Food Safety – Why the Fuss?

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Until recently, many food-handling companies in South Africa ignored or did not take food safety seriously.  The recent Listeriosis outbreak laid bare how prone food-handling businesses are to fatal food safety incidents.

Inadequate food safety measurements in a food handling company can compromise the consumer’s health and in some cases, lead to death.

Why do Food Safety Incidents Happen?

Far too many companies usually focus on production and conveniently ignore the necessity of keeping consumer’s health at the centre of their business.

Many food companies usually are ill-prepared to deal with food safety incidents.  Senior Management shows their ignorance and their lack of knowledge regarding food safety through the way they deal with food safety incidents.

What is Food Safety?

Literature defines food safety as a concept that entails food production that is free from any potentially harmful hazards.

Food safety hazards are foreign materials present in food, resulting in food contamination.

The four main types of hazards are:

1.  Biological Hazards:  Microbiological and Macro biological

Biological Hazards consist of Microbiological and Macro biological hazards.

Microbiological Hazards

Microbiological hazards in food
Bacteria

These are tiny substances not always visible to the naked eye.  You would need specialised equipment to view and identify these hazards.  Microbiological hazards typically cause food poisoning.

Of the four main types of hazards, Microbiological hazards are the greatest threat to food safety.

Examples:

  • bacteria
  • yeast
  • mould
  • viruses

Macro Biological Hazards

Macro biological hazards in food
Maggot

Macro biological hazards include very small livings things that one can see with the naked eye.

Examples:

  • worms
  • maggots
  • parasites

2.  Physical Hazards

Physical hazards are tangible foreign materials that can cause choking, internal injury and sometimes death.

Examples:

  • broken glassPhysical hazards in food
  • staples pins
  • pests like rats, mice, cockroaches, flies
  • screws and bolts

These would generally get into food because of negligence and poor housekeeping.

3.  Chemical Hazards

Chemical hazards in food
Chemical Hazards

Chemical contamination occurs when food comes in contact with chemicals, which can lead to chemical food poisoning.  This includes chemical spillage in a food-handling environment (even if the food is not in direct contact).

Examples:

  • cleaning chemicals
  • maintenance chemicals
  • excessive use of permissible chemicals
  • heavy metal presence in foodstuffs way above the recommended limit
  • packaging materials that are not food grade, resulting in chemical leaching into the food

4.  Allergens

Allergens in food
Peanuts

An allergy is a medical condition in which exposure to a food or substance, usually a glycoprotein, triggers a harmful immune response in a person.

This immune response called an allergic reaction occurs because the immune system attacks proteins in the food that are usually harmless.

The proteins that trigger the reaction are called allergens.  The symptoms of an allergic reaction to food can range from mild (itchy mouth, a few hives) to severe (throat tightening, difficulty breathing).

The eight major food allergens that are responsible for most of the severe food allergy reactions in South Africa are:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts
  • wheat
  • soy
  • fish
  • crustacean shellfish

It is, however, essential to note that proportionally only a small segment of the population has allergies.  In other words, not everyone develops an allergic reaction to these foods.

Why is Food Safety Important?

Food safety is an important aspect of any food business.  After all, no consumer would willingly buy food that is likely to make him or her sick.  Consumers have become more educated about food safety and the associated risks.

Revenue Loss and Credibility

If a company does experience a food safety incident, it is highly likely that the incident would translate to revenue loss.

Consumers realise the role they play in ensuring the sustainability and profitability of a business.  If a company sells unsafe food and the consumer becomes aware of this, they may simply decide to abandon that product range or find a replacement product.

It may take years for the company to earn back consumer confidence and even more years to recover its market position.

Government Regulations and Penalties

Government Regulations have been strengthened to allow government interventions and impose punitive measures for companies that do not comply.  This can include a fine of up to 10% of the company revenue for that year and even jail time for the person in charge of the business.

Other Legal Implications

Food safety and the legal implicationsFurthermore, victims of food safety incidents are legally empowered to institute legal action against companies that have been found wanting.  Depending on the severity of the offence by a food business, consumers may decide to launch a class action against that company.

Job Losses and Affecting the Country’s Economy

Beyond that, due to the loss of revenue, a company may lose business, translating to job losses, which could affect the country’s economy.

The recent Listeriosis incident has severely damaged the reputation of South Africa’s processed meat market.  Not only one company lost credibility, but the whole industry.

Many countries, including Zambia and Namibia, have banned South African cold meat products in response to the outbreak.  That translate to hundreds of millions of Rands lost to the South African economy.

It will take a long time for the processed meat industry to recover from this.

The Importance of a Food Safety Management System (FSMS)

First of all,  you need an effective Food Safety Management System in place when it comes to handling food, beverages or pharmaceutical products in your company.  If you do not have such a system in place, make it your priority.

Food-Safety-Management-System

It is worrying that many businesses have an FSM system such as HACCP, FSSC 22000, BRC, etc. in place, but the system’s effectiveness is not adequately verified.  Without proper verification, the system might not be as effective as it should be.

The absence of FSM systems or ineffective FSM Systems is the leading cause of food safety incidents.  We do not live in a perfect world, and food safety incidents happen every day.  Having an effective FSM system in place can reduce and even eliminate food safety incidents in your company.  It is vital to take swift action and follow the correct procedure when a food safety incident occurs.

Conclusion

Food Safety is not just a convenient aspect of the business, but it is a fundamental aspect of the company.  The consequences of not implementing an effective Food Safety Management system can prove detrimental to the consumer’s health and the business itself.

ASC Consultants takes the hassle out of implementing an effective FSM system.  You are welcome to contact us if you need any assistance or advice.

Please drop us a comment below.  We love to hear what our website visitors have to say!


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10 thoughts on “Food Safety – Why the Fuss?”

  1. Wow, I love your website. It is fresh, attractive and informative. You seem to know where you are going, and what you want to accomplish. Keep up the good work.

    Food safety is certainly of great concern to everyone of us. As we make many of our purchases in supermarkets, or eat out in restaurants, we are in a way putting our health and our lives in the hands of others. We are confiding in the fact that our food items are being handled properly and safely. Unfortunately, many of us know that we are playing “Russian roulette” every time we buy our food, and it is just a matter of time before we, or a loved one, is affected by the actions (or lack thereof) of some careless food handler (a person, or a company).

    As a family we have been watching a reality show about chefs and my wife commented on how much the chefs handled the food with their bare hands. In a professional kitchen, with high standards, you would assume that the hands that handle the food are well washed thus minimizing the potential for contamination. We know that is not always the case.

    When we were at a mall in little while ago, our daughters were using the facilities and a restaurant worker was also present. The worker only quickly passed her hands under the water and returned to her work station continuing to prepare the food. Our girls were left with a foul taste in their mouths.

    I live in a third world country and stomach problems are abound. A lot of it is due to poor food handling practices. From the bathroom to the kitchen, without proper hand washing facilities in place.

    Excellent work raising awareness.

    Reply
    • Hi Mitch,
      Thank you very much for leaving a comment. Even if you live in a 3rd world country, there are steps you can take to reduce and even eliminate the risk of contracting food poisoning. It is the responsibility of everyone to keep food safe for human consumption. The consumer also has a very important role to play. Personal hygiene is of the utmost importance when you handle food.

      Reply
  2. Good post and great info, which should let people consider why food safety is so important.

    People forget that what we eat or drink could potentially carry harmful bacteria if not prepared and cooked properly in a hygienic environment. Harmful bacteria, like E.Colli, you find on meat, could make you very sick.

    Here in Western Europe a lot of big companies didn’t care about food safety, until the Mad Cow Disease outbreak. A lot of these companies lost their credibility and had to close their doors. This was a wakeup call for companies and they soon realised the importance of good food safety practices.

    I will gladly share this post, because people need to understand the importance of food safety!

    Reply
  3. Food safety is no laughing matter. I can’t count the times I have ate out, especially in Fast Food settings and come down with food poisoning like symptoms because of cross contamination or food born micro biological contamination brought on from the food not being properly heated, held, and cooled. I have twice been Serve-Safe Certified in the US by the National Restaurant Owners Association and can tell you that most food safety incidents in the food service industry are usually very preventable.

    You have to watch the hold times of your food. No more than 4 hours in the temperature danger zone. Rapid heating and cooling when food is stored and cooked are also important. Washing of hands and arms, clean shaven employees, and properly washed vegetables and utensils are a must. A Clean storage area including de-iced freezers and clean shelving are also a must have and even your floor can cause contamination due to dust rising as employees walk through a kitchen.

    Reply
    • Hi Andy,
      Thanks for leaving us a comment. You are right. Most food safety incidents can be prevented and even completely eliminated by practicing good food safety and hygiene practices. It is also very important for all food handling staff members to be properly trained in these practices. You cannot practice what you don’t know. Food safety awareness should be any food handling establishment’s number one priority.

      Reply
  4. I agree with you that as a consumer we should be educated about food safety. After all we wouldn’t want to put ourselves at risk. A few months ago needles were found in Strawberries in Australia. Tonnes of strawberries have been buried! Not only did the company and the industry suffered, but we as consumers got a big fright. proper verified system is definitely vital for any company!

    Reply
    • Hi Emily,
      Thanks for leaving us a comment. I agree. Properly verified food safety systems are definitely a must for any food handling establishment. We as consumers also have a responsibility towards others to practice the same food safety and hygiene practices at home.

      Reply
  5. I think food safety is important not just for the safety of the consumers, but it’s also important to sustain one’s business. I can resonate this experience. There was a hot dog stand close to where I used to live. It was very successful. People loved the hot dogs because of how authentic it tasted. People would literally line up during lunch time.

    Eventually the owners decided to expand their business. They got another 2 hot dog stands. They were still popular, but started to neglect their good food safety practices and people got sick. They went out of business soon after.

    It should not only be about the money. The consumers health comes first. 

    Reply
    • Hi Parmi,
      Thanks for leaving us a comment. I agree. All businesses have the right to make a profit and grow, but not at the expense of the consumer. Neglecting basic hygiene practices will eventually lead to food safety incidents like food poisoning. This can be disastrous for any business.

      Reply

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