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Over 500,000 cases of bacterial food poisoning are confirmed by doctors in England and Wales each year.
Most people do not seek treatment from their GP, and not all GPs carry out tests for specific pathogens, so many cases go unreported and are not captured in routine surveillance data. It is a legal requirement for doctors to notify cases and suspected cases of food poisoning to local authorities.
Food poisoning is an illness brought on by the consumption of contaminated food of which the symptoms are diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain.
These symptoms usually occur within one to seven days.
Those bacteria most often implicated in cases of food poisoning are
- Escherichia coli
These bacteria may come from cross contamination from raw foods, from insects, rodents, birds or animals, dust, soil, refuse and waste food or the food handler.
- Find out more about different types of bacteria on Food poisoning (Food Standards Agency).
Cooked meats and meat products, fish and shellfish, dairy and egg products, and dishes either made from or including these ingredients need particular careful consideration as they can be a source of food poisoning.
The following bad practices have all been implicated and so must be avoided.
- food prepared too far in advance and stored at ambient (room) temperature
- food cooled too slowly before being refrigerated
- food not heated sufficiently to kill bacteria in it
- food is undercooked
- poultry not thawed properly
- hot food kept warm at a temperature less than 63°C
- infections from food handlers being passed on in the food
- using leftovers.
One of the most effective ways to spread bacteria is through the careless use of wiping cloths; using the same cloth to wipe down raw (‘dirty’) and cooked (‘clean”) areas.
As damp/dirty cloths provide ideal conditions for bacterial growth they must be changed at least after each prep period.
Used cloths should be properly cleaned (laundered) before re-use. It is not enough to merely rinse them through and hang up to dry, neither is soaking them overnight in a bucket of sanitizer an acceptable arrangement.
One of the most common ways of transferring food poisoning organisms to food is through the food handler.
The following points should therefore be followed by all food handlers. Hands should be frequently and thoroughly washed with hot water, especially:
- on entering a food room and before handling any food or equipment
- after using the WC
- in between handling raw and cooked food
- after breaks for eating, drinking or smoking
- after coughing, sneezing or blowing the nose
- after touching hair
- after handling waste food or refuse
- after handling cleaning chemicals.
Other personal hygiene issues
- cuts, burns and sores must be cleaned and covered with a waterproof dressing of a distinctive colour
- fingernails must be kept clean and short and nail varnish should not be worn
- suitable clean protective clothing and head covering must be worn by all food handlers
- outdoor clothing must NOT be brought into food rooms
- jewellery, hair grips and watches should be removed
- strong smelling perfume should NOT be worn by food handlers
- food handlers must NOT SMOKE in food rooms or whilst handling open food
- any illness/disease which may be transmitted through food must be reported to a supervisor.