There are 3 different types of contamination in the food industry; microbial contamination, physical contamination and chemical contamination, with microbial contamination being a more frequent cause of food poisoning and rising, with the amount of products contaminated having seen 91 % between 2006 and 201 1 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs , 2012) . A variety of things can cause microbial cross- contamination, but the most common causes are through vehicles or vectors carrying harmful bacteria (pathogens) from a source to the food.
The source or reservoir is where the contamination Originates from, for example, humans, raw food, rodents, dust and soil. In the context of cross- contamination, a vehicle is a substance, object or living thing that moves the contaminant away from its source to the food. The vehicle could either be dictionary or a mobile vehicle. A vector is an organism, usually a bird or an insect, that transmits a pathogen from one place to another. The aim for a food manufacturer is to make a commercially sterile, not completely sterile.
The definition for a commercially sterile product is “Commercial sterility of food means the conditions achieved by application of heat which renders such food free from microorganisms capable of growing in the food at temperatures at which the food is likely to be held during distribution and storage. ” (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2007). The reason for this is that he severe thermal treatment needed to make a product completely sterile would severely reduce the sensory quality and nutritional value of the product, as well as increasing the energy consumption to reach higher heats.
There are various reasons as to why cross-contamination happens and is a major cause of food poisoning, for example, poor hand washing techniques, confusion of terminology by staff, equipment design and color coded equipment which people do not adhere to. It is also very difficult to track down the causes of an outbreak, so it may take a while to take the relevant assure to stop the outbreak and sometimes the wrong thing is blamed, for example, in 2011 , Spanish fruit and vegetables were blamed for an E. Coli outbreak across Europe, killing 22 people.
However, it was later discovered that German bean sprouts were the likely cause (BBC News, 201 1). The mistake cost the Spanish fruit and vegetable industry Emma per week, proving how economically important it is to get the causes right (BBC News, 201 1). In many food poisoning cases, a sequence of events contributes to an outbreak, rather than just one activity alone. This is called the microbial chain ND makes it even harder to discover the true cause Of an outbreak. An example of a microbial chain is; cooked ham comes into a store and is sliced.
This ham has come from the supplier contaminated so has now contaminated the slices used. The slices is not washed and other meats, for example, more cooked ham or cooked beef, is sliced on it. This then causes the other meats to become contaminated, making it difficult to find the meat that originally caused the problem. The cooked meat that has been contaminated is ready to eat, so therefore is a high risk product as no further retirement will be done to kill pathogens, meaning it is very likely that a case of food poisoning would come from this microbial chain if the pathogen was harmful enough.
A wide range of things can act as vehicles for microbes, for example, hands, clothes, cleaning cloths and pests can all act as mobile vehicles, and food- contact surfaces, food itself and hand-contact surfaces, such as door handles, fridge door and taps, can all act as stationary vehicles. These vehicles can carry pathogens onto high risk foods such as ready to eat products such as, cooked meats, cooked prawns, oysters, and dairy products. A high risk food can be defined as “any ready-to-eat food that will support the growth of pathogenic bacteria easily and does not require any further heat treatment or cooking’. Warwick University , 2011). This means that special care needs to be taken preparing these foods in the factory or in the kitchen, for example, using separate areas in the factory or using separate chopping boards for raw and cooked meat in the kitchen. There are many laws that have been put in place to try and prevent cross-contamination, therefore reducing the frequency of major food poisoning outbreaks. These laws can be found in SEC) 852/2004 Hygiene of Food Stuffs and it is the job of environmental health officers to enforce these laws, through audits.
This laws have been changed and updated over time since 2004 to make them more relevant and applicable. A public enquiry on the 2005 E. Coli 0157 outbreak in South Wales, chaired by Hugh Pennington, a professor Of bacteriology, helped further improve this piece of legislation when it was published in 2009. However, many find these difficult to interpret and use in the context of their own business, so the Food Standards Agency created Safe Food Better Business’, tit different sections for different types of companies that handle food, for example, for caterers, takeaways, retailers, child minders and care homes.
These documents are also provided in different languages to help provide businesses, run by foreign owners who don’t speak English, improve the safety of the food from the business and help them adhere to the laws in (SEC) 852/2004, therefore reducing the risk of an outbreak occurring through cross- contamination from this business. There are many examples of where cross- contamination has been the probable cause of major food poisoning outbreaks, for example, an outbreak of Weston Blumenthal ‘The Fat Duck’ restaurant in 2009, the E. Oil 0157 outbreak in in 2005 in South Wales and an E. Coli outbreak in Lancashire, Scotland in 1996. The 2005 outbreak of E. Coli 0157 in South Wales was a major outbreak and lots of mistakes were made for it to occur, which were highlighted in the Pennington Report. In the outbreak, 157 cases were identified, 31 people admitted to hospital and 1 five year old boy died. This prompted a public enquiry carried out by a Professor in Bacteriology called Hugh Pennington.
The problems identified were; poor audits carried out by Environmental Health Officers at John Tudor and Son, critical control points not met, no valid ‘Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point’ (HACK) plan and issues with cooked meat being prepared and packed in the same area as raw meat, therefore causing cross-contamination (Pennington, 2009). The meat also ending up in schools in the area, meaning smaller children with weaker immune systems were more at risk of becoming infected, so they were more vulnerable to serious illness and death.
One cause of the outbreak was that there was only one Vic packer, which are used o vacuum pack a product, was used for cooked and raw meat, causing any pathogens that were on the raw meat to contaminate the Vic packer, which then contaminated the cooked meat. This then became the problem as the cooked meat will not be treated again, so there is a good chance that a harmful level of pathogens will be present in the meat when consumed.
Environmental health officers that had inspected the premises had noticed that there was only one Vic packer for both, however the Food Business operator had told that they had another Vic packer that was of site for repairs. This turned out to be a lie and could have easily been detected, had the inspector enquired further and asked for proof, however it was only discovered to be not true at later inspection. In the Pennington Report it states that ‘special attention’ was paid to the Vic packer and that ‘the use of one for both raw and cooked meats carried with it a serious risk of cross- contamination’.
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