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A little more than a decade after global warming, gradually disappearing rain forests and endangered species ruled our collective conscience, new concerns have started to dominate our concerns: pesticides, mad cow disease, e-coli genetically modified foods, fungicides, growth hormones and food safety.
In this first decade of the 21st century, food safety is the environmental issue (75 percent of North Americans claim to be concerned about the wholesomeness of the food they consume). Even a larger percentage is concerned about processed food, yet a huge proportion of the population buys processed and prepared food due to time constraints. These days, people are time poor but cash rich. Considering the fact that in the recent past more ground beef had to be recalled than anytime before 1990 shows how vulnerable we all are.
It used to be that food manufacturers wanting to export to Canada had to pass stringent health inspections carried out by specially trained officials before they were allowed to ship a unit of their product, but this policy has been relaxed. Also every slaughterhouse had to have an inspector (provincial or federal) but this policy has been relaxed in most cases.
These days the North American consumer has more opportunity to sample food from different part of the world. You can now buy haricot beans from Kenya, Kiwi from New Zealand, Israel, Chile, or Italy, pineapple from Thailand, herbs from Costa Rica, avocados from the Caribbean, avocado oil from New Zealand, papayas from Brazil, okra from India and mangoes from Central, America oysters from France, swordfish from Chile, cod from Norway and even dried fish from Maldives. Some of these foods may be contaminated due to illegal means of irrigation with untreated sewage.
Restaurants are just one link in the food-supply chain; their role against food borne illness is crucial. In Canada approximately 10,000 cases of food borne diseases are reported annually, of which 30 percent result in death. The Atlanta based Centre of Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 70 percent of all food borne illness outbreaks occur in foodservice operation compared to 20 percent traced to homes. Food processors account for three percent but this figure is increasing.
It is obvious that the restaurant industry particularly the fast food industry must train all food handlers more vigorously, hire healthy individuals and take every possible precaution to serve wholesome foods. This will cost but it better to be safe than sorry.
I can recall a few ago the Jack-in-the-Box tragedy that cost millions and even more in lost business and reputation. All equipment and literature are readily available at affordable cost. Managers just need to implement a well thought out education seminar, then maintain standards.
Ingesting food that has been contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals causes food borne illness. Food-safety hazards can be introduced into food service operations in a number of ways, such as food, equipment, supplies and customers. The hazards may be biological (bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi); chemical (cleaning supplies, pesticides, and food additives); or physical (dirt, broken glass and crockery that accidentally get into food).
Diseases can also be spread by cross-contamination, which is the transfer of harmful substances or microorganisms to food by a variety of means. Utensils, washcloths, and human hands can contaminate ready-to-eat foods. Contamination can also occur via food-to-food, such as when thawing meats drip on ready-to-eat foods.
Major food borne illnesses include: Salmonella: A large group of bacteria, salmonella can make people sick with a disease called salmonellosis. These bacteria are found in the natural environment, animal feed and animal intestines. Salmonellosis symptoms may include diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, vomiting and fever. These symptoms usually appear six to 48 hours after exposure and can persist for several days. Foods that are most likely to carry salmonella bacteria include raw and undercooked meats (especially poultry), raw milk, eggs and sprouts. Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated with salmonella bacteria if they have been exposed to contaminated soil, or have come in contact with a contaminated product or surface (such as a countertop or hands during food preparation). Prevention: avoid cross-contamination, refrigerate food, thoroughly cook all meat to proper internal temperatures, rapidly cool cooked meats, practise good personal hygiene and proper hand washing.
Shigella: A pathogen found in the intestinal tract of humans, shigella is rarely found in other animals. Its presence in foods is a sign of human contamination and lack of hygiene by food handlers. Another means of transmission is ingesting of contaminated water, such as water supplies contaminated by untreated sewage. Consumption of shigella-contaminated food or contact with infected people may lead to shigellosis. Symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and dehydration. The most common foods to carry shigella are salads (potato, shrimp, tuna, chicken, macaroni, fruits, and lettuce). Chopped turkey, rice balls, beans, puddings, strawberries, spinach raw oysters, luncheon meats and milk may also carry shigella. Prevention: Avoid cross-contamination; avoid fecal contamination from food service employees by practicing good personal hygiene and proper hand washing; use sanitary food and water sources.
E.Coli 0157:H7:This is found in the intestines of cattle, poultry and other animals. When an animal is butchered, the bacteria can be transferred to the meat’s outer surface. E.coli 0157:H7 infection can be spread by hand-to-hand contact with an infected person or even from surfaces he/she may have touched. A small number of people who become infected with E.coli 0157:H7 do not get sick at all; some experience flu-like symptoms; others experience severe, even life-threatening symptoms. Symptoms include diarrhoea, severe abdominal pain, vomiting and low-grade fever. It may cause an unusual type of kidney failure and blood disorder called haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Although HUS is commonly called “hamburger disease”, un-pasteurized milk untreated water, vegetables and un-pasteurized apple juice/cider contaminated with E.coli 0157:H7 have made people ill. Ground beef may be easily contaminated by E.coli0157:H7, due in part to its preparation. The grinding process spreads bacteria, generally found on the surface, throughout the meat. Prevention: Thoroughly cook ground beef to at least 70 C (158 F) for 15 seconds; avoid cross-contamination; avoid fecal contamination from food service employees by practising good personal hygiene and proper hand washing (Source: The Canadian Federal Inspection Agency and ADVANCED .fst Food Safety Training in Canada).
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu