Food Deliveries and Food Safety

Since Covid-19 more businesses have become interested in carrying out food deliveries; including the provision of hot meals. Demand for delivery services has grown massively; even traditional services such as those provided by “milk-men” have received a surge in new customers. If you are thinking of adapting your business to include food delivery and have not previously provided this service you may find this information on food deliveries and food safety useful.

Changes to the Operation

If you were previosuly a retailer and not involved in the preparation of open or hot food it may be that you need to adapt your premises and food rooms in order to become compliant with food law before carrying out this activity. You will also need to reconsider and review food safety management systems and procedures. Suitable training and instruction will need to be provided to staff.

Allergens

Many businesses already take orders by telephone, web or via 3rd party digital platforms. Allergen information is an important issue to many consumers and you must ensure that you comply with food information rules. When ordering food customers must be able to access allergen information; this can either be provided in writing or orally when customers telephone. Clear communication is key in understanding customer needs and, of course, ingredient information must be accurate.

When the food is prepared for delivery it is important that cross-contamination does not take place. Clean single-use food-grade containers may be used for providing food. Each item should be labelled clearly so that customers are able to distinguish between different food items.

Temperature Controls

Whether you are delivering cold or hot food temperature controls are important for maintaining food safety and customer enjoyment. Monitoring will be necessary if transporting chilled or frozen items for any length of time. However, short periods outside of temperature control are permitted for very quick journeys. Long journeys or multiple stops will require refrigerated vehicles if transporting chilled food items.

Protecting from Contamination

Food boxes and transport must be cleaned and disinfected regularly. They should be maintained in an upright position to prevent spillages. Tamper-proof seals should protect outer packaging (such as paper bags) from any potential contamination.

Regular cleaning, disinfection and hand-washing is incredibly important. If you are using personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves it is also important that these are used correctly and that they do not, themselves, become a source of contamination. The best way in which food handlers can maintain good personal hygiene is by frequently washing their hands. Gloves are no substitute for regular hand washing.

The Story of Typhoid Mary

Out of all of the historical accounts of food safety and public health the story of “Typhoid Mary” is one that is worth repeating to anyone who is learning about the subject.

Typhoid is a particular type of salmonella that can be spread via the faecal-oral route. It can easily be passed on via preparation and service of cold foods; due to poor personal hygiene.

Mary was born in Ireland in the late nineteenth century. In her twenties, along with many others, she emigrated to New York and gained employment as a domestic cook. Each residence Mary worked at people would become sick as they were struck down with Typhoid. Mary moved from family to family; leaving a trail of destruction in her wake.

Mary Mallon was asymptomatic (did not present any symptoms) which is one of the reasons why this bug can be so problematic. Mary would not have known she was contagious. People who are infected with diseases and who have the potential to pass on infections are known as “carriers”.

After several families (and their domestic staff) were affected she was eventually identified as an asymptomatic carrier after a private investigation was launched. She was subsequently detained under medical authority for a period of three years. She was released under the condition that she no longer cook for people. However, Mary changed her name to avoid being noticed and began again to work as a cook.

She was identified after an outbreak occurred in a hospital she was working in suffered from a Typhoid outbreak. The authorities detained Mary once more; and was not released.

Until her death Mary Mallon believed she had been detained unnecessarily and, at the time, many agreed. Today, we can detect and treat illnesses much more easily and accurately. We are also able to screen sufferers and close contacts to determine whether they are carriers. However, the exclusion of workers from certain roles and responsibilities remains an important tool that is used against the spread of disease. Those who prepare food or who interact with vulnerable people are examples of those who must take their personal hygiene and fitness to work most seriously. In light of the recent pandemic people are more aware than ever of the need to isolate potential carriers; the story of Typhoid Mary therefore is just as relevant today that it was a century ago.

Read more about Mallon.

How Effective is Hand Sanitizer?

There has been a great deal of interest in hand sanitizers recently; especially in relation to Covid-19. Hand sanitizers have been used in the food industry and healthcare settings for a long time and it is only really very recently that the subject has landed on the radar of the ‘great unwashed’. So what do we know about them and their use from a food business perspective and how effective is hand sanitizer?

It has been long established science that washing hands with soap (usually liquid hand soap) and under running warm water is the most effective way of cleaning hands. The mechanical action of the rubbing and running water, coupled with the soap’s ability to release dirt and particles helps to remove bacteria and viruses from the skin. In most food businesses (e.g. those preparing food intended for consumption soon after preparation such as restaurants) this, in and of itself, is deemed as a sufficient measure to maintain personal hygiene. In other establishments (such as manufacturing settings or in premises serving vulnerable persons like hospitals or nursing homes) the additional step of applying hand sanitizer is seen as a beneficial second stage.

Hand sanitising should never be used as a substitute for proper hand washing. Sanitizer may be applied, most commonly, after thorough hand washing under warm water and thorough drying using a clean disposable paper towel. Dispensers are usually fixed to the wall next to hand wash basins and refillable. Any hand-contact surfaces or equipment (such as triggers or nozzles) must therefore also be subject to regular cleaning and disinfection. Rubbing of the solution into the hand generally follows a similar format to that suggested for hand washing techniques (so that the whole area of the hand fingers and lower wrist are brought into contact with the sanitizer.

An alcohol content of at least 60% has been shown to be effective against many organisms; check the label to see how much there is. Here is some more advice on hand sanitizers from CDC.

Chlorinated Chicken and Food Safety

There has been a lot of fuss recently in the UK regarding chlorinated chicken. The U.S. have copped a bit of flack for the way they process poultry post-slaughter; specifically for the method that is employed in order to reduce levels of pathogens on carcasses. Opposers of Brexit have used the term “chlorinated chicken” as a byword or rally-cry in order to imply that the UK will suffer from poorer food safety standards if they align trade with their friends in America instead of Europe. Just like a bacteria the trope has been spread around from the back-end to the front-end and has been left to multiply outside of acceptable controls.

Salmonella and campylobacter are a significant issue when it comes to poultry. A significant proportion of farmed poultry in Europe and the U.S is contaminated with the bugs. In the U.S washing poultry with a chlorine solution is said to lower the level of pathogens present on the meat. There is some sense to this. In Europe primary producers and processors treat fruit and vegetables with chlorine washes in order to reduce microbial loads. We even add chlorine to the water supply.

One of the arguments being made is that relying on end-on treatment is the wrong approach to managing food safety. Opposers say that, instead, the U.S should be concentrating on on-farm hygiene and animal welfare in order to reduce contamination rates before slaughter. In the UK, this has been one of the Food Standard Agency’s approaches for many years now. However, it has to be said that, the incidence of campylobacter and salmonella found in supermarket chicken in the UK remains just as significant.

There are differences in standards between Europe and the U.S; these are, in part, relate to intensity of farming and stocking densities. This may influence trade unfairly in terms of economical advantage rather than from a food safety perspective. The use of chlorine (or “chlorinated chicken”) in this context, we wouldn’t say, is the best subject to contribute to a political argument over food standards.

Wherever you live it is important to ensure that all poultry is cooked thoroughly throughout and that you take measures to prevent cross-contamination. Cook until juices run clear, so that the flesh becomes more fibrous and to remove (so far as possible) the ‘pinkness’ from the colour. Ensuring thorough cooking throughout is the most important consideration and so the best way to monitor core temperatures is to use a probe thermometer.

(Also be warned that there can be similar rates of contamination found in birds such as duck and goose and wild fowl).

Coronavirus and Food Safety – Advice for Food Businesses

Here is a quick overview of some of the Coronavirus and food safety issues affecting food businesses that remain open during the Coronavirus crisis.

Supply & Use of Cleaning Products

The supply of cleaning products such as liquid hand-wash and chemical sanitisers has, in some instances, been affected by a high level of demand from businesses and consumers. Some food business operators who have enjoyed contracts for years with renound international providers have reported that they have had their supplies interupted, or orders unfulfilled, as demand has grown.

When it comes to cleaning chemicals food business operators come in three broad types, including:

1. Those who are supplied under contract with larger supply companies;
2. Companies who buy regularly from wholesalers; and
3. Those who buy smaller amounts locally (e.g. from supermarkets) on an ad hoc basis.

All are affected by a greater or lesser extent by the Coronavirus pandemic. However, it has to be said that, operators appear to be doing a good job of sourcing alternative supplies and improvising.

It is important that, where food businesses remain operational, they ensure that they have a reasonable supply of:

Hot water is, of course, essential; especially for washing hands. The need for sanitising hand rubs is less important as the emphasis remains with effective and regular hand-washing; using liquid hand soap and running water.

Do not forget to regularly sanitise all hand-contact surfaces and any equipment that customers come into contact with.

Social Distancing & Isolation for Coronavirus

Those businesses that remain open to the general public should follow advice on social distancing, hand washing and sanitising. All eating areas should be disinfected thoroughly between uses. Additional precautions will need to be taken to protect staff and delivery workers.

Workers who are experiencing symptoms consistent with Covid-19 should self-isolate and must not work in food establishments. Similar rules will apply to workers who live with contacts or family members who are suffering from the symptoms of Covid-19.

Food Shelf-life and Menu Changes

Another coronavirus and food safety concern that has been raised relates to the shelf-life of food. Throughput and footfall in some food businesses has decreased dramatically and so it is important that food orders and supplies reflect this. Businesses should not be tempted to extend the shelf-life of food beyond accepted limits. A reduced menu is a good way of tackling fluctuations in demand (along with other practices such as freezing and portioning after rapid cooling).

If certain food items become difficult to stock remember that replacement brands may contain different allergenic ingredients; always ensure that you review allergen information carefully.

Action by Retailers

Retailers can also take the following steps:

  • Reducing customer numbers inside
  • Apply 1-out/1-in rules
  • A ban on groups
  • Provision of distance between check-out and customers
  • Enforce social distancing rules for customers
  • Enforce rules for queues
  • Provide barriers and line directions
  • Provide prominent signage
  • Implement rigorous disinfection procedures
  • provide PPE for staff

Follow Local & Government Advice

Whatever you do, you must follow the advice of your local and central authorities who will be co-ordinating strategically in order to act against the spread of Covid-19.

Food Poisoning – the FACTS

What is food poisoning?

Most food poisoning is caused by eating or drinking food which is contaminated. Contamination may be caused by any of the following:

BACTERIA, VIRUSES, TOXINS & CHEMICALS

  • Most food poisoning is caused by bacteria such as Campylobacter or viruses such as Norovirus.
  • Foods most commonly involved with food poisoning are raw meat and poultry, shellfish, rice and dairy products.
  • Most food poisoning is related to food that has been prepared in the home. However, food poisoning is also commonly associated with eating out or with takeaway food.
  • There is usually no way of telling whether food is contaminated. Contaminated food often looks, tastes and smells perfectly normal.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

Symptoms will vary depending on which type of food poisoning the sufferer has, but will usually include some or all of the following;

Vomiting Diarrhoea Aching muscles
Headache Fever Fatigue
Nausea Abdominal pain Stomach cramps

Some contamination like chemicals and poisons can make you ill very quickly (within minutes), but most bacteria do not. Bacteria take quite a long time to make you ill because they have to increase in numbers inside your body before causing illness. This can take up to three days, so the contaminated food may not be the last food you ate.  It is natural to think that it is the last meal which made you ill, but this may not be the case. The time taken for a bug to cause symptoms after consuming contaminated food is often referred to as the ‘incubation time’. Obtaining details of each of the symptoms along with their start times and durations can give us an indication as to what organism has caused the poisoning.

How do I catch food poisoning?

  • By eating or drinking contaminated food, like undercooked meat, poultry and eggs;
  • By touching contaminated food, like undercooked meat, poultry and eggs and then eating or preparing some other food without washing and drying your hands;
  • From someone who is ill with food poisoning who hasn’t washed and dried their hands properly after using the toilet.

How will I know if someone has food poisoning?

They will probably have vomiting and diarrhoea along with some or all of the other symptoms. If you think they have food poisoning, they should contact their Doctor. He/she should ask to provide a stool sample. This will be tested in a laboratory to find out the cause.

How do I avoid food poisoning?

  • Cook all meat properly especially chicken and minced meats;
  • Avoid unpasteurised milk and cheeses etc;
  • Take care not to let blood from thawing meat drip onto other foods in your fridge;
  • Wash and dry your hands often, and always between handling raw and cooked foods and after using the toilet;
  • Keep your kitchen clean, especially your dishcloths and work surfaces;
  • Keep your fridge working between 20C and 50C;
  • Keep raw and cooked food separate, including using separate chopping boards for raw and cooked foods.

What should I do if I have vomiting and/or diarrhoea?

  • Good personal hygiene to avoid spreading the infection to other people;
  • Personal hygiene is also very important when looking after someone else who is ill with food poisoning in order to avoid contracting the disease;
  • Avoid contact with as many people as possible until you have been clear of symptoms for at least 48 hours; and
  • Drink plenty of water, even though you may not feel like it. Water loss (dehydration) can be serious over a period of several days.

How long should I stay off work?

  • People working with food must stay off work until they have been symptom free for two days. You must tell your employer about your illness.
  • People working with vulnerable groups e.g. the young, elderly or those in poor health, must stay off work until they have been symptom free for two days. You must tell your employer about your illness.
  • Young children should stay away from playgroups, childminders or nursery school until they have been symptom free for two days.

What is HACCP?

A number of people have asked us the question: “What Is HACCP?” Here’s a quick outline. If you need to learn more please try this course.

The HACCP process adopts a systematic approach to food safety. Potential food safety hazards are identified by the operator so that they can be controlled at critical points during the life of the food. Once control measures are in place operators monitor controls to show that they are effective.

The term ‘HACCP’ stands for “Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points”. The general HACCP principles are outlined in international standards as well as the European legislation. They consist of the following seven stages:

  • Identifying any hazards which must be prevented, eliminated or reduced;
  • Identifying which controls are critical to ensuring hazards are prevented;
  • Establishing critical limits (or the acceptable parameters) needed at critical control points;
  • Establishing and implementing monitoring procedures at critical control points;
  • Establishing corrective actions when monitoring shows that critical controls have failed;
  • Establishing procedures to verify that measures outlined above are working; and
  • Establishing documents and records to demonstrate that the above steps are effective.

HACCP is concerned with the routine food safety practices being adopted at the premises and what steps are “critical” in keeping food safe.

For the person in control of reviewing your food safety management procedures (usually the food business operator) it is recommended that a good understanding of food safety hazards and their corresponding controls is held (HERE IS AN EASY WAY TO DO THIS). In order to implement any food safety management system successfully you must also ensure that staff are appropriately instructed and trained in the elements of the procedures that they are expected to carry out. More information is provided in the ‘training’ section.

The procedures will also require your HACCP to be reviewed in certain circumstances. A review of the HACCP system is required where there is a change or modification to the business, including, for example, where new menu items, equipment, processes or stages to the operation are introduced. Where a review is necessary the 7 HACCP steps should be used as the basis of the review process. However, it is good practice to carry out this review periodically.

We have more information on food safety management here.

Cleaning Materials and Food Hygiene

The careful use of cleaning materials is an important area that will help prevent contamination and any subsequent food poisoning. How many times have you seen celebrity chefs working in a kitchen with a towel hung around their waist that they seem to use for each and every little task?

Cleaning materials including towels, cloths, sponges, scourers and brushes are magnets for micro-organisms. Bacteria will rapidly multiply in damp or moist cleaning cloths at room temperature so they need to be replenished at regular periods throughout the day and as soon as they appear dirty. Food businesses will therefore need a plentiful supply of clean cleaning materials. Make sure you always have at least a week’s supply of cloths and cleaning products so that they may be replenished before they run out.

Re-useable cloths will need to be washed after you have finished using them. It is best to place them in a hot wash cycle in the washing machine to remove food debris and kill any bacteria. After washing they need to be dried quickly and thoroughly to prevent them sitting around damp at room temperature. Professional laundry services are the easiest option for busy catering establishments.

dirty cloths food safety

Other Types of Cleaning Materials

Single use cloths and disposable paper towels (e.g. blue roll) are the best option for routine cleaning tasks and for wiping down surfaces after sanitising; so it is best to use these wherever and whenever you can. Although, sometimes, you need something a little hard wearing like a scourer or brush. Whenever you use scourers or brushes it is best to ensure that food equipment is washed or disinfected afterwards e.g. via a mechanical dishwasher. Remember that these too can cause physical contamination and can deteriorate quickly; leaving shards or bristles on equipment.

Cloths and equipment used for tasks where they are more likely to come into contact with harmful micro-organisms, for example those used in w/c’s, should be prohibited from use in food rooms. Colour coding your equipment helps prevent incorrect use and separate out different materials for different tasks. Similarly, cloths used for cleaning areas that have come into contact with raw meat and poultry should be removed after use. In such instances, single use or disposable paper towels used should be used instead.

Chemical Assistance – Cleaning and Disinfection

Cleaning and Disinfection

When carrying out cleaning and disinfection tasks it is important that you use the correct materials and chemicals for each task so that cleaning is effective and to minimise the chances of cross-contamination occurring.

Detergents

Chemicals (for example washing-up liquid) used to remove grease, dirt and food. Detergents help clean away grease or oils and dirt but do not kill bacteria.

Disinfectants

Chemicals that kill bacteria but do not clean. Once surfaces or equipment are cleaned of grease and dirt you can use a disinfectant to kill bacteria. If you use a disinfectant you should use a food-safe variety. Some will need to be rinsed off thoroughly after use.

Sanitisers

Sanitisers act as both a detergent and a disinfectant. You should choose a food-safe sanitiser that can be used directly on food surfaces and equipment.

Contact time and dilution rates

With any chemical it is important that you always follow manufacturer’s instructions – especially where dilution is required when making up solutions.

Some cleaning chemicals are concentrated, so you need to add water to dilute them before they can be used. You should follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how much water to use with the chemical. This is known as the ‘dilution rate’. If you add too much or too little water, then the cleaning chemical might not work effectively or may be so concentrated that it presents a chemical hazard. Chemical suppliers may provide dosing aids and applicators to assist with dilutions. To eliminate the risk of errors it is recommended that you use chemicals that have already been prepared by the manufacturer and are ready to use undiluted.

The instructions may also give details of a contact time. The contact time tells you how long a cleaning chemical needs to be left on the item you are cleaning. If you do not allow enough contact time before rinsing or wiping the solution may not be effective at killing bacteria. Chose a brand with a lower contact time for practicality.

There are other precautions that can be applied to cleaning equipment and materials, for example:

  • You should never transfer chemicals from their designated spray bottles or containers;
  • Each chemical container should be labelled clearly to prevent them from being used incorrectly;
  • All chemicals should be stored well away from food to avoid the potential for contamination; and
  • It is also necessary to store cleaning equipment such as mops and buckets away from food. You will need to designate a separate area for this purpose.