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.

Food Hygiene and Cleaning Routines

Food Hygiene and Cleaning Routines

Scheduled Cleaning Tasks

Here are a few words on food hygiene and cleaning. There are a number of cleaning tasks that can be programmed into the working week. Many will need to be undertaken at different frequencies; some will need to be undertaken on a daily basis, others every week. Drawing up a cleaning schedule helps you to provide a comprehensive cleaning programme covering all aspects of your business. By drawing up a schedule staff are made aware and can be clear as to what is expected of them and managers can check that tasks have been carried out.

Initially you may walk through premises and prioritise the different items, fixtures and equipment that you have at the premises.

Items that come into contact with food would be considered a high priority:

  • Fridges
  • Sinks and soap dispensers
  • Re-usable cloths and work clothes
  • Ice machines

Hand contact surfaces will also require regular attention:

  • Rubbish bins, broom and mop handles
  • Door handles, taps, switches and controls
  • Can openers, telephones

Other items or areas may be less of a priority such as:

  • Extraction hoods and grease filters
  • Floors, walls, ceilings
  • Storage areas and freezers
  • Waste areas and drains
  • Microwaves, ovens, dishwashers and display units


Effective cleaning is essential in ensuring that harmful bacteria or physical contaminants do not contaminate food and so that pests are not attracted into the building.

Clean-as-you-go Tasks

When it comes to food hygiene and cleaning, some tasks will need to be cleaned as a matter of course and habitually throughout the day, for example:

  • Work surfaces and chopping boards
  • Equipment e.g. knives
  • Equipment with moving parts e.g. food mixers, slicers and processors
  • Any item or fitting which has come into contact with raw meat or poultry
  • Any spillages

They can also be listed in the schedule but staff should be aware of when these tasks should be carried out. Any contact with or preparation of raw meats and poultry will require immediate attention, for example, prep surfaces will need to be sanitised. Equipment such as slicing machines may be cleaned after they have been used. A decent commercial dishwashing machine will provide several advantages.

Cleaning Schedules

Whether the task is a routine task or a clean as you go task you should decide how the task should be carried out, including:

  • What chemicals should be used
  • What equipment should be used
  • How often it be carried out
  • Who is responsible for this task

You can list this information in your cleaning schedule.

Equipment Cleaning, Disinfection and Dishwashers

Equipment Cleaning, Disinfection and Dishwashers

All food businesses must be kept clean and, where necessary, be disinfected. Staff working in the establishment need to be trained appropriately and provided with a suitable, and plentiful, supply of cleaning materials and chemicals. This article focuses on cleaning, disinfection and dishwashers.

Disinfection is carried out through either chemical or thermal disinfection. Dishwasher units can often provide thermal disinfection for food equipment and make an incredibly important addition to the kitchen environment. Dishwashers work through a combination of agitation to remove food particles and detergent to remove grease and clean. Commercial dishwashing units often work on the basis of a wash cycle followed by a shorter rinse cycle using a separate hot water tank. It has been suggested that a rinse temperature of over 81oC (178oF) will achieve thermal disinfection (although lower time temperature combinations may fulfill an equivalent effect).

Without a dishwasher it is important that suitable methods are used to maintain separation and implement chemical disinfection. The heat used at the end of the dishwash cycle also tends to ensure that equipment is dried; whereas equipment washed by hand must be drained and air dried in appropriate conditions to avoid re-contamination. Some establishments operate a 3 sink system where food debris is rinsed off equipment first, followed by a detergent scrub and, lastly, a disinfectant soak. Where such methods are used is is important that suitable chemical disinfection are maintained and that care is taken to avoid contamination by splashing or hand contamination. ‘Dip strips’ that change colour are sometimes available from the manufacturers supplying disinfectants; and these are used for testing the strength of the chemical solution.

cleaning sink food safety

Where businesses employ a single sink unit for washing equipment they must be careful to ensure that adequate separation is maintained between washes for equipment used for raw foods and that used for ready-to-eat foods. In order to prevent cross-contamination it is good practice to sanitise the sink, taps, plugs, draining areas and surrounding areas between uses. Sanitisers (or disinfectants) used for such purposes should comply with local standards. Cleaning materials should be fresh each day or, if reusable, suitably disinfected to avoid introducing contamination (dish cloths and sponges are the ideal breeding ground for bacteria!).

Dishwashers should be regularly serviced and suitable chemicals (including rinse aids where appropriate). Occasional monitoring of rinse temperatures is recommended in order to check that dishwashing is effective. In most modern units there is usually an in-built thermometer and visual dial to display temperatures; however you may be able to use a probe thermometer easily in some units if there is not. When choosing large working equipment such as chopping boards and salad spinners you are advised to check that they fit into existing dishwashers before purchasing.

When maintained and used properly I think that dishwashers are great; they can reduce workloads, provide efficiencies and ensure that equipment is cleaned effectively. They also reduce exposure to potentially irritating detergents that can lead to dermatitis when used frequently over a period of time so are better for the health of your employees too.

Rare Burgers and the E.coli Roulette

Rare Burgers and E.coli

There has been some misreporting and inaccurate information given by some when referring to the subject of rare burgers and E.coli (often referred to more accurately as ‘burgers less than thoroughly cooked’). Food safety inspectors have drawn criticism for having concerns over the under-cooking of burgers, have been accused of stifling the creativity of chefs and, even, ruining the quality of an entire ‘brand’! The following view was put by a well-respected environmental health professional in response to a newspaper article that was published on the subject of enforcement in such cases. I think his response summarises the position rather well:

“The uproar surrounding [the] decision to ‘ban’ raw burgers and suppress ‘freedom of choice’ has been sadly misinformed. Are our memories so short, that we have forgotten the lessons learnt from the public inquiries held into the fatal outbreaks of E.coli O157 in Scotland (1996) and Wales (2005)? It is evident from the majority of comments from members of the public in newspapers and on blogs that many do not understand the health risks associated with serving an undercooked burger (made from mince).”

Contamination at Slaughter

The process of killing and dressing the bovine animal inevitably leads to the spread of bacterial contamination onto the surface of the cow; which is why the presumption has always been that raw beef is contaminated with bacteria. This has been considered as unavoidable and inevitable consequence of the process (albeit, one which must be minimised as far as possible). A rare burger is not the same as a rare steak. The very process of mincing results in any external contamination being evenly distributed throughout the product which is why burgers made form mince should be cooked to sufficient temperatures throughout in order to kill the pathogens such as E.coli O157 that may be present. Remember that it is the very low infective dose (just a few organisms ingested) that makes pathogens like O157 so high risk.

Rare Burgers and E.coli – Rule Changes

In Europe food businesses have a legal duty to assess the risks to food safety arising from their operations and to put in place adequate controls to minimise/eliminate the risk of pathogens surviving. Food inspectors do not ban businesses cooking rare burgers per se; they are able to prohibit certain processes or require improvements if they are not satisfied with food hygiene controls in place. It is for businesses to demonstrate that their controls are sufficient to eliminate the E.coli risk. This is usually achieved by monitoring sufficient cooking temperatures. The difficulty for operators is in ensuring that they are able to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable measures to prevent food poisoning taking place (often referred to as due diligence); especially since the risks associated with meat are so well known. Maintaining practices based on the fact that there have been no previous ‘reported’ cases of E.coli food poisoning associated with a particular establishment or chain does not cut the mustard. It’s a flawed line of reasoning that disregards the evidence base; the argument that one shouldn’t be required to act until someone becomes seriously ill flies in the face of the HACCP principles.

However, in the UK, recent guidance did recently introduce the possibility of lower cooking temperatures in order to allow operators to provide a pinker, more juicy, burger. In order to do this the Food Standards Agency have set out criteria which, in effect, overturns the long-held position of professionals that there is an inevitability for contamination at slaughter.  In short, it states that if strict anti-contamination controls are put in place and implemented at slaughter (and, subsequently, throughout the food chain) measures that achieve a 4-log reduction in bacteria (as opposed to a 6-log reduction) would be sufficient. Providing a more complex message has led to some confusion with some operators adopting lower time/temperature combinations without sufficient supplier controls, HACCP foundation, rigorous monitoring procedures or laboratory analysis. The result of which has been examples of the restaurant and takeaway sector gambling on the E.coli roulette wheel.

Thorough Cooking Wins Every Time

The industry knows where it stands with a core temperature/time combination that results in thorough cooking. It is my belief that the most effective public health messaging is often the most simple. With minced meat and minced meat products my advice is that you should always ensure that the entire product is heated through to a sufficient core temperature that will kill bacteria such as E.coli O157. Whole cuts of red meat may be served rare as long the whole of the outer surface is cooked sufficiently. Precautions can be taken to ensure that the risks associated with dishes such as carpaccio and steak tartare are minimised (for example, by searing the trimmed outer surface of the fillet and adhering to strict cross-contamination controls). Poultry should never be served rare as there are continuing issues with bugs like Campylobacter and Salmonella that mean that the whole bird is contaminated (as opposed to just the outer surfaces). Similar problems are associated with pork which should also be cooked thoroughly