry Christmas!

best before date

What the Dates Mean on Food

We frequently receive questions regarding the difference between a ‘use-by’ date and a ‘best-before’ date. Here’s what you need to know:

Use-by

Use-by dates are predominately found on those perishable foods which usually require chilled storage; this includes fresh meat and fish, dairy products, and ready prepared salads.

Foods which carry a Use-by date must be used (consumed) by the actual date specified on the packaging. Some products can be frozen to extend the life of the product, however, if you are freezing, you must freeze the product within its Use- by date. If you are not freezing, you must never eat a product once the Use-by date has expired. Serving food beyond its Use-by date puts your customers at risk of food poisoning – and you at risk of criminal prosecution!

One very important thing to note: You should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions with regards to the storage, preparation, cooking, or reheating of the product.

Best-Before

Best-before dates are usually found on lower risk products such as those in tins and jars, or foods that have been dried or desiccated. Confectionary with high sugar content, or crisps and savoury snacks which have a high salt content, would be included within this category.

Best-before dates principally apply to the actual quality of the product, rather than to any health risk associated with consuming it. The Best-before date enables the manufacturer of the product to inform the consumer when their product is best eaten. Eating food beyond a Best-before date doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get food poisoning, but rather, the quality of the product may have diminished in terms of its texture, flavour and mouth-feel.

One caveat worth noting is that storage conditions will affect the accuracy of the Best-before date. Therefore it is essential that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding storage conditions.

Use By Once Opened

Certain products that carry a Use-by or Best-before date, may also specify a ‘use by once opened’ date. This means that the product must be consumed once the packaging has been opened, even if the Use-by or Best-before date hasn’t expired.  For example: the label on a jar of mayonnaise may instruct you to store in a refrigerator when opened and use within three weeks. It is imperative that use by when opened dates are strictly adhered to in order to avoid food poisoning.

Illustration depicting a sign with a Listeria concept.

Listeria Monocytogenes

Why is Listeria Monocytogenes Such a Big Deal?

Listeria is a bacterium found in soil, plants, and water, and causes a serious infection known as Listeriosis – a disease that has severe complications that often requires hospitalization. The bacteria can be found in animals like cattle, sheep and goats, and contact with an infected animal, or consumption of contaminated meat, can cause a serious infection in humans.

The Listeria bacteria is common in foods such as smoked fish, meats and cheeses and can also be found in in raw vegetables. Whilst the bacteria can be destroyed by cooking raw meat at temperatures higher than 65 °C., unlike some other types of bacteria, Listeria tend to multiply in cooler temperatures, with the potential for contamination of cooked food that has been packaged – which is why safe food handling should be taken very seriously.

Once the Listeria Monocytogenes bacteria enter the human body it can cause symptoms such as mild flu, fever and gastroenteritis. Most reported cases have been due to consumption of contaminated foods.

Food Handlers need to understand that there is a risk of infection when foods, especially meats, are not cooked properly. High risk food sectors must fully adhere to Food Standards Agency guidelines when processing food that is prone to Listeria contamination and ensure that workers receive rigorous food safety training with constant qualified supervision.

By ensuring very high standards of food hygiene the potential hazard posed by Listeria can be significantly reduced, and this means ensuring there is a properly documented HACCP policy in place with trained and supervised staff.

Prevention is always better than cure so high risk foods should always be avoided by pregnant women, young children, the sick and elderly, and especially those with weakened immune systems as Listeria spreads from cell to cell, attacking the host’s immune system. It has been treated successfully with antibiotics such as penicillin.