Food Poisoning In The Home Kitchen

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Last Monday morning I received a phone call from the area superintendent of the department of public health. She told me that there was a steady stream of people falling sick due to eating food prepared by one of the large kitchens in our area. She continued to tell me that her department had been through the place with a fine tooth comb but still couldn’t find the source of the contamination. I arranged to meet them at the premises in question the following day to conduct an inspection.

To tell you the truth, I had a pretty good idea what I would be looking for because I had been to that particular kitchen several times in the past and had spotted a few things that seemed problematic. However, I had to make it seem as if I was earning my money so I decided that we would start somewhere quite far from the place that I suspected to be the problem.

We started by taking swabs of everything we saw and asked staff to provide swabs, blood, urine and stool samples. We checked the toilets of staff and diners alike and took swabs from all manner of cooking pots and trays,

I knew that this kitchen was using a type of bread basket within which to thaw meats and fish. The bread baskets were stacked one upon the other and left inside the two degree Celsius anti room of the freezer complex for up to four days. I also knew that the baskets were loaded onto a low level service trolley and brought up to the kitchen. I had known the chef of this kitchen for a number of years and I also knew that it was his practice to unload the baskets into plastic tubs after the lunch had gone out to the dining room. I always made a practice of doing this first thing in the morning before we started on the days chores.

What this meant was that the contents of the baskets were left to warm up from between seven o’clock in the morning until 11 o’clock in the morning. This wasn’t a very good practice. Every chef has his ways but I knew that this was not the exact point I wanted to look at closely. What bothered me were the baskets themselves. I had a word with the chef and asked him to make an exception today and vacate the baskets earlier. What i notices was what I suspected. After rinsing the basket with water to remove the blood I saw that there was a light colored plaque stuck to the plastic. I took a scraper and saw that it came away fairly easily. I took scrapings from all the baskets used that day and then took the baskets to the aluminium washing machine to see what happened.

The man working on the machine proudly took a stack of five baskets and but them onto the machine and presses the operating handle down. The baskets disappeared into the machine for a few seconds and then came out. The worker informed me that this was a very efficient way of washing the baskets. he then placed them back onto the service trolley which had not been washed only sprayed with a water gun and placed the baskets next to the lift ready to by taken back down to the freezers.

The guy in charge of the freezer units the proceeded to re fill them with produce for another day. I had noticed several things, 1) the baskets had not been scrubbed with a stiff plastic brush of Brillo pad with detergent, 2) they had only been rinsed inside the machine which used high pressure but was ineffective due to the fact that the stacking of baskets inside the machine rendered the high pressure ineffective,3) chicken, beef, pork and fish had been set out to thaw in the same tower of eight baskets.

All of this led us to believe that we had quite possibly found the missing link of the food contamination dilemma. What had been happening was that liquid released from the thawing meat and fish had been dripping onto the plaque in the bottom of the baskets which in turn had been dripping onto the neat inside the baskets below. Then we discovered something else. The worker who had been handling the baskets went to work on the dish washing machine that cleaned the crockery and cutlery merely wiping his hands on a towel and removing his plastic apron before going onto the dish washing machine. It was his job to remove the clean cutlery off the dish washing machine. We clearly saw that he could be contaminating the cutlery.

All we needed to do now was to take the cultures we had taken back to the lab and have them checked out. These were the findings. Camphilobacter, Staph Aureus, Salmonella, e. coli, vibrio an listeria were all present in large quantities within the plaque which we removed from the bread baskets. Our findings were relayed to the company management with the following recommendations. All bread baskets to receive immediate soaking in caustic soda. 2) All bread baskets to be scrubbed individually before putting them onto the aluminium machine,3) all bread baskets to be put into the aluminium machine individually and 4) all bread baskets to receive a weekly soaking in caustic soda. 4) aluminium machine worker was to thoroughly wash his hands and change overalls before helping out anywhere else.

A re check will be conducted in two weeks from the day all the baskets were washed in caustic soda.

kitchen-487973_1920A number of people have contacted me in request that I give some information about sterilizing cooking pots and other kitchen utensils. For most of us in the western world it is not absolutely necessary to sterilize pots as long as we make sure that we wash them thoroughly in very hot water and washing up detergent and a scrubbing pad. In other areas of the world or in situations where pots have been out in field conditions for any period of time, especially in areas where disease is prevalent, the need to continually sterilize pots may be a critical factor in the prevention of food contamination and the recontamination of sick people and the promotion of food hygiene in areas where it does not exist.
Firstly we need to look at the different types of cooking pots. The easiest type of kitchen cooking utensil to sterilize is stainless steel because we can clean it chemically without changing its properties. Other forms of pots present more problems. In Africa it is very common to cook in what, in some places, is called a “poike”. If I am not mistaken this is an Afrikaans word for a cast iron cooking pot. It is cast from a thick sheet of iron or steel and is designed to sit over an open fire. They come in many different sizes and are usually very heavy indeed. They have usually been treated with blackening so they have an outer covering. They also have a thick metal carrying handle that is attached to the rim of the pot across its diameter.
Another form of cooking pot is the aluminum pot. the advantages of aluminum are that it is lightweight and heats up very quickly. The disadvantages of aluminum are that it reacts to just about every form of chemical used to sterilize kitchen equipment. Even the acid in tomatoes, lemon and eggplants remove the essential oxidized layer on aluminum pots. The metal is relatively weak and handles usually fall off after a period of use.
Copper is another form of metal use to make cooking pots but utensils made from copper are normally expensive and in my opinion would not be used in areas of the world which require the sterilization of cooking equipment. In any case we can class it as having very similar properties to aluminum from a cleaning perspective.
Probably the oldest and most traditional way to sterilize all forms of cooking equipment is to boil them in boiling water. Adding some salt to the water will help in the disinfecting process and it will slightly increase the boiling temperature of the water and destroy more bacteria. The advantage of this system is that the pots and pans are immediately ready for use after sterilization. The disadvantages are that the equipment has to be 100% clean before going into the sterilization pot and they require a minimum of thirty minutes to boil before it is safe to take them out. Boiling does not ensure that all types of bacteria will be destroyed and some toxins can survive boiling.
Continuing with the theme of using water to sterilize kitchen equipment another efficient way to sterilize pots and pans is with steam. Steam is much hotter than water it will sterilize things that come into contact with it much more quickly. Using steam under pressure also removes baked on fats and other sediments. Steam treatment is OK for all types of metals but Steam is dangerous and requires that special equipment be worn before working with it safely and efficiently. This equipment should include thick plastic apron, thick plastic or neoprene gloves (not surgical gloves) and eye protection goggles. Like with water the advantage of steam is that equipment can be put straight back into use with no further treatment other than washing with a mild detergent and rinsing with water.
Caustic Soda is the next form of sterilization which I would like to talk about. Caustic Soda destroys all forms or organic material. Concentrated caustic soda needs to be diluted with water and heated to a temperature of no more than 80 degrees Celsius. Caustic soda breaks down at temperatures above 80 degrees Celsius and ceases to be effective.
Great care must be taken with caustic soda because it is very dangerous and can cause serious burns and blindness if it gets into your eyes. People using caustic soda should be properly trained and should also wear protective clothing which should include a thick plastic apron, thick neoprene gloves and a full industrial plastic face mask. This chemical is only suitable for stainless steel, plastic and glass. Other forms of metal will be affected by the chemical reaction of the soda. Aluminum may even be eaten away completely.
The use of caustic soda is also good for removing stubborn cooked on foods. The disadvantage of using soda is that it needs to be washed off dishes completely before they can be used again. Most big kitchen will use a high pressure tray washing machine to do this. If your water supply is not infected you may want to consider rinsing the pots in boiling water to avoid re contamination.
Caustic soda melts the fat in your skin if it spills onto the skin and it causes a slimy film on the surface of the skin until it is properly washed off with cold water. Wash until this feeling has completely gone. Caustic soda is also good for cleaning glass, ceramic and plastic utensils.
Yet another method of sterilizing kitchen equipment is to soak it in hot water and chlorine cleaning powder. Chlorine kitchen powder is also good for removing stubborn stains on ceramics, glass and Pyrex. This type of sterilization will react with aluminum and will remove the oxidized lawyer on the surface of the aluminum which is necessary to remove the toxicity of aluminum. Pots may become unusable if exposed to chlorine powder; therefore, I do not advise using chlorine powder to sterilize aluminum
This form of sterilization requires that equipment be soaked for about three to four hours for good results. Similarly to the use of chlorine must be washed off completely with a mild detergent before reusing treated equipment.

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At the bottom of this article you will find a full video presentation in six parts on the subject of food hygiene.

Most of us spend a great deal of attention to cases of food poisoning outside the home. Stories of food poisoning incidents hit the news and cause a great deal of anxiety and public interest. Someone once told me that food scares in the media are a bit like stories of air crashes. Although tragic and dramatic they do not amount to many deaths compared to road accidents. The same is true for incidences of food poisoning. Most instances of food poisoning do occur in the home environment.

However it is only natural to have this  concern about food hygiene from without the home because the food we buy and bring into the home environment comes from without. It is for precisely this reason that we are naturally tuned into collecting as much information as possible about where the best sources of food are and which places to avoid.

Even if we do manage to locate excellent food sources there will always be some bacteria present on it. We can never get completely away from this fact. Bacteria are everywhere. What we are looking for is sources that have not been exposed to unnecessary sources of contamination. Taking this fact into to account, the reason for promptly storing our food becomes clear. We need to keep it as fresh as possible.

Restaurants are involved solely in the preparation of food and if they work along strict hygienic guidelines the risk of food contamination is minimal. On the other hand, the home kitchen serves many functions. If only I had a dollar for the number of times I saw muddy football boots in the kitchen sink. The multi functionality of the home kitchen allows for many different possibilities for the cross contamination of food.

The kitchen is the place where any number of family mishaps are solved and family members come to the kitchen to clean themselves when really they should be using the bathroom. Kids may have been playing with their pet rabbits or the dog and the man of the house may have been unblocking a drain. In both of these instances the family members in question may go to take a drink from the fridge without properly washing and changing clothes. We all know this happens. Any kind of contaminant could spill onto food,

Another reason for food poisoning in the home is the direct and indirect interaction between the kitchen area and animal.s By animals I mean cats, dogs, mice, rats, birds, cockroaches, ants, flies, spiders, moths and in some countries maybe lizards and geckos. All animal species carry a huge variety of bacteria on their skin and in the feces and urine. Animals should not be allowed to jump onto kitchen work surfaces or eat from human utensils. If you are working with food avoid touching animals. Food should be kept in air tight food containers to stop insects and rodents from getting at it and work surfaces must be kept spotlessly clean at all times and sterilized with an anti bacterial spray such as Lysol spray.

Not everybody cleans their fruit and vegetables before storing them but I do like to wash it with a fruit and vegetable detergent. The soil upon your produce may come from many different areas of the world and it is better to clean it off than to have exotic strains of bacteria infecting your whole fridge. The special detergents for fruit and vegetables should also remove any insecticide residue from your fruit.

A major source of food poisoning in the home is failure to clean the fridge regularly and to check the freshness of the produce within it. Your fridge is a humid environment in which air circulates. This means that bacteria and molds can spread throughout your fridge in aerosol and contaminate many different items in a very short space of time. Always check your stock for food spoilage.

Preparing barbecue food is another common source of food poisoning in the home. People often leave food in containers in hot conditions while they are cooking. This gives bacteria an opportunity to grow. Grilling raw chicken takes a very long time until it is cooked through to the bone and bacteria have ample time to proliferate throughout the food. It is always best to precook chicken drumsticks, wings and chunks and to grill them just for the added taste of the grill. Thick hot dogs and burgers are also problematic for grilling on the barbecue. It takes a very long time for the heat to penetrate throughout and more often than not people eat only partially cooked food.

Thawing meat and fish. It is absolutely amazing when one learns just how few people understand how to thaw food. In the age when we constantly want things to be ready in a flash it seems time wasting to wait a few hours for meat to thaw. The solution is generally the microwave or to thaw in hot water. Both of this areas create hot spots on the surface of the meat where bacteria can develop. Meat should be defrosted in cold water but my personal advice is to plan three days ahead and defrost meat in your fridge at four degrees Celsius and in a closed container.

Ground meat and eggs are particularly sensitive items in the home kitchen. Ground meat is animal muscle whose surface area has been greatly increased. This increase of surface area is excellent for bacterial development. if other contaminants such as unclean spices or herbs are added to it as well as raw eggs, bacteria will be provided with the ideal environment. Raw egg is another perfect culture medium for bacteria. Ground meat should not be left out for long periods. It should be mixed with the other ingredients as quickly as possible and either cooked or re refrigerated until cooking. Personally I try not to exceed twenty minutes outside of refrigerated conditions.

Failure to follow manufacturers instructions is also an area in which much food poisoning in the home. Many pre made products are not suitable for baking, especially meat products which have been breaded but not pre fried.  Always read manufacturers instructions if you are using a product for the first time. Adhere to warnings stated on packaging.

The last area of concern that I want to talk about is the cleaning of eating and cooking utensils and equipment. Wash everything in very hot water and washing up liquid. Clean all grease from ovens and ranges promptly. Store equipment in clean cupboards and replace dish cloths and dish towels after each task. Use all kitchen equipment only for the function that it was intended. Personal hygiene is the function of the bathroom not the kitchen. Train your family on how to use the kitchen correctly and the risks of food poisoning in the home will be greatly reduced.

© 2019 Food Hygiene Essentials