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Food Hygiene

Food hygiene can be defined as all the practical measures involved in keeping food safe and wholesome through all its stages from production to final sale or consumption. This means that food hygiene is not just about cleanliness although this, of course, is important but also about keeping foods at the correct temperatures, avoiding the contamination of food, designing good easy to maintain food premises and many other things.

At its most fundamental, good food hygiene requires excellent personal hygiene standards from all who handle, prepare, serve and sell food. Frequent and effective hand washing is essential if the contamination of any food and equipment handled is to be avoided. Bad habits such as smoking, scratching and finger-licking must be avoided when in food areas. Clean overalls and head covering should always be worn when preparing open food.

Perhaps less obvious is the legal duty that food handlers have to notify their manager if they are suffering from or have been in contact with anyone suffering from vomiting, diarrhoea, septic cuts or skin infections.

The principles of good food hygiene also require that food premises are designed and constructed in such a way as to make the maintenance of high standards of cleanliness easy to achieve and to avoid the risk of the contamination of food.

Easy to clean walls, floors and working surfaces are required and a layout that keeps apart raw foods, such as uncooked meat and eggs, from ready-to-eat high-risk foods.

The control of pests is essential if good standards of food hygiene are to be maintained. All food staff should know the signs of pest infestation and be aware of the need to report any pest activity to their manager without delay. Pest control should only be carried out by properly trained and experienced pest control operatives – food businesses should not try to deal with infestations themselves. It is good practice to retain the services of a reputable pest control company to carry out routine checks every few months.

Of all the important aspects of food hygiene, none is more important than the avoidance of cross-contamination and good temperature control of high-risk foods.

Cross-contamination is the passing of food poisoning bacteria from contaminated, usually raw food, to ready-to-eat food. Such cross-contamination can occur in three ways: when raw and ready-to-eat foods are in direct contact with one another, when liquid or juices from a raw food drips onto a ready-to-eat food below and when the same equipment or hands are used for raw and then ready-to-eat foods, without proper cleaning and disinfection in between.

Without doubt, correct temperature control is one of the most important requirements of good food hygiene. Indeed, in most food poisoning outbreaks that do occur, the investigation that follows reveals that a mistake in temperature control occurred. It is impossible to overstate the importance of reducing to a minimum the time that high-risk foods spend in the danger zone of 5°C - 63°C. Good temperature control includes cooking raw foods to a temperature that will kill dangerous bacteria, cooling pre-cooked foods quickly and storing and displaying high-risk foods at a safe temperature.