Officials Play Down The Effect Of Food Poisoning

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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.

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You will find the transcript of a recent article below in which US officials blatantly play down the dangers of  food poisoning by stating that overall although food poisoning is very unpleasant it does not cause many deaths.

I would like to stongly protest against this type of polotician’s manipulation of facts and misreprisentation of the function and the environmental importance of the food hygiene authorities. Yes, I agree that overall there are not so many deaths caused by food poisoning compared to some other forms of death. But is not heart attack brought on by the ingestion of too much salt in the diet a type of food safety issue? And is not every death of a person poisoned by food one too many? What kind of talk is this? Not to mention the suffering of hundreds of sick people. This is a pointless statement the purpose of which is merely to shift attention from the issue at hand to other areas of concern.

It is true that food hygiene inspectors are hard pressed to cover all their territory but their work is crucial because it keeps the awareness of the need for food hygiene in the mind’s eye of suppliers. If only consumers knew how many times they walked on a food hygiene knife edge during the course of their lives!

The potential for catastrophy in areas of food contamination is extreme. Bacteria such as Yerisinia, Anthrax,vibrio, tuberculosis, clostridium, listeria salmonella, e-coli, mycotoxins from molds, amoeba, virus’ and deadly parasites are but a hairs breath away from being put on out tables, literally. It doe’s not take much laxing of reglation enforcent in the area of food hygiene to reach a level where these bacteria will be commonly ingested. Unscrupulous people who are always on the look out for the chance to make a quick buck will exploit any and every opportunity which comes their way. If they get the chance.

Emplyees who do not receive sick days from their employer will do everythig they can to mask the fact that they are in no condition to work with food. People who are not educated in hygienic ways from their home environment will do everything to avoid washing hands, cleaning under nails, showering and brushing teeth simply because they hate being told what to do by others especially if their superiors are not part of their own cultural groups.

In addition I would not advise people, especially the elderly, to eat too much peanut butter!

I consider the comments made in this article to be highly irresponsible. See if you agree with me.

The Article

“ALBANY — After an outbreak that sickened hundreds and brought the peanut industry under the spotlight, officials addressed public concerns on food safety.
As a finale to the health department’s “Lunch and Learn” series, officials presented a presentation on prevention of food borne illnesses Thursday.

“Part of leading a healthy life, is handling food in a correct manner,” Dougherty County Environmental Health Director Jim Pericaud said.

Based on Thursday’s presentation, officials estimate that one is 130 times more likely to die from a heart attack than a food borne illness. Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 200 diseases are transmitted through food, with 76 million such cases occurring each year. Of those, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die.

“Food poisoning does not have a high morality rate, but it’s not a pleasant occurrence,” Pericaud said.

In essence, the best advice is to practice basic food safety at home and to examine restaurant procedures. At restaurants, the advice given by Pericaud was to pay attention to food temperature, employee conduct (i.e. hand washing, hair restraints) and to inspect the dining room environment.

“If customer areas are not being kept clean, the kitchen is probably just as bad or worse,” Pericaud said.

Part of practicing food safety can also pertain to grocery shopping. The best method is to shop for the frozen food items last, to ensure they do not spoil, and to check the code dates on items as well as the general housekeeping of the store.

“You want (frozen food items) in the freezer until the last possible minute,” Pericaud said. “Don’t let that food spoil.”

At home, officials recommend people to practice proper thawing and cooking practices, serve food immediately after cooking, put leftovers away and to clean and sanitize food contact surfaces with a capful to a gallon of water worth of bleach.

In regards to the food that may be left behind, or even before the food is cooked in the first place, what makes a difference in how much bacteria is on the food comes down to temperature.

“Over time, anything you put in the refrigerator will grow bacteria,” he said. “If you put food in the freezer, that stops bacteria growth dead.”

For thawing in particular the microwave, the refrigerator, a cold stream of water or even putting food on the stove frozen all work as good methods. Although, before any of that is done, it is always best to conduct a practice common for preventing bacterial transmission — hand washing.

“The hands transmit a lot of bacteria,” Pericaud said. “Even if you wash your hands with regular soap you are going good.”

At the end of his presentation, Pericaud pulled out a peanut butter sandwich and began to eat it — which answered a question that has been on a number of minds after a salmonella scare sickened hundreds nationwide.

“Peanut butter is a very safe and nutritious type of food,” he said. “I would not stop eating peanut butter.”

Pericaud’s presentation wrapped up a four-day series which has been held in observance of National Public Health Week, and attracted more than 150 people. Given the attention it pulled, officials are confident that the series successfully carried out the health department’s mission.

“This goes back to our main areas of our work, which is prevention. Every year we have so many illnesses because of how food is handled,” Dougherty County Health Department Adult Health Director Vamella Lovett said. “(The series) was very successful. It’s outstanding people took the time to come out.”

Pericaud’s presentation was one of two held Thursday. The other offering was “Be Active: Walk, Run, Roll,” by David Cooper, health promotion coordinator for the Southwest Health District”.

© 2021 Food Hygiene Essentials