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The Bug Stops Here - more about contents:

Fionn04The Bug Stops Here is presented by Fionnuala Collier. It features footage from commercial catering operations as well as graphics and some high-magnification images of some of the pests and bugs that can pose a threat.

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Details: this following commentary script is of course protected by copyright.

"There's been so much fuss about food safety recently that we could all be forgiven for getting just a little bit weary of the subject. But this isn't something that those of us in the food business can simply wash our hands of.

Each year in Britain we can expect tens of thousands of officially recorded cases of food poisoning; and, sadly, more than 50 deaths.

And there's every reason to believe that the situation's much worse even than the official figures suggest, with very many more cases going unrecorded. This could be just the tip of the iceberg.

What's indisputable is that the number of victims is far too high, and rising fast.

On top of the very serious public health considerations, people who work in food outlets which do not keep up high standards of hygiene could face personal fines, or reduced hours, or even lose their jobs, as their employers cope with loss of reputation, loss of business, and in extreme cases closure.

The law holds each individual who works with food personally responsible for keeping that food safe. The penalties can be severe, and include heavy fines and even prison sentences.

The 1990 Food Safety Act marked a substantial tightening of the law covering food suppliers, and it affects all stages of production, from the farm and the factory to the food on our tables.

A whole mass of regulations is being brought in or strengthened, covering everything from feed stuffs for cattle to the temperature of food on your hot-plate; and all in the interests of keeping the public safe.

So if you're going to work for any kind of catering business, whether selling to the public or serving an institution, how do you make sure you stay on the right side of the law, and that you've done all you reasonably can to see that your customers don't suffer a nasty bout of food poisoning?

Well, it's up to you to know how food poisoning happens, and how to prevent it. In law, ignorance is no defence.

So what exactly is it that causes food poisoning? The main villains of the piece, the micro-organisms which actually cause most cases of food poisoning, are particular types of bacteria.

Bacteria of course are tiny; and although you can't see them without the aid of a microscope, they are all around us.

Most bacteria are quite harmless to humans, and some are positively beneficial. But some can cause illness.

Salmonella bacteria have received a lot of publicity, and are amongst the most frequent causes of food poisoning in Britain; though there are many other types of food poisoning bacteria.

These are known as E Coli. This time lapse sequence gives an impression of how fast bacteria can multiply, given the right conditions. So if just a few harmful bacteria contaminate food and are allowed time to breed, very soon that food can become a serious hazard to health.

We've all seen food that's gone off, and it's easy to imagine that you can usually tell just by looking when food might be harmful. But you can't.

If contaminated food turned blue, we'd never eat it, and there would be very few cases of food poisoning. But unfortunately food poisoning bacteria can be present in even the most attractive of foods, with no visible sign at all.

Any of these foods could be seriously contaminated with harmful bacteria, and so could cause an attack of food poisoning. You can't tell just by looking.

Thorough cooking will ensure that food is safe to eat, so long as it has been correctly stored and prepared.

But the sad fact is that most outbreaks of food poisoning are a direct result of bad kitchen practice, and occur when harmful bacteria come to contaminate food, and are allowed to multiply to dangerous levels because of unhygienic kitchen practises.

So how do food poisoning bacteria get into our food in the first place?

Well, there are many different ways that food poisoning bacteria can come to contaminate food. Unfortunately many of our raw foods may already contain such bacteria, if usually in small amounts, when they arrive in the kitchen.

Red meat, poultry, eggs, and shellfish are all particularly hazardous, and the loose soil on vegetables is also a source of danger.

Another very frequent source of contamination is the people who work with food.

People can carry many harmful bacteria, especially in and around the nose, mouth, hair and the digestive system, as well as on any open wounds, sores or cuts.

These can come into direct contact with food; or, more likely your hands will touch your hair, nose, mouth, or other unhygienic parts, and then touch food, or kitchen fittings, or implements.

In this way it's easy for any of us to pick up and transmit bacteria by hand.

Of course dusty or dirty cooking utensils or kitchens are very unhygienic, and can harbour all sorts of nasty bacteria.

And bacteria can penetrate deep into the grain of wooden implements or chopping boards, making them impossible to keep hygienic. So they must always be avoided in a commercial kitchen.

A dirty kitchen is a magnet for insects, rodents, and other animal pests which can carry food poisoning bacteria, as well as other diseases and infections.

Flies and cockroaches are a particular threat.  They should be kept out of the kitchen, and food should normally be kept covered or wrapped whenever possible.

With all these possible sources of contamination, how can we minimise the risk, and keep our customers safe?

Well it's not as bad as all that.

Most contamination can be prevented by good, hygienic practices in the kitchen; and in small quantities most food poisoning bacteria are not dangerous.

But given favourable conditions, even small numbers of bacteria can breed and multiply very quickly, soon reaching dangerous levels.

So what conditions are needed to allow bacteria to multiply?

The four main requirements are food, moisture, warmth, and time.

Many human foods can support bacterial growth, but those most at risk are high protein foods like meat, dairy products, and cooked rice. Bacteria can breed very rapidly on any of these.

Bacteria also need moisture to multiply. Some foods are preserved by drying, and so long as these are kept dry when stored, they will not allow harmful bacteria to grow.

The most favourable temperature for food poisoning bacteria is around human body heat, 37 C. This can be close to the air temperature in a hot working kitchen, which often reaches the high 20s or low 30s.

But at any temperature between 5 C and 63 C bacteria can multiply quickly. This is known as the "danger zone", and foods should be allowed to stay in this temperature band for as little time as possible.

Time is important. When conditions are favourable, bacteria can breed extremely quickly, doubling in number every 10 minutes or so. So within a very short time a small number of bacteria can multiply and become dangerous.

This means that any high-protein food which becomes contaminated with just a few harmful bacteria and then is left out at kitchen room temperature, in the Danger Zone, can very quickly become a serious hazard to health.

So, if food is left to stand at room temperature for an hour before cooking, then cooled slowly before refrigeration, then reheated slowly, any bacteria which might be present will be able to multiply many times over.

The risks posed by even very small numbers of harmful bacteria are clear enough; but things aren't as bad as all that.

Provided food handlers follow good practice in all stages of food supply, then the food served up should be safe.

At a practical level, there are five essential rules of personal hygiene for all food handlers to observe whenever you are at work, as well as a number of detailed guidelines on more specific tasks.

The first essential rule is to make sure you wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, and always before handling food . This is really important because hands are one of the main ways that bacteria can get onto food.

A thorough wash means a wash with soap and hot water, making sure that your nails are clean too. Though birth marks , of course, don't wash off. Your place of work should provide an appropriate basin.

An ordinary hand towel used by several people can harbour bacteria, so for drying you must use paper towels, or a hot air dryer.

To keep your hands clean enough to be safe you'll have to wash them several times a day;

    each and every time you've been to the toilet;

    when you first enter a food room;

    after handling any raw food,

    and before handling food that's ready to eat;

    after combing or touching your hair, or touching your mouth;

    after blowing your nose;

    and after handling any waste food or refuse.

What it amounts to is that you should wash your hands any time they may have come into contact with harmful bacteria , either from going to the toilet, or from raw food, or from touching your hair, nose, or mouth.

It might seem excessive, but bacteria transmitted from staff hands are a prime cause of food poisoning. So keep yours clean when you're working with food.

The second essential rule is that you don't handle food when you're ill. If you have diarrhoea, sickness, or any other illness or infection which you think might cause food poisoning, you must report it at once to your supervisor, and you normally won't be allowed to handle food.

This may sound severe, but it's a common sense way to protect your customers from picking up your infection; and it is a legal requirement.

The third essential rule is that you must cover any cuts or sores with a waterproof dressing, again to prevent any spread of bacteria to food.

The dressings should be blue, so that if they should drop off and perhaps contaminate food they are immediately visible . Blue waterproof dressings should be available at your workplace.

Essential rule number four is that you must wear suitable protective clothing, and keep both your overalls and yourself clean.

This really is important; dirt or bacteria from your normal clothing can easily fall into food, or onto working surfaces.

Overalls are there to protect the food from you, not to protect your clothes from splashes. Bar staff, waiters and waitresses are exempted from this rule.

Hair should be kept tied back and ideally covered; finding a hair in the food is very off-putting for the customer, and of course hairs often carry bacteria.

People who like a smoke might be unhappy about the fifth and last essential rule; but it's the law. Smoking when engaged in handling food is illegal. And that includes when you're working behind a bar, in a pub, or in a wine bar.

This isn't another case of victimisation of the poor smoker; when you have a smoke, bacteria from your mouth get on your hands, and so can get onto the food. Of course the ash is horrid in food too.

So if you want to smoke at work, or for that matter eat, you have to take a break and go out of the food area to do so; and make sure you wash your hands before you start work again.

So those are the five essential rules for food handlers; follow them and you're well on the way to keeping up a good standard of personal hygiene.

You can see that they're based on solid common sense. They're all designed to minimise the risk of any harmful bacteria that you might be carrying coming into contact with food.

And they all apply whenever you're at work.

As well as the risks which the people who work with food can pose, there are a number of other ways in which food can become contaminated.

To guard against these there are important rules and guidelines to follow at all stages from accepting deliveries to food storage, preparation and cooking, waste disposal, and cleaning up.

To prevent food arriving in your kitchen in bad condition, all deliveries must be checked before being accepted, and any damaged or spoiled cans or packets should be rejected.

Poor temperature control, leaving food to stay too long neither piping hot nor properly frozen of refrigerated, is one of the main causes of food poisoning.

So the temperature of frozen goods should be checked before unloading and, ideally, deliveries should be at - 18 C or colder. Once accepted, frozen goods must be transferred immediately to your own freezer.

Deliveries for refrigeration should also be checked. They should be in good condition, and arrive chilled to 5 C or below.  Again, once accepted, these should be loaded into your own fridges without delay.

Appropriate, well managed food storage is essential for any properly run, hygienic food business. Storage areas must be kept clean, tidy, at the right temperature and humidity. And stock must be rotated efficiently, so that food doesn't spoil, and rodents or other pests are not encouraged.

Any sign of infestation by rats, mice, or other pests must be reported at once.

Perishables of course must be kept refrigerated. These are high risk foods, and if they are not kept cool enough they may well pose a health risk.

And any use-by dates must be strictly observed; it's an offence to offer or supply food once it's passed its use-by date.

The rules require that all food in fridges be stored at 5 C or less, that is out of the danger zone where bacteria can multiply fast.

Most of us have a fridge at home, and it can be easy to be a bit casual about this, but catering fridges must be operated to much stricter hygiene rules.

Remember poor temperature control is the most frequent cause of food poisoning outbreaks, so special care must be taken.

Every catering fridge should have a thermometer, and its temperature should be checked regularly, at least daily. To keep the fridge at 5 C or lower, its door should be kept open for as little time as possible.

And of course don't put hot food straight into the fridge; cool it down first, so it doesn't warm up the fridge and everything else in it.

All foods to be stored in fridges should wrapped or covered; this is to prevent bacteria passing from one food to another, which is a common cause of problems and is known as cross contamination.

Foods which are ready to eat should be stored separately from any food which will need further cooking.  If they must be kept in the same fridge, raw foods should be stored on the lower shelves and ready-to-eat foods on higher shelves, so that no bacteria can drip from the raw food into food that will not be cooked before eating.

Overloading must be avoided; and fridges must be kept clean, and defrosted regularly.

For supplies stored in freezers, too, temperature control is essential, and thermometers should be installed and checked to ensure that freezers stay at around -18 C, so that safe longer-term storage is achieved.

To avoid freezer burn and subsequent food wastage, make sure that all frozen food is stored wrapped. Careful labelling and dating is also essential, to allow for effective stock rotation. No one wants to eat food that's been lying around in your freezer for years, and may be dangerous.

When you're defrosting meat or poultry special care is needed, because there's a high risk that Salmonella or other harmful bacteria may be present.

So these should be defrosted in a separate area, away from where other foods are prepared, to avoid the risk of cross-contamination.

They must be defrosted thoroughly, or normal cooking may not be sufficient to kill off all food poisoning bacteria.

Where defrosting instructions are given, these must be followed.

All dripping fluids should be caught on a tray and, after defrosting, the tray, the work surface and any implements used should be treated as contaminated, and be disinfected.

Once defrosted, high risk foods should be kept refrigerated until ready for cooking.

So much for safe storage. When you're actually preparing and cooking food, it is exposed to all the risks of contamination from you, or from the kitchen environment. So good hygiene must be strictly observed, and cleaning as you go is good practice.

Harmful bacteria can easily pass from one food to another, either by direct contact or through contaminated food coming into contact with a work surface, or utensil, or your hands which can then come into contact with other food.

So it really is important that all surfaces, equipment and utensils should be cleaned as you go along. This not only keeps kitchen mess to a minimum; it also helps to ensure that no food becomes contaminated by unhygienic equipment.

Food poisoning bacteria can easily survive for long periods on your hands, on kitchen utensils, or on work surfaces. So after handling raw food, make sure you wash you hands.

And if a high-risk raw food like poultry or meat comes into contact with a cutting board or work surface, make sure that the board or work surface is thoroughly cleaned with hot water and disinfected before any other food is put onto it.

This is particularly important with foods which won't be cooked again before eating.

Separate chopping boards, knives and utensils for raw and ready-to-eat foods are highly desirable.

If these must be shared, then they must be thoroughly washed and disinfected after use with high-risk raw foods like poultry and meat.

High risk foods which will need further cooking must be kept strictly separate from food which is ready to eat at all stages of preparation and cooking.

And of course all food should be kept clean, covered to protect it from any dust or dirt around, and kept out of the temperature danger zone.

So it should normally be either refrigerated or kept piping hot.  Keeping foods at room temperature for any length of time is a real health hazard.

Any foods which you do serve at room temperature, like perhaps sweets and cheeses, must be served and eaten within a few hours and not re-chilled.

It's good practice to keep your hands off the food as far as possible; and that applies in preparation and cooking as well as in serving.

But in most jobs you won't be able to avoid touching food without being silly about it; which is why it's essential to keep your hands clean.

The recipes and cooking methods you use will be chosen to meet a lot of business needs; what customers want, costs, convenience and minimising waste.

But it's important to consider food safety too; remember bad hygiene resulting in a customer suffering food poisoning could result in heavy fines, as well as loss of trade.

So all foods should be cooked thoroughly to destroy any bacteria which may be present. Poultry and egg dishes in particular must be cooked right through.

Unfortunately, because of the high risk of Salmonella contamination, no raw egg dishes should be served.

And if you are going to serve meat rare, whether it's roast beef or hamburgers, then extra care must be taken of that meat right through its storage and preparation, to ensure that it is not put at any risk of cross contamination.

The two most common causes of food poisoning are:

    cooking food too far in advance,

    and leaving food in the temperature danger zone, between 5 C and 63 C.

So cooking in advance, cooling and reheating really should be avoided whenever possible, because of the extra time this allows for any bacteria present to multiply. So never reheat food more than once.

If you do need to cook some dishes in advance, either keep food piping hot, or cool it quickly, within one and a half hours, and then refrigerate it.

Then before serving reheat thoroughly at a hot temperature, 75 C or higher, for long enough to cook all the way through, to ensure that juices run clear.

Once food is ready, it should be served promptly, and not left around on plates to cool.

When food is to be kept hot, see that it's kept at 63 C or hotter, so that bacteria can't multiply.

Naturally all plates, utensils cutlery and glasses must be clean.

Any waste food must be cleared away without coming near food preparation areas. It should go straight into waste disposal units or bins.

Bin lids should be kept shut when not in use, and remember you should wash your hands after handling waste.

Bins should be emptied and cleaned regularly. Sloppy handling of waste or spillages can attract pests or vermin, bringing more bacteria into the kitchen. Thorough washing up is essential to keep all crockery, cutlery and utensils clean.

If a dishwashing machine is not available, then to ensure that dishes and utensils are sterile a very hot wash with detergent is appropriate, followed by a very hot clean rinse in a second sink.

Dishes should be left in racks to dry. If for any reason towels must be used for drying, because of a rush or to shine glasses, then these should be disposable paper towels.

And that's it; it wasn't so bad, was it. Follow these basic, common-sense rules and you'll be helping to make sure that none of your customers are put at risk of food poisoning.

And if you do have a problem following any of the rules, make sure you talk it over with your supervisor, and see if you can come up with an answer between you.

Food poisoning is fast becoming an ever more common occurrence in Britain, causing severe sickness for thousands of people every year, and far too many deaths. Yet nearly all of it could be avoided, if we all practised good food hygiene.

Now the law covering food business has very sharp teeth; owners, managers and staff can face heavy fines, or even a prison sentence.

To keep food safe, we have to do three things.

We must protect food from contamination by food poisoning bacteria. This means practising good food hygiene, which includes washing hands frequently throughout your shift, and also care in keeping raw and ready to eat foods separate.

We must prevent harmful bacteria from breeding, by correct food storage, and keeping food out of the danger zone of 5 C to 63 C.

And we must destroy any food poisoning bacteria which are present by thorough cooking, and by through cleaning of any surfaces and equipment which might become contaminated.

Surely we all deserve to be able to enjoy the food that's served to us, without suffering from food poisoning caused by sloppy staff habits or poor kitchen hygiene.

It's easy to get a little casual about food safety. But for all too many people in Britain, food poisoning has been literally a matter of life and death.

It is important. And the answer's in your hands. So do make sure you know what you need to do; and please make sure that you do it.


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