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cheese-1278812_1920Food spoilage is really nothing more than a natural deterioration of organic matter. Everything in nature has to be broken down so that it can once again become part of the composition of soil. All of the various natural processes that participate in the spoilage of organic material are ultimately directed toward this aim.

Odor. Bad odor is a symptom of food spoilage. Foods that have a bad odor should be thrown out. We have already gone into the causes of foul refrigerator odor with regards the spilage of food. Yet there is another factor that we should take into consideration when talking about foul odors of food and that is that the odors can be soaked up by foods which have not spoiled and make them disagreeable to eat. In saying that, this problem does not only pertain to food which has spoiled. Nobody would like to eat a piece of cake that has adopted the odor and taste of smoked salmon, for instance. This is a major problem in the home kitchen. Luckily there are now products available that help to reduce the severity of refrigerator odor and foul taste transfer between foods. Now you can buy a refrigerator purifier that will prove invaluable in the prevention of refrigerator odor. This product is a real food saver. Small air filters for fridges are also available.

When we define food spoilage we can say that spoilage of food pertains any disagreeable change in the nature of food from the normal condition that we expect. These changes may compromise food hygiene. We are able to distinguish these changes through use of our senses. For instance, food may change visually, it may change in smell, to the touch or in taste. In saying that, we use some forms of what technically amounts to food spoilage, in a controlled way, to achieve a desired effect, as in Camembert cheese for instance. We crave the runiness of the cheese that is produced by specially selected bacteria and mould to produce an effect which many of us find pleasing to eat. Other examples of controlled food deterioration include Danish blue, Gorgonzola, Stilton and many other forms of cheese. We also tenderize meat such as game by jugging it or purposely speed up the deterioration process of meat when we inject lactbacillus bacteria into steak to mimic the ageing process. In short and in technical terms, food spoilage works for us easily as much as it works against us.

Nevertheless, food does spoil because once the fruit of vegetable has been picked or the animal has been slaughtered, the natural processes and defences of the organism are compromised and exposure to the outside environment causes a number of inevitable changes to occur.

The factors which bring about these changes include, air and oxygen, light, moisture, microbial growth factors and ambient temperature. Some of these changes indicate poor food hygiene and cross contamination and others point to chemical reactions and changes due to physical phenomina. Let’s go through the various causes.

Air and oxygen: Air comprises of about eighty percent nitrogen and about twenty percent oxygen. The level of oxygen in the air is too great for most organisms and therefore organisms have developed strategies to counter the harmful effects of oxygen. Our lungs are lined with a substance called surfactant. Surfactant provides a necessary barrier between the tissue of the lung and the oxygen in the air to counteract the caustic effect of the oxygen upon the lung tissue. Our bodies and the bodies of other organisms produce anti oxidants to counter other undesirable reactions of oxygen with substances called free radicals. By binding to free radicals, anti oxidants prevent reactions which are harmful to our bodies. When an organisms no longer has the support of it’s various physiological support systems, the chemical make up of the organism will start to react with the oxygen in the air.

Micro organisms which require the presence of oxygen in order to metabolize organic tissue, such as aerobic bacteria and moulds, are able to colonize those areas of the flesh which are exposed to the air. The will form colonies upon the food and start to metabolize the flesh of the organism and divide at a rate of one division every twenty minutes per bacterial cell. In some cases as few as one thousand bacteria can be enough to contitute a food hygiene risk.

Enzymes, particularly oxidizing enzymes, which react with oxygen also aid the process of food spoilage. In vegetables enzymes such as catase and peroxidase cause the familiar browning of the flesh of foods such as apples and potatoes. Enzymes are substances which speed up chemical reactions and enzymatic reaction with oxygen in organic matter causes the degeneration of the matter to hasten considerably. In cooking a rapid heat treatment known as blanching is used to cancel these enzymatic reactions. Enzymatic changes do not usually render food inedible but if combined with microbial infestation such as mould or certain bacteria the ingestion of such spoiled food would constitute a food hygiene risk.

Water: water is the most abundant substance in nature. All organisms are made up of at least seventy percent water. The water within an organism when it is alive is termed as bound water because it is chemically connected to other substances within the body. All living organisms maintain a certain level of chemical concentration. This is said to mimic the concentration of sea water from which all living organisms originate. Concentrated fluids flow around the cells and each cell contains within it a carefully controlled liquid environment. The balance between the concentration of the fluids which flow around the cell and the fluid which exists within the cell is carefully regulated by the central control system of the organism, whether it be plant or animal. In higher organisms this process is called homeostasis.

Once a plant or an animal has been cut into smaller parts, the tissues whose fluid environment was once carefully controlled are now exposed to the environment. When the organism’s flesh comes into contact with moisture a physical phenomenon occurs. All substances in nature try to match their concentration levels to other substances around them, This is called diffusion. The flesh of an organism, when exposed to water will soak up the water in an attempt to dilute the concentration levels within the flesh of the organism to the concentration levels around it. This may cause the cells of the organism to explode by being too full of water. This form of tissue deterioration is a major cause of food spoilage. This intake of moisture into the tissue of the food source is the perfect vector for micro organisms to infest it. This is a very good example of how food spoilage occurs and food hygiene breakdowns happen.

In addition, excess “free” water within or around the cell gives bacteria the perfect medium in which to operate. In bacterial terms this is like a super highway in which bacteria are able to spread throughout the flesh of an organism. Water within an organism can be controlled by a) dehydration, b) freezing or c by the addition of food preservatives.

Light: Spoilage of food which is caused by light is called photo degeneration. All food is exposed to light at some time or another. Light can be either natural light or artificial light. Light, like all other forms of energy is made up of different wave lenghts. At the outer ends of the light spectrum we have infra red and ultra violet light which can vary in intensity in different parts of the world. These forms of light radiation are known to be harmful and can cause dead and live tissue to react in negative ways.

Exposure to light sources can cause foods to change in nature. Pigments may change, as may vitamin levels, fats and proteins. In solid foods the density of the material such as in meat may block deep penetration of light and therefore the effects of light may only cause changes to happen on the surface of the product. In liquids light penetration can be much deeper and therefore the effects of photo degeneration can be much more substantial.

Microbial growth. Micro organisms play a vital role in the balance of nature. Bacteria and other types of microbes haves each evolved to fill a specific niche. Some bacteria have developed a symbiotic relationship relationship with living organisms and some have developed a parasitical relationship. Healthy organisms manage to keep parasitical bacteria at bay through their immune systems and homeostasis. However, parasitical bacteria are constantly on the look out for signs of weakness and it is their job to bring about the rapid demise of sick organisms and to ensure that they are re cycled back into the environment through the process of tissue deterioration and degeneration. In prehistoric times man did not store much food. He ate from hand to mouth and so food did not have much time to go off. Modern man, because of his lifestyle, needs to store food and to do this he needs to effect a different kind of environmental control in comparison to prehistoric man.

In a previous chapter I mentioned that psicrophilic bacteria can cause food spoilage at low temperatures. In cold climates landscapes freeze for many months and animals find it difficult to survive. Weaker animals die during the winter months and remain frozen until the beginning of the thaw in spring. Although thawed a carcass may remain too cold for many types of bacteria to develop and it is for this reason that certain bacteria adapted to this niche so that the detioration of the carcass could begin. This process helps to ensure that the period of time during which more pathogenic bacteria infest the carcass and hence spread into the environment is considerably lessened. This is the function and importance of psicrophilic bacteria in nature. We can control the undesirable effects of psicrophilic bacteria in our cold stores through the implementation of a good hygiene regime.

In general, sources of food contamination come from the environment particularly from, animal wastes, soil, water and air. Here the “Four stages of food hygiene” come into play. Great care must be taken to make sure that food comes from safe sources, that food does not come into contact with other bacterial sources, that bacteria does not have conditions for growth and that tools and work surfaces are kept free from bacteria. food hygiene regime and temperature is all critical here. Don’t make mistakes or cut corners and bacteria will not develop.

Temperature. Temperature is probably the single most important environment which we can control to prevent the spoilage of food. Temperature regulates several changes in the nature of organic matter. Firstly it slows down chemical reactions within the food. Secondly it can prevent the ggrowth development of bacteria or destroy bacteria through cooking, Temperature regulation can control the destruction of vitamins and prevent dehydration and ripening of food.

However, temperature need to be professionally controlled. Over freezing can cause surfaces to crack of the development of ice crystals at microscopic levels can puncture cells causing the flesh to become soft and pulpy. Pigment can be lost and chemicals within the food may react and loose much of their nutritious value. This process is commonly called freezer burning.

In cold stores vegetables and fruit are best held at temperatures of around 10 degrees Celsius. meats should be chilled to four degrees Celsius and frozen food should be stored at -18 degrees Celsius for a period not exceeding six months in most cases. Aaways make sure that you follow manufacturers storage instructions. If in doubt don’t be afraid to contact the manufacturer or importer to get their advise.

bacteria-108895_1920Pseudomonas bacteria are a genus of bacteria which exist widely in the environment. They are gram negative, rod shaped, non spore forming, motile, flagellated aerobes. Pseudomonas aeruginosea, probably the most well know of all pseudomonas strains, is an opportunistic pathogen that has the capability of adapting to many niches. It can infect animals and humans alike and can cross the species barrier and for this reason it is considered a potentially zoonotic pathogen. This type of bacteria is immune to many types of bacteria because it has within it’s cell wall a mechanism known as an efflux pump which pumps antibiotics back out of the cell before they have had time to take effect. It is the second most common bacterial contaminant in hospitals and it is known to be paticularly malicious in burn units where it prevents the regeneration of healthy tissue. Bacteria of the pseudomonas family are grown on blood agar which turns from a blood red color to a marine blue/green hue. It also gives off a quite pleasant slightly minty smell.

One form of Pseudomonas pathogen causes a highly contageous disease in horses which is also highly infectious to humans. The disease in horses is know as glanders because it affects the glands in and around the throat and jaws of the horse. This disease was common when colonial forces shipped large quantities of horses to places like Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. Now, this disease is more rarer. The scientific name of this pathogen is Pseudomonas Mallei and it is registered as one of the possible bacterial strains that could be used in bacterial warefare together with Clostridium Botolinum and Anthrax.

Other forms of Pseudonas bacteria are known to cause spoilage in food at low temperatures. These psicrophilic Pseudomonas strains include: P. fragi which causes spoilage of dairy products , P. taetrolens which causes mustiness in eggs and P. mudicolens, and P. lundensis, which causes spoilage of milk, cheese, meat, and fish.

The term spoilage is used in food hygiene for a condition by which the food takes on an unpleasant texture, color change smell taste. This does not mean that the food has necessarily become a serious health risk in the same way as if meat were infected with e.coli or salmonella, for instance, but at the same time it is definitely not advisable to eat spoiled food. It means that the food has been infected with bacteria which cause the physical nature of the food to change. For instance, meat may become slimy to the feel or the outer lawyer of certain foods may become pulpy, it may also smell slightly sour and change color. This happens to food which has been stored in refrigerated conditions for long periods of time in places which have not been properly cleaned with anti bacterial disinfectants. I often see this condition in places such as deli counters where meat is sliced in front of the customer.

However a little slime on meat, such as with cured pastrami in particular and with other types of processed meats is not always a sign of spoilage. It may well be due to a reaction between the protein of the meat, the curing chemicals and the air. Many manufacturers now use preservatives to prevent such spoilage. In addition, the reaction of the preservative with the air and other factors within the meat can cause the color of the product to change slightly as well. The color of the may become slightly irridescent or take on a greenish hue. If the meat smells even the slightest bit sour, feels or looks slimy or has a bad color refuse to accept it.

Spoiled food such as cured meats meat can cause stomach discomfort, diarrhea, vomiting or mild allergic symptoms in some people and may even become more serious in people whose immune system is compromised. Remember this central rule of food hygiene, “When in doubt throw it out”.

Fish products are particularly susceptible to spoilage and it can be very difficult to guess from a casual inspection if the deterioration of the fish is due to spoilage bacteria such as the psicrophilic pseudonmonas species stated above or if the cause is due to more dangerous, pathogenic forms of bacteria. If fish looks even slightly slimy, discolored or smells in the least sour don’t buy it or if it has turned bad in your fridge throw it out and clean you fridge thoroughly with disinfectant. (A tactic used by many fresh fish mungers to hide the tell tale smell of fish which has started to show signs of going off is to constantly pour sea water over it. Watch out for this trick. If you are not sure if you are smelling the actual fish or sea water, don’t buy the fish). Most importantly, keep all fish products in closed containers to avoid cross contamination with of by other food products in your fridge.

The same goes for eggs milk and cheese, if you distinguish any changes in color texture or smell, don’t take any risks, better to throw out and buy fresh. To lower the risk being sold spoiled or food which is about to spoil, buy only from supermarkets and stores which are very busy and have a high turnover of merchandise, particularly in the deli sections. Don’t be embarrassed to inspect what you buy, you are paying for fresh and healthy food and the decision to take what is on offer or not is entirely your own. The customer is always right. If you notice that the food you buy goes off quickly and you know that a). your fridge is clean and b). the temperature of the fridge is as it should be then take the food back to the store with your receipt and demand a refund or a fresh replacement. If the problem continues report your findings to your local authority for food hygiene.

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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