Food safety is all about knowing how to properly handle, prepare and store foods to reduce or eliminate the risk of food-borne diseases. Any food safety course will thoroughly run through the risks associated with poorly stored, handled or prepared food. And the risks can be serious. Food poisoning can range from mild cases of digestive discomfort through to hospitalisation and even death.
Besides keeping people safe, food safety training is essential for any food manufacturing, handling, transport or service business. Even a minor case of food poisoning can be enough to damage your business reputation beyond repair. Major cases can cause public health crises and can lead to expensive and very public lawsuits.
The Australian Government lays out strict food safety standards for businesses to help protect consumers and lower the incidence of food-borne illness. But food safety begins at home. So, let’s find out a little more about the risks associated with poor food handling and have a look at a few things you can do to minimise the risks.
Common causes of food poisoning
Food poisoning or food-borne illnesses can be caused by ingesting or handling spoiled food or food contaminated by pathogenic bacteria, viruses or parasites.
General symptoms of food poisoning include body aches, diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, nausea and fever. The severity of the symptoms depends on the type and dose of infection. In serious cases, microbes and bacteria that haven’t been expelled by the body can move from the stomach into the intestine and multiply. From the intestine, they can move into the bloodstream and deeper body tissues, doing serious damage and even causing death.
Some of the most common food poisoning causing bacteria are salmonella, E. coli, and listeria.
Salmonella is one of the most common causes of food-borne illnesses in the world. It usually causes stomach cramps and diarrhea lasting four to seven days. While the effects are generally brief, severe salmonella can pose greater risks for children, elderly people, people with weakened immune systems and people with inflammatory bowel disease.
Salmonella is a natural bacterium found in the digestive tracts of humans and other animals. It can pass out of the body in the feces and most infections are due to ingestion of food contaminated by animal feces or human feces.
Raw or under cooked foods – especially meat, seafood, poultry, eggs and fruit and vegetables – present a high risk of infection. Handling food without washing your hands is another common cause of infection.
Like salmonella, E. coli (Escherichia coli) is a type of bacteria that occurs naturally in the digestive tracts of human and other animals. Most strains of E. coli are harmless, with some even helping to keep your digestive system healthy.
In mild cases, E. coli can cause diarrhea and other general food poisoning symptoms. Other more dangerous strains can cause damage to the intestinal lining, kidney failure and seizures.
Common causes of E.coli infection include under cooked meat, untreated (unpasteurised) milk, tainted water, or contact with animals.
Again, handling food without washing your hands is a common cause of the infection, as is cross contamination from cutting boards and knives used on raw meats.
Listeria is a common pathogen that normally causes listeriosis, which is associated with some kinds of flu-like infections. Although it rarely results in the deaths of adults, this microorganism is one of the leading causes of death from food poisoning in immune-compromised newborn babies and infants.
Other bacteria that can cause food poisoning include bacillus cereus, clostridium botulinum, staphylococcus aureus, vibrio parahaemolyticus, campylobacter jejuni, and yersinia enterocolitica. You can also have a look on our blog on the Why you need a Food Handling Course
Who is susceptible to food-borne illnesses?
The short answer: Everyone. Everyone and anyone are susceptible to food poisoning. However, the severity and duration of the infection can vary depending on factors like age and health.
Infections are more likely and can be more severe for:
- Infants and children
- Adults over 65
- People with weakened immune systems
- People with inflammatory bowel disease or associated disorders
How to be food-safe
In most cases, food poisoning can be easily avoided by following the 4 C’s of food safety: cleaning, cooking, chilling and cross contamination.
Keeping all cooking surfaces and utensils, as well as your hands, clean will help to prevent the spread of food-borne infections.
Properly cooking foods will raise the temperature to a point that kills the bacteria, making the food safe to eat.
Properly chilling food will prevent the growth of bacteria, which will keep your food safe for longer.
Reusing surfaces or utensils that have come into contact with raw ingredients – especially raw meats, poultry, seafood or eggs – can greatly increase the risk of food poisoning.
Of course, there’s no way to avoid the risk of food poisoning altogether. Unsafe food handling or preparation at the food processing, manufacturing or transport stage can always lead to outbreaks of food-borne illness. However, by following good food safety processes at home or work, you can minimise the risks and keep your kitchen happy and healthy.