Can you tell which type of foods put you at risk more than others? Did you know that some types of fast foods are high risk for food poisoning? How can you tell which types of food it may be better to stay away from?
Over five percent of certain categories of fast foods have been tested positive for food contamination bacteria. Micro organisms such as Staphylococcus Aureus, salmonella and E Coli are regularly found in dishes such as kebabs, shwarma, salads and sauces for kebab and falafel.
Many factors could contribute to the contamination of these take away restaurant dishes. The first of these is the meat itself. Meat should be ground when it is almost thawed, but not quite. This will ensure that the temperature of the meat will stay low and prevent the multiplication of bacteria. The grinding machine and all it’s parts must be kept spotlessly clean and the bowls into which the meat is collected must also be spotlessly clean.
A good business will buy only the best meat but the temptation of raising profit margins is always looming in the wings. Very often stall owners will do deals with second rate meat suppliers and buy meat which may put you at risk.
Another major factor in food contamination in fast food restaurants is personal hygiene. The staff who are employed by small fast food restaurants are often casual and not sufficiently trained in handling food and in keeping themselves clean. In addition, they eat the food they serve and by doing so they are exposing themselves to high risk food every day and as a consequence often suffer from stomach and intestinal complaints.
There are many possibilities for food contamination in and around the grinding machine. In commercial kitchens chefs are often hard pressed to do all the little jobs that need to be done. Cleaning is the most frequent example of this. Corners are often cut and one such “specific” corner is the cleaning of the grinding machine. Lets say a chef has just finished grinding chick peas to make falafel. Raw chickpeas are used for making falafel which means that various different types of environmental bacteria will be present on the chick peas. They have been soaked in water overnight so bacteria have had quite good conditions in which to multiply.
Having ground the chick peas the chef will want to get on with his next job which may be grinding meat for kebabs. Instead of taking the machine to pieces and washing it with soap and water, a lot of chefs will simply prefer to put a few onions or carrots through the machine to evacuate the last of the chickpeas and them proceed onto grinding meat. Liquid from the non sterile chickpeas will still be present in the machine.
The meat being ground will therefore be contaminated by the bacteria from the chickpeas. This represents a potentially dangerous situation. All machines must be thoroughly cleaned between jobs.
Meat should be stored in a fridge with an ambient temperature of four degrees Celsius. Herbs and spices should be added to the meat just before it is going to be cooked. Herbs and spices often contain a variety of bacteria which begin to be active once they are back in a damp environment. Sterilized herbs such as ones used in the cheese industry are safer than unsterilized. Quantities of meat shouldn’t be left uncooked and left for another day. Once mixed with all the ingredients, dishes such as kebabs, meatballs or meatloaf will afford bacteria a suitable environment in which to reproduce. If you must leave meat uncooked, freeze it. Try not to mix meat dishes by hand, always prefer a mixing machine or mixing paddle.
The more food is exposed to human skin the greater the risk of contamination. Restaurants by nature are hot places. They do not have the cold room or air conditioned facilities that exist in modern factories. Kebabs and meat balls are often left out at room temperature for up to three or four hours during the period they are being made. This will allow the temperature of the meat mixture to raise high enough to permit the reproduction of bacteria.
Another cause of meat contamination is cutting boards and chef’s knives. Chefs often use a knife and cutting boards for up to five hours without washing them. This is ample time for fifteen generations of bacteria to grow on the utensils and inside the meat that came into contact with the knife and board.
Chefs will often turn their board over instead of washing it when they move on to a new job. This practice is completely unsatisfactory because the underside of the board has been exposed to fluids and small solid particles from the previous task.
Salads that come with fast food dishes may not be properly washed. Likewise, chefs who are put in charge of making salads in fast food restaurants may be dealing with the raw vegetables before they have been cleaned and then move onto preparing the final stage of the salad without taking preventative measures to ensure that dirt from the raw vegetables which is on their hands and clothes won’t get into the final product. In short, you will never know if your salad dish is really safe to eat unless you know the level of food hygiene inside the kitchen intimately.
So, when you are finally handed your pita with the meat, salads and sauce, which have all been lavishly crushed together, is that the salad causes the meat to cool quickly to a temperature at which pathogenic bacteria thrive very well. What you have is a situation where all of the ingredients inside your pita are cross contaminating one another. Now can you see the true picture of potential disaster?
What’s more, the person who hands you your “mouth watering food” may handle money and by doing so transfer even more bacteria onto your food and into your body.
So now we only have the sauces to consider. Sauces are once of my favorite restaurant subjects. In a minute you will see why. When you buy a sauce from the supermarket you are either buying something that has been bottled at 100%C and cooled in the proper way. A process that makes the contents of the bottle sterile. The other method used is to put a legal amount of preservative into the sauce to prevent the reproduction of bacteria.
Many restaurants find that factory made sauces are too expensive and eat away at profit margins. They much prefer to instruct their chefs make their home made sauces and dressings. In many cases this means also making the mayonnaise that is an essential ingredient of many sauces. All sauces and dressings made in restaurants are not sterile and do not contain preservatives. If some restaurants do use preservatives, they do so illegally because they cannot procure a licence to use those types of chemicals.
Mayonnaise is made from egg and cooking oil. Often, the eggs that go into mayonnaise are not always as fresh as they might be. Many restaurants buy eggs that are close to their sell by date for a cheaper price. This means that the natural bacterial defence mechanism (lyzozome) within the egg will be close to the end of its effectiveness.
Mayonnaise that has no preservative in it must be kept in a fridge and used the same day it was made. Many chefs, however, prefer to make a larger quantity of mayonnaise and hope that it might last them up to a week.
Chefs often take mayonnaise out of the fridge to use to make a sauce or dressing and forget to put it back into the fridge for several hours. If that wasn’t enough chefs will often scoop the mayonnaise out of the container with a spoon or ladle which has been in other materials prior to being put into the mayonnaise. This creates a whole chain of cross contamination possibilities.
The sauces themselves are put into small sauce boats or squeezy plastic bottles for the customer to use. The customer may use very little sauce on his or her food. Some restaurants will pour the leftover sauce back into the sauce container to cut costs. This sauce is no longer cold and it has been exposed to the restaurant’s environment. Cross contamination is very likely under these conditions.
Sauces such as tahina are not as tart as other sauces which mean that they have a higher Ph. Substances with a Ph. closer to neutral will provide a better environment for bacterial growth than in tart sauces. Sauces should never be reused once served. Also, home made sauces should never be taken out of refrigerated conditions for more than a few seconds. Likewise, sauces should never be made in large quantities.
A good method that will help you look out for tired and stale sauces is to to see if the sauce is separating. A freshly made sauce should not separate. It should have a nice even sheen to it and look homogenous. In a fresh sauce you should be able to smell the individual ingredients within it, in a stale sauce you will have trouble doing this.
So there you have it, contributing factor number four to a kebab that is unfit for human consumption. Remember, in as much as science and technology are advancing in leaps and bounds, it it quite ironic to have to admit that instances of food poisoning are on the increase from year to year despite better medicine and technologies in the food industry. The best way to protect yourself might be to be more particular about where you eat. Personally, I have stopped eating in street restaurants altogether.