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HACCP Courses

HACCP Courses

One of the fundamental ways that businesses within the food industry manage food safety and hygiene is through HACCP. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point. It is a system that follows certain principles in managing food safety hazards. In order to use HACCP effectively, training is often required through HACCP courses. At Catersafe Consultants we provide online training and HACCP course to help you manage food safety.

What is HACCP?

With all the processes in place to run your food business, it is essential to take a detailed look at each step to identify if there are any risks for food hygiene and food safety. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point allow you to examine all the steps in each process closely. You can then identify any potential aspects which could go wrong and impact food safety.

Once you have an overview of processes, you can begin to identify critical control points. These are the exact points which your organisation needs to prioritise for the sake of food safety. Within these critical control points, you can then work towards removing and limiting any risks to help make your processes as safe as possible.

By following HACCP, you should be recording your plan and findings to see whether your procedures are working. HACCP records provide invaluable evidence for audits and inspections. Your documents can show that your business prioritises food safety.

HACCP Courses

At Catersafe Consultants our introduction the HACCP Level Two course is online training you can do anywhere. The 80-minute course will go through the vital terminology that you need to know. It will then help you to identify and analyse hazards. Furthermore, it will help you to understand where your critical control points lie.

Improve food safety with HACCP courses

Keep your business compliant and as safe as possible with our HACCP training. Sign up for the course here or call the team on 01233 822 201 if you have any questions.

 

 

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Food Allergy Awareness Week 13th-19th May 2018

Food allergy awareness week

Did you know that someone in the world is admitted to hospital every three seconds because of a food allergy reaction?  Furthermore, 20% of the UK population suffer effects by at least one allergy. Alarmingly, 44% of British adults suffer from an allergy and is continuing to rise.  Food Allergy Awareness Week begins on the 13th May 2018 to highlight the dangers of food allergies.

Food Allergy Awareness Week is here to help raise awareness of the difficulties that food allergy sufferers face and helps to educate individuals on what to do should an allergic reaction take place. Of course, the primary goal of Food Allergy Awareness week is to highlight the issue and reduce the number of problems and accidents from food allergies. For more people to have an awareness, it increases the amount of support allergy sufferers have. It also helps to prevent food allergy accidents from occurring.

Why Food Allergy Awareness Week is important to the food industry

When food products are contaminated or incorrectly label their ingredients, it can be fatal for food allergy sufferers. For the business, there are 14 allergens which legislation controls. By law, food industries need to highlight and include any allergens on the list of ingredients. Food companies must clearly indicate the allergens. Many companies will choose to highlight allergens in bold for the ease of the customers.

If allergens do not have a label, then liability can arise. Companies may suffer as a law of negligence or under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

Food allergy awareness training with Catersafe Consultants

Catersafe Consultants offer an insightful food allergen awareness online training. The course covers the 14 allergens that legislation controls. The training also explains the symptoms of food allergies and what can trigger them. This is an ideal course for those in the catering industry. Furthermore, Food Allergy Awareness Week is a perfect time to make sure your team stay compliant and increase their awareness. Sign up for the course here or discuss your training requirements by calling 01233 822 201.

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Food Hygiene Courses Kent

Food Safety Courses

If your business is in the food sector, then your employees will need food safety training. If you make, handle, prepare or sell food, then your staff need training. Without sufficient training, supervision or instruction, you may face a scathing review from your local Environmental Health Officer. At CaterSafe, we know how important it is for businesses to have excellent health, hygiene and safety standards. With this in mind, CaterSafe provides a range of food hygiene courses Kent.

The benefits of food hygiene courses Kent

At CaterSafe, we offer training for food businesses in Kent as well as across the UK. We provide both onsite and offsite training as well as e-learning courses for complete food safety coverage for all team members and food situations. There are many benefits to having sufficient food hygiene training which includes;

Compliance

Training can help staff to understand the necessary legislation which can help to improve your compliance. This can help to increase your rating by inspections too.

Image boosting

Customers will look out for good and bad food hygiene practices. If customers are not happy that your business operates safely and cleanly, then it can damage your reputation. Regular training and refresher training can help to reiterate the importance of good food hygiene practice and make sure customers are happy that you prioritise their safety.

Reduce food wastage

Following the right food hygiene principles can help staff to be more aware of food storage and handling. Our training courses will also highlight pest control. All of which can help your business to minimise wastage which can save your business money.

Improve profits with food hygiene courses Kent

CaterSafe offers a range of food hygiene courses Kent and across the UK. Our courses can help to improve efficiency, provide practical tips and assure best practice approaches. All of which can reduce operational costs, improve your reputation and increase profits. Book your food hygiene course with our expert trainers by calling 01233 822 201.

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Food Safety Training Ashford, Kent

Food Safety Training Ashford, Kent

For any worker that handles food, Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 applies. This is a legal requirement to make sure that food handlers have training or supervision when relating to food hygiene matters. To lower the risk of potential food hygiene hazards occurring, training is essential. At CaterSafe, we offer food safety training Ashford, Kent as well as across the county.

What food safety training does my business need?

The Food Regulations 2006 recommend training for food businesses. However, there is no requirement for specific training or a particular course. This means that your business can tailor the courses that you need to suit all members of your team.

Firstly, your food preparation team are likely to require in-depth knowledge to make sure that food is safe for consumption. A course that covers personal and premises hygiene is vital. Further understanding of pest control, food contamination and allergens are also helpful. These can help to reduce the risk of foodborne illness and allergic reactions.

For those who work in the front of house sector, who sell food but do not prepare any, we offer a food safety for retail. This course includes the practical measures that staff can implement in their daily work. All of which can help to minimise the severity of potential hazards. This course covers aspects such as waste management and how to safely hand food.

Food manufacturers also need adequate food safety training. CaterSafe offers a Level One Award in Food Safety for Manufacturing. This food safety training Ashford, Kent is delivered onsite or offsite to suit your needs. The course is suitable for those in low and high-risk food production.

Book your food safety training Ashford, Kent

Based in Ashford, Kent, we can provide training courses to business in Kent and across the UK. We offer courses in your business as well as handy e-learning online training, for your staff to take at their leisure. Get in touch to discuss your training requirements with our team and find the perfect course by calling 01233 822201.

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Reducing the Risk of Acrylamide – What it Means for your Food Business

Not only has April 2018 brought us the implementation of the sugar tax, but it also brings us new legislation on managing acrylamide and, if you’re a food business operator (FBO), it’s something that you need to know about.

Acrylamide is a chemical which forms naturally in starchy foods when cooked at high temperatures (anything over 120˚C).  The sugars in the food items react with naturally occurring amino acids to form acrylamide.  This reaction takes place in potatoes in various forms, e.g roast, chips, crisps etc., bread, some cereal products and also coffee roasting.

Studies carried out in rodents found that exposure to the chemical increased the risk of developing different types of cancer quite significantly.  Although humans and animals react differently to certain chemicals, it is nevertheless the view of scientists that acrylamide could be a potential carcinogen.

It is therefore considered a food safety hazard and the EU has produced new guidelines which set out mitigation measures and benchmark levels to which FBOs are expected to adhere.  While it is impossible to eliminate acrylamide completely, it is possible to reduce levels of it in affected foods by following the mitigation measures provided, thereby reducing potential carcinogen risk to consumers.  Measures should be followed as far as is practicably possible without compromising current hygiene laws.

The legislation lists the following food items to which mitigation measures and benchmark levels should be applied:

  1. French fries, other cut (deep fried) products and sliced potato crisps from fresh potatoes
  2. potato crisps, snacks, crackers and other potato products from potato dough
  3. bread
  4. breakfast cereals (excluding porridge)
  5. fine bakery wares: cookies, biscuits, rusks, cereal bars, scones, cornets, wafers, crumpets and gingerbread, as well as crackers, crisp breads and bread substitutes
  6. coffee
  7. coffee substitutes
  8. baby food and, processed cereal-based food intended for infants and young children

 

Mitigation measures and benchmark levels

The legislation recommends using potatoes which have a naturally lower sugar content.  This will reduce the amount of acrylamide that is produced during the cooking process.  It also stipulates that potatoes should be stored above 6˚C; sugars multiply in potatoes stored in fridges/cold places, thus increasing the level of acrylamide in the end product. Before frying potatoes, they should be rinsed and left to soak in cold water for up to 2 hours and then rinsed again.  Blanching potatoes is also very effective in reducing acrylamide and it is recommended wherever possible and practicable.

Frying temperatures should be kept below 175˚C and lower if possible.  Suppliers should be consulted as to the most suitable oil to use.  Food debris such as crumbs should be skimmed off the fats and oils regularly to keep it free from potential contaminants. Last year, there was a campaign by the FSA to ‘go for gold’, referring to the optimum colour to which your bread should be toasted and your potatoes roasted or fried.  The legislation suggests using appropriate colour charts where available, although the benchmark is to aim for a light, golden colour.

With bread and cereal products, it is recommended that any yeast fermentation time is extended as far as is practicable, that the moisture content of dough be reduced as much as possible and, where viable, lower the oven temperature and extend the cooking time.

With coffee roasting and baby food, it is important to choose ingredients with the lowest potential for acrylamide and identify optimum cooking/roasting temperatures to ensure minimal acrylamide formation. If you are using pre-packed or frozen goods to cook and serve to consumers, cooking guidelines should be followed closely.

Compliance

As with any other legislation, it is important to demonstrate compliance. The chemical hazard of acrylamide and control measures thereof, should be identified and documented within the food businesses Food Safety Management System. Food manufacturers particularly will be expected to have robust procedures in place for sampling and analysis of products indicating that they are seeking to reduce levels of acrylamide in what is being provided to the end customers/consumers.  They will also be expected to keep detailed records of the results.  Once systems are in place, this should be relatively straightforward to maintain.

For more information

We can help.  Contact us if you would like further information or training for you or your staff.  You can find the legislation in full here and some helpful guidelines here.

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Food Safety Courses Kent

food safety courses Kent

If your organisation is in the food industry, then there are many requirements you have to follow. Food hygiene is critical, and all food businesses have a responsibility to make sure that food is safe for consumption. Your Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plan (HACCP) will highlight your responsibilities for food safety. One area in the HACCP plan may be adequate training. At CaterSafe, we offer a range of food safety courses Kent to keep your food business safe and compliant.

Our food safety courses Kent

One of the easiest ways for employee learning is through e-learning. E-learning can be accessed anywhere at any time for complete convenience. CaterSafe offer a variety of detailed e-learning courses such as;

Level 1 Food Safety – This is the ideal induction course for new employees entering your food business. It covers the basic principles of hygiene, risks and hazards in a food setting. For those with no prior knowledge, this course is essential.

Food Allergen Awareness – In the UK, legislation controls 14 major allergens. This course is essential for a greater understanding of food ingredients, allergies and intolerances. As well as the detailed theory, the course also covers practical steps that your business can adopt today.

Level 2 Food Safety in Retail –  Food safety is not just essential in manufacturing and catering environments. There are many potential food hazards where food is sold, whether in shops, restaurants, hospitals or school. Consequently, this detailed course ensures thorough knowledge of the potential dangers in a retail setting.

Discover food safety courses Kent

As well as offering e-learning courses, CaterSafe also provides on and off-site courses with professional trainers. We can, therefore, tailor courses to fit your precise food safety needs. Our courses cover food safety in a variety of settings including, catering, logistics and retail. To find out which course is best for your needs, contact the CaterSafe training team on 01233 822 201.

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Food Safety Training Kent

Food Safety Training Kent

Food Safety Training Kent

In the last year, the UK alone had 2,265 food safety issues which warranted an inspection by the Food Standards Agency. Of the pathogenic threats, 45% of these relate to Salmonella. Furthermore, the number of allergen incidents was 187 in one year alone. To keep customers safe and your business compliant with the Food Standards Agency, food safety is, therefore, vital. At CaterSafe Consultants, we offer leading food safety training Kent.

Why is food safety training Kent important for your business?

When those working in the food industry do not comply with fundamental food safety measures, it can increase the risk of contamination and foodborne illnesses that can affect your business and customers.

Slipping standards in food safety can be devastating to businesses. Should a foodborne illness occur, this will, first of all, be harmful to the customer. However, this harm will damage the business reputation too. Depending on the severity, neglecting food safety can result in external inspections and consequently potential investigations. Furthermore, it can even result in criminal negligence.

Poor food safety can;

  • Mean a loss of revenue
  • Reduce business profits
  • Receive negative press
  • Damage your reputation
  • Result in bankruptcy or business closure
  • Lead to legal action.

With this in mind, food safety training has never been so necessary. At CaterSafe Consultants, we can help to make sure your foodservice professionals have the knowledge and skills to handle food safely. As a result, this can help to reduce the risk of contamination and food-related illnesses. Our food safety training Kent is a vital course to cover the risks to protect your business.

Contact CaterSafe Consultants for more information on Food Safety Training in Kent

Professional trainers deliver CaterSafe training. We are experts in the necessary compliance and offer training that complies with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and Highfield Awarding Body for Compliance.

If you would like to organise bespoke food safety training, we can tailor courses to suit your business needs. Discuss your requirements and book your training today by calling 01233 822 201.

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Food Safety At Christmas

Christmas Turkey

Food Safety At Christmas

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat!  Actually, these days, it’s the turkey that’s getting fat and plumped up, ready for our tables on Christmas Day along with all the other trimmings that make our festive feasts such a sumptuous affair.  As with such feasts, there are often left overs which hang around for the rest of the day, waiting to be thrown between two slices of bread for a tasty sandwich later on or perhaps saved for bubble and squeak the following day.

Whatever our eating habits over the festive season, there are always a few things we should be mindful of when preparing, cooking and eating, as the most unwanted guest in your house this year will be food poisoning.

It’s likely that in pride of place on your table will be the turkey, fresh out of the oven, golden skinned and ready for carving.  What’s gone before in all the preparation and cooking will decide whether what’s on our table is safe to eat.  Here are a few tips to help you stay food safe over the Christmas season.

First and foremost, before you start any food preparation, ALWAYS wash your hands.

The turkeyChristmas Turkey

  • If it’s been frozen, make sure it is thoroughly defrosted by following the instructions on the label. Detailed guidelines on how to do this can also be found in a blog we published previously (https://catersafeconsultants.co.uk/seven-safety-tips-for-defrosting-your-turkey-this-christmas/).
  • Store it in the lowest part of the refrigerator to prevent it dripping onto anything else and contaminating it.
  • Don’t wash the turkey before you cook it. It could splash potentially harmful pathogenic bacteria around the kitchen surfaces and you run the risk of cross contamination.
  • ALWAYS wash your hands after handling the turkey and moving onto something else
  • ALWAYS wash the implements used in preparing the turkey thoroughly before using them for something else.
  • Make sure you cook the turkey thoroughly so that the juices run clear and, if you have a cooking thermometer, check that the centre has reached 75˚C.
  • Once you’ve finished and the bird is in the oven, wash your hands thoroughly.

The trimmings

  • Make sure surfaces are clean before you start preparing any food on them. Use anti-bacterial spray and a clean cloth, preferably kitchen roll which you can then dispose of.  Do this each time you move onto a different food item to prepare.
  • Make sure you use clean implements and chopping boards. On no account use any implements or boards you have used for raw meats.   ALWAYS keep raw meats separate from vegetables (e.g. the pigs in blankets).
  • ALWAYS wash your hands when you’ve finished preparing one trimming and you’re moving onto the next to avoid cross contamination.
  • Make sure everything is cooked thoroughly and piping hot, ready for your table.

 

The leftovers

  • Cover leftovers with foil or clingfilm and leave to cool.
  • Put them in the refrigerator within an hour if possible (your fridge should be set at 4-5˚C). Don’t leave them hanging about on the table or kitchen worktop as bacteria will multiply rapidly.
  • If you choose to reheat the food later or on the following day rather than eating it cold, make sure it is heated through and piping hot.

 

The guestsChristmas guests

  • Christmas comes at a time of year when there are lots of bugs and illnesses lurking around every corner. If your guests arrive with a sniffle and a handkerchief (or worse), make sure they don’t handle or serve any food and that they keep away from the kitchen.

 

Enjoy the wonderful festival of Christmas without the worry of food borne illnesses.  Follow these simple steps and precautions and we hope you have yourselves a merry little Christmas.

The Control of Allergens: Your responsibility!

If you were to take a poll of 30 random people on the street, it is likely the percentage of them who have an allergy of some description would be fairly high.  We live in an age where, if we don’t have an allergy ourselves, we know several others who do.  Allergies and intolerances seem to be a modern day phenomenon and are on the rise. Whilst a lot of people suffer mildly, for some an allergic reaction can be absolutely fatal!

There are all sorts of allergies relating to different food groups and it is imperative that, as a business, you are aware of allergens, how to store them properly and how to avoid cross contamination.  Somebody with a severe allergy to nuts, for example, could go into anaphylactic shock just through ingesting something that has simply been through the same processer.  As a producer or supplier, this could mean that you would be at fault and, in the age in which we now live where litigation cases are at an all-time high, lengthy court proceedings could ensue, something you would wish to avoid at all costs.  In fact, just this week, two men have been in the news charged with the manslaughter of a teenage girl who died from a severe allergic reaction after consuming one of their takeaway meals which contained nuts.  They were charged with ‘failing to discharge general health and safety duty to a person other than an employee’.

Businesses need to be scrupulous in their handling of allergens and it is crucial that the relevant information about what products contain or could potentially contain is communicated clearly so that consumers are not left in any doubt. In fact, when a food allergy sufferer suffers an allergic reaction, it is commonly down to two things, namely, incorrect labelling of a product, or poor communication between staff and customers.

Storage and labelling of foods containing allergens

For those businesses in the catering line, food stuffs containing allergens should be kept in separate, waterproof containers and clearly labelled, preferably with a brightly coloured sticker or icon so that it is immediately apparent to your staff when they are sourcing ingredients for items they are producing.  It is advisable to store them away from other non-allergenic items and have a separate storage area so that you minimise any opportunity for cross contamination. Moreover, staff need to proactively look for and be made aware of hidden ingredients within a product. For example, if producing a shepherd’s pie, using  Worcestershire sauce, staff must communicate that it will contain fish, as anchovies are one of the main ingredients used in Worcestershire sauce.

For those businesses which are packaging and labelling products for sale, there are clear guidelines on alerting consumers to any potential allergens.  Those items which contain an allergen should be highlighted in bold in the ingredients list. For example, a mars bar would indicate that it contains milk chocolate.  This is required by law and is considered sufficient warning for the consumer.  There are 14 different allergen types about which you are required to notify consumers and it is vital that you are aware of them all.  You can find them listed on the Food Standards Agency website.

Cleaning of machinery/equipment/surfaces after using or packaging products containing allergens

Some food producers or packagers might have a dedicated allergen-free product line or area to avoid any cross contamination but this might not be possible for every company.  For most businesses, it will be a case of ensuring there are adequate cleaning processes in place.  Machinery and equipment should be taken apart where possible and all items thoroughly cleaned to remove all trace.  Every surface should also be cleaned as meticulously.  If this is not possible, the Food Standards Agency recommends evaluating the risk and using advisory labelling or notification to the consumer if necessary.

Remember, it isn’t just equipment and machinery that pose a risk.  Even clothing might be a hazard as allergens could be transferred this way.  You should ensure your staff wear correct clothing or protective covering where necessary.

And, of course, one of the most important and simplest processes is to make sure you and your staff wash your hands thoroughly after being in contact with any allergenic product to avoid cross contamination.

Ongoing training for staff

Your business needs to show that all your staff have received adequate instruction regarding allergens and there should be a clear audit trail of training records.  The more information your employees are given, the better equipped you will be to avoid any catastrophes.

We are able to offer training at your premises to assist you in ensuring you follow best practice and put in place procedures which will help you streamline this aspect of your business.  Please contact us if you would like to find out more or would like any help with training.

Alternatively, why not take our online Allergen Awareness Course. Sign up for a free trial today!

 

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Is Food Safety an Optional Extra for food Businesses?

If you are a business owner or manager in the food industry, what would be top of your list for ensuring success and setting you apart from the rest?  The best menu, the best food or products, the newest techniques, the best décor, the best staff, the best location? Perhaps a combination of all of them or perhaps you really do lead the field in one or two and you’re a pioneering force within the industry.  But what about food safety?  Where does that feature in your list of priorities?

Food Business Operators have a legal, moral and commercial obligation to ensure the food they are producing is safe, and will not cause harm, injury or illness. With regulations and laws increasing and becoming ever tighter, good food safety procedures and training are imperative to the success of any business.  Whatever your field, inspections by your local authority are mandatory and your food safety processes will be subject to close scrutiny.

Most businesses providing food to the public will come under the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme whereby, based on the results of an inspection, you are given a hygiene rating of 0 to 5, with 5 being the highest and 0 being the lowest.  Although you might choose not to display the certificate in your window if you get a lower rating, all results are available on the Food Standards Agency website, so there is nowhere to hide.

Inspectors seek to ensure that you are creating food and food products that are safe to eat.  It won’t just be the end goods they’re looking at but the whole chain of events from its inception to the final product and all the equipment, processes, procedures, methods and systems in between.

Inspectors will also look at your advertising and product descriptions.  Are you labelling your food, your menus and products accurately or are you being deliberately ambiguous and hoodwinking customers?  Alternatively, you could be unaware that you are misleading customers and need guidance.

If you fall short in any area, inspectors will not be forgiving and enforcement officers have the power to take a number of different actions, depending on the severity of the problem.  A best case scenario would be a ‘hygiene improvement notice’ where you would have to ensure you changed certain procedures in order to meet with government standards and law.  A worst case scenario would be for them to recommend prosecution which could lead to a fine, being banned from the food industry or even imprisonment.

With such rigorous regulations, excellent food safety practices need to be in place and all staff should be trained, either to a basic or more advanced level, depending on their level of responsibility and involvement in the production process.  You can choose to improve your business by updating your décor, changing the tablecloths, updating your menu or hiring more staff but these are choices that you have the luxury of making or not making.  Food safety is not an optional extra like any of these might be, rather, it is an absolute essential to the success and safety of your business.

Remember however, that as important as compliance is, it is not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. (Otherwise it can end-up as a mere ‘box ticking’ exercise which in the end is counter-productive). Ultimately, the most important reason Food Business Operators must take food safety seriously, is for the safety and wellbeing of their customers. That should always be the starting point. This involves:

– Protecting food from all types of contamination

– Preventing harmful bacteria from multiplying in food

– Destroying any harmful bacteria through correct processing and thorough cooking

– Disposing of any contaminated, unfit and/or suspect food.

Finally, and very importantly, managers, supervisors and team leaders 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 takes a ‘maverick approach’ to food safety, or is sloppy, will often find that their staff are too – and in reality, to a greater degree.

Here are just some of the many benefits in taking food safety seriously and promoting a good food safety culture

– Reduced risk of food poisoning

– Satisfied customers

– Good reputation

– Peace of mind

– Hygienic working conditions, which leads to increased staff morale

– Legal compliance.

On the other hand, here are some of the costs of poor food safety practices

– Food poisoning and/or food safety incidents

– Increased complaints

– Poor reputation

– Less profitability

– Low staff morale

– Legal action / fines

– Imprisonment

– Closure of the business.

 

Catersafe Consultants have a wide range of training available from eLearning to a trainer coming to your premises to train you and your staff.  We pride ourselves on thorough and comprehensive training, equipping you to put in place procedures which will ensure the highest standards; standards which are crucial to your business.  Get in touch – we’d love to help you achieve those standards and be a leader in your industry.

Check out our eLearning course on how to achieve a maximum Food Hygiene Rating for your food business! Sign up for a free trial today!

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

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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!

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.