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Hygiene hazard fundamentals

The need for correct hygiene and food handling procedures is of utmost importance for all hospitality and food service establishments. It affects the viability of the business, its reputation and general public health and safety.

Neglecting basic personal hygiene and safe food handling procedures can allow food to become contaminated and poses a danger to customers once that food is consumed.

Employers and workers need to work together recognising hazards and the risks of food contamination. All businesses need to implement work processes and routines which minimise the risks and ensure the environment and products are safe.

All work areas of hospitality have a need to ensure a high level of hygiene is maintained and risks of contamination are reduced. Housekeeping areas such as room servicing, laundry and cleaning need to ensure contact with potential hazards such as dirty linen, utensils, garbage and personal hygiene products are minimised and the risk of cross contamination managed by the use of hand washing, disposable gloves and effective cleaning and sanitising agents.

Food spoilage

Food can become spoilt or change in an undesirable way such as in the look, smell, colour and texture, such as in a bruised soft apple. Foods which are spoilt whether it is because of age, wilting, bruising, or contamination from chemicals or other microorganisms are unacceptable to serve to customers.

Food spoilage is usually noticeable and can be controlled through disposing of the food as waste, maintaining stock control and through thorough cleaning procedures.

Food contamination

Food can become contaminated with unintended items, substances and dangerous levels of microorganisms which may cause humans harm if the food is consumed.

Food contamination can be caused by:

These contaminants can cause the food to be spoilt, unattractive and of poor quality, or they can create a food safety hazard which can cause harm to the consumer if ingested.

Cross contamination

Cross contamination occurs when contaminants (chemical, physical or biological) are transferred from a contaminated surface or product to one which is not contaminated.

Contaminants or micro organisms can be transferred across to food in a number of ways:

Careless procedures, staff illness, poor personal hygiene and improper cleaning and sanitising of equipment can cross contaminate food, and can lead to incidences of food poisoning. It is important to process food using methods which will help prevent the possible spread of contamination of food with foreign matter and micro-organisms. This can be achieved in a number of ways:

The risk of transferring dangerous microorganisms, allergens or foreign objects from people or food must be analysed in each food safety program, and appropriate procedures to control cross contamination must be put in place and followed by all staff. More details of workplace hygiene control procedures can be found in the section Hygiene Procedures.

Food poisoning

Food poisoning or food borne illness occurs when contaminated food is eaten and the level of contamination is sufficient to cause illness, usually a gastrointestinal disorder. Often food that is contaminated appears and tastes normal.

Common symptoms of food poisoning are stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever and general discomfort. In some people such as children, the sick or the elderly; food poisoning can seriously threaten their health leading to dehydration and hospitalisation. Symptoms may appear within as little as 4 - 8 hours or as long as several days after eating the contaminated food. People who become ill with suspected food poisoning are advised to consult a doctor.

Food poisoning can usually be traced back to food becoming contaminated through poor personal hygiene, or food being incorrectly handled, improperly cooked or inadequately stored. It is important to realise that the poison or toxins will not be visible to food handlers or consumers. There are often no warning signs that a food is unsafe to eat.

All employees working in a hospitality environment must be aware of the risks of preparing and serving unsafe food. When working with any type of food or beverage in any establishment, basic processes and work routines must be followed to keep food safe, prevent contamination and to ensure food is fit to eat.

Hygiene procedures, hand washing, food storage, temperature control, stock rotation, waste disposal, pest control, cleaning and sanitising are some examples of work processes which aim to prevent food spoilage and food contamination. All these processes are needed in every establishment to keep food safe to consume. More details of workplace hygiene control procedures can be found in the section Hygiene Procedures.

Most food poisoning occurs due to continued growth (to dangerous levels) of microorganisms particularly bacteria in food. Microbiological organisms can only be seen with a microscope. For example, bacteria produce toxins which in large numbers contaminate (poison) the food, causing food poisoning illness in the consumer. Food handlers should understand microorganisms and the conditions they require for growth to ensure food borne illness is avoided.

Food poisoning generally occurs when:

Click on the following link for further information on Microorganisms.

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