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Food – not so glorious food

In October 2018 or what will now be known as BC (Before Coronavirus) South Africa was given a wake-up call when 216 people died from an outbreak of Listeriosis contained in certain processed foods, which had been contaminated during the production process.

In weeks shelves were cleared of the product and although it was a main component for many lower income families in their diet, they steered away from it at that time. But it did perhaps make people more aware of their vulnerability when it comes to filling their shopping basket, particularly with meat and poultry – even from their trusted supermarket.

Today with the unprecedented COVID-19 virus wreaking havoc across the globe, food safety once again is being questioned. So how safe are we? Do we even think about what goes on behind the scenes, from the farms to the abattoirs, the meat breaking plant and eventually the shops and restaurants. Is the hygiene and infection control carried out at the same standard throughout the value chain, from production and packaging to transport and delivery, particularly now?

According to Burt Rodrigues, CEO of Biodx, “Bacteria, viruses and parasites are the sources of many food poisoning cases, usually due to improper food handling. Some bacteria, in small amounts won’t harm most healthy adults because the human body can fight them off. The trouble begins when certain bacteria and other harmful pathogens multiply and spread, which happens when food is mishandled. The problem is that contaminated foods don’t always look, taste or smell any different from foods that are safe to eat. So those people who ate food with the listeria bacteria were unaware there was anything wrong with their food.”

Risky areas

Where does the problem begin? Let’s take an average abattoir which operates from 6am – 2pm whilst the slaughtering process takes place. This is where meat or chicken carcasses get dissected and is a breeding ground for bacteria. Once this is finished other teams arrive for another eight hour shift, wearing special clothing and rubber boots and armed with biosafety equipment. They then degrease and scrub down every single millimetre before rinsing off all detergents and applying sanitiser. This isn’t just a mere wipe-down but involves a complete stripping down of all machines, processing equipment, and surfaces involved. Every part of a machine must be cleaned and disinfected before it’s reassembled.

“Most importantly, as they leave this area it must be completely sealed off before reopening the next morning,” explains Rodrigues. “This sounds fool-proof – but the risk lies in these cleaning crews doing their job diligently and effectively. A major problem is also the type of ‘superbugs’ we are finding today which are totally immune to many of the traditional cleaning agents being used.”

Farm to fork

The latest food trend of boasting ‘farm to fork’ produce creates another problem. “The processes involved can create contamination from animals and animal products and are difficult to control through the normal processes,” explains Rodrigues.” There are likely to be no controls or inspection at the various stages of processing, which leaves the public open to risk.”

Food preparation and coronavirus

Frederic Robichon, food service expert at Biodx says “There are huge concerns in the industry about the impact of coronavirus on food preparation surface areas and risk mitigation. We have developed clear approaches to addressing these concerns and work with clients to ensure there is no ambiguity in cleaning and disinfection protocols. Active control is critical to minimise the contamination of surfaces and reduce the risk of associated illness.’’ (see Q&A below)

So is the future a cataclysmic one when it comes to food production or preparation? “It really doesn’t have to be,” says Rodrigues. “If deep cleaning procedures are properly followed, from floor to ceiling, with the right products being used, surfaces should remain uncompromised. But for instance if a mincer, shredder or any other food processing equipment isn’t completely taken apart and every part thoroughly cleaned, you’re going to have major problems. In Europe today you’ll have an inspector breathing down your neck and hopefully with these regulations coming into force in South Africa the threat will be as real here.”

 

Coronavirus Control in Food Production & Preparation: FAQ’s

“Can this Coronavirus live on surfaces?”

  1. Viruses cannot grow outside their host but in many cases they can survive on surfaces. New research shows that this coronavirus can survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces.
  2. Using a biocide such as microdx™ for surface disinfection will minimise the risk of contamination and reduce the risk of illness associated with these foods.

“Are there additional requirements for staff personal hygiene?”

  1. Food facilities should be vigilant in their hygiene practices, including frequent and proper hand-washing and routine cleaning and disinfection of all surfaces.
  2. Gloves are not a substitute for hand washing or hand hygiene. If a task requires direct contact with ready-to-eat food, hands should be washed, together with the exposed portions of arms for 20 seconds prior to donning gloves and before touching food or food-contact surfaces. Hands should be washed immediately after removing gloves.
  3. Hand sanitisers are not intended to replace handwashing in food production and retail settings, rather used in conjunction with proper hand washing procedures.
  4. As an interim measure, we believe some food establishments have set up biocide hand-dip stations and sprays. Biodx does not recommend this practice as these products are intended for use on surfaces, and as such, should preferably not be formulated for use on skin as replacements for hand sanitisers.

“What can I do to mitigate the risk of fruit & vegetable contamination?”

  1. Prevention of contamination of fruits and vegetables with pathogenic microorganisms should be the goal of everyone involved in both the pre-harvest and post-harvest phases of delivering produce to the consumer.
  2. Regardless of the stringency of hygienic measures at production and processing stages of the food chain, professionals should be educated to realise the importance of adequate washing of fruits and vegetables.
  3. To minimise the risk of infection or intoxification associated with raw fruits and vegetables, the application of the most effective decontamination process should be considered during production, transport and processing, combined with the Hazard Analysis critical Point (HACCP) system
  4. Using microdx™ for disinfection treatments will minimise the contamination of fruits and vegetables and reduce the risk of illness associated with these foods.