Bacteria are everywhere. Right now there are millions of them on your skin and in your body. And bacteria are present in almost everything you eat.
Scary thought? Don’t worry; the vast majority are friendly, in fact you could not live without them. A small number, however, can cause illness and can even kill. It’s these ‘nasty’ bacteria that you need to understand better; the conditions they like, where they lurk, and how to kill or control them.
This course is about:
- Understanding the science of food poisoning
- Practical approaches to reducing the threat of food poisoning
- Leading a team of food handlers in producing food safely
As a Supervisor you need to be aware of aspects of food safety and science that you wouldn’t ordinarily need to know as a food handler. It’s now your job to be vigilant, take responsibility, and think for your team in order to safeguard your customer’s safety.
This course is also intended to help you practically apply the learning. To assist this, each chapter contains ‘Mini-Audits’ and ‘Battle Tactics’. Mini-Audits are questions to consider as you relate each chapter to your job and work-place. Battle Tactics are a more light-hearted look at your battle against food poisoning from a leader’s perspective. Both have their own short video in each chapter so make sure you don’t miss these as you progress.
Let’s make a start by looking at what understanding and skills you’re going to need to lead your team into battle against the caterer’s nemesis; food poisoning. (Cue dramatic music and clap of thunder).
Issues you will need to understand (About this course)
- Important terms and definitions in the food safety industry
- Legal responsibilities for yourself, your staff, and the business
- How physical, chemical and biological food poisoning occurs
- Conditions that food poisoning bacteria thrive in, and die in
- The symptoms and threats posed by most types of food poisoning and foodborne illnesses
- Other biological threats to food safety including enzymes, moulds, and viruses
- Sources of potential allergens and how these can affect the body
- What makes a good operational process including cooking, chilling, freezing, and thawing
- How Food Safety Management Systems and HACCP can eliminate or dramatically reduce threats to safety
- What, when and how to monitor in the business to ensure food safety
- What, where and how things are likely to go wrong in a food business/premises
- The importance of good personal hygiene for you and your team
- How good premises and equipment design can reduce threats to food safety
- Effective ways of preventing or controlling contamination
- Effective food storage, preservation and spoilage control methods
- Good approaches to cleaning, disinfection and pest control
- How to train, observe and supervise a team of people in a food environment
- Keeping procedures, documentation and staff up-to-date and on message
This is just a quick summary to help you understand what’s ahead of you in the course. We’ll expand on each of these points as the course develops, hopefully in an interesting, even entertaining way at times.
Food Poisoning versus Foodborne Disease
Consumers often use the term food poisoning to describe any gastro (stomach or intestine) related condition. Even food and health professionals sometimes use the terms food poisoning and foodborne disease incorrectly. Technically, and from a food safety professional perspective, these terms describe fundamentally different ways of becoming ill due to food contamination, and knowing the difference from the start of the course will help you understand your enemies better.
Strictly speaking, the term ‘food poisoning’ refers to consuming foods that contain a toxin or poison. Some toxins occur naturally in plants and animals, e.g. poisonous mushrooms or uncooked kidney beans, while others are released as a by-product of food poisoning bacteria living or dying.
The key point is that the multiplication of bacteria to harmful levels takes place prior to consuming contaminated food, and you usually have to eat millions of bacteria to be affected. Once inside you, it’s the presence of the toxin from the bacteria rather than the presence of the actual bacteria that leads to illness.
Provided the toxin is not present in sufficiently large enough concentration to damage the body’s organs, recovery from food poisoning is usually pretty quickly.
Foodborne Disease operates in a fundamentally different way to food poisoning bacteria, and represent a much greater threat to human life. Foodborne Diseases can lead to long-term negative implications to human health.
In foodborne disease, the food or water only acts as a vehicle for the disease to enter the body. The multiplication then takes place within the body where it spreads and remains for weeks or even months, potentially causing serious damage and even death. Unlike most food poisoning bacteria, Foodborne diseases only need a small number of organisms to enter the body to cause serious illness.
A good example of foodborne disease is Typhoid, which sadly kills millions in developing countries through causing severe dehydration leading to organ failure. Thankfully in the UK, the worst foodborne disease are rare.
However, even those diseases normally found overseas can still pose a threat by being brought back into the UK by ‘carriers’, people who have contracted an illness through contaminated food or water. (Watch out for unusual symptoms from staff returning form exotic destinations, more on this later).
Trends in Food Poisoning
Much progress was made in reducing food poisoning through the 1980s and 1990s, but increased sales of takeaway food, travel and other changes in the modern lifestyle have led to an increased threat again. Some food poisoning bugs (and foodborne illnesses) are on the increase again.
FSA Food Standards Agency figures for the UK:
- Food poisoning kills around 400 people per year in the UK
- 5.5 million people suffer from stomach upsets in the UK every year
- Food poisoning is on the increase in the UK, particularly E.coli 0157 and Campylobacter
- Food poisoning costs the UK 11 million lost sick days per year
- Campylobacter causes in excess of 281, 000 food poisoning cases a year in the UK
In no particular order, the worst food poisoning offenders in the UK:
- E.coli 0157 - a less common offender but potential killer
- Clostridium perfringens - a common offender but not often life threatening
- Listeria - a less common offender but potential killer
- Salmonella - a common and potential killer
- Campylobacter - the most prolific offender but not often life threatening
Briefly taking a Battle Tactics perspective, remember these names; they are now your enemies. You’ll learn a lot more about these in forthcoming chapters (particularly Chapters 3 and 4).
It is important to understand the most common supervisory-level terms used in the food safety industry. Many terms should be familiar from your Level 2 Food Handler/Hygiene training. Some will be new, and all will be expanded upon as the course unfolds. Read these and ensure you understand all the definitions before moving onto the next chapter.
Allergy (Allergic Reaction)
An allergic reaction is the body’s (over) reaction to a particular food/ingredient. Occurs within minutes of ingestion, the tiniest traces of an ingredient can be life threatening for the worst sufferers.
Are a large family of bacteria causing food to spoil, Bacillus is also responsible for some types of diseases. Some Bacillus bacteria strains are helpful and part of our digestive system.
Are single-celled organisms that can live independently, or as parasites (i.e. dependent on other organisms for life). Many are benign, even friendly and necessary for life.
People can carry harmful food poisoning bacteria and foodborne illnesses without necessarily exhibiting symptoms by being within the incubation period the disease needs to mature and attack. They can unwittingly pass the disease onto other people.
Food poisoning bacteria that can live without oxygen and can produce toxins that can attack the human nervous system. Several varieties; the most common food poisoning offenders being Clostridium Difficile, Clostridium Perfringens and Clostridium Botulinum. Responsible for a large number of the food poisoning cases every year in the UK.
This means the transferring of harmful physical, chemical or biological entities into food. Cross-contamination is the transfer of bacterial contamination from one place to another in error or ignorance. E.g. touching raw chicken breast then a ready-to-eat dish, and thus the hazard is now present on the previously safe dish.
Most food poisoning bacteria multiply rapidly between 5°C and 63°C. This temperature range is known as The Danger Zone. Your objective is to keep food out of this temperature range as much as possible. This course references the Danger Zone extensively: remember it!
Full name Escherichia Coli (or the Colon Bacillus) and is on the increase in the UK. It’s commonly found in the human intestine, most strains are harmless but some can cause very serious food poisoning and can even kill (E.coli 0157). E.coli 0157 can survive normal freezer temperatures and has recently been found to multiply at fridge temperatures (!)
Highly dangerous and caused by micro-organisms which use food and water only as a vehicle to infect humans, unlike food poisoning bacteria which needs the food to live and usually has to be present in quite high numbers to have a serious effect on the body.
Illness caused by food poisoning bacteria present in sufficient numbers. Symptoms develop within minutes or hours after eating contaminated food. Illness is caused by toxins released by the bacteria, or by the presence of other poisonous substances, e.g. rhubarb leaves or undercooked kidney beans which contain toxins. (More on this in chapters 3 and 4).
The overarching term for any ill health which occurs from ingesting contaminated food, pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites that contaminate food, as well as chemical or natural toxins such as poisonous mushrooms and various species of beans.
Food Safety Management System (FSMS)
A documented set of procedures and records demonstrating that safe food production is taking place. Based on HACCP principles and UK/EU law since 2006. Many small caterers have yet to implement a proper FSMS. As a Supervisor it’s highly likely you will be involved in documenting and running an FSMS in some way.
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, an approach that seeks to identify hazards to food safety and puts in place procedures and checks to dramatically reduce the likelihood of food poisoning occurring. HACCP is the set of principles on which Food Safety Management Systems are based.
A biological, chemical or physical entity in food that could cause harm. In food safety we talk a lot about risk and severity associated with a hazard. Risk is the likelihood of the hazard hurting someone; severity is size or magnitude of the situation if it does.
Foods which are usually high in protein and water content (often ready-to-eat meals). In most cases high-risk foods require refrigeration. A high-risk food is anything that is ready-to-eat and doesn’t undergo a cooking stage just before consumption. Examples are cooked meats, dairy, quiche, sandwiches, or pies. (Raw chicken is highly risky in terms of bacteria, but is technically not a high-risk food because it will always need cooking before consumption).
An illness caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria Listeria Monocytogenes. Most seriously affects people with reduced immune systems (the young, the old and pregnant women) and can kill.
The term microbe refers to moulds, enzymes and bacteria. This term is most commonly used to describe harmful bacteria that cause disease, but in many cases microbes can have positive effects such as helping to flavour products, fermentation and assisting in digestion.
A common seasonal virus which causes acute gastroenteritis with spectacular vomiting as a common characteristic. Symptoms usually only last 1-3 days but this virus spreads very quickly from person to person and can be more serious in the very young and elderly. (Popular on cruise ships and large hotels!)
Disease-producing bacteria that cause food poisoning or a foodborne illness. Technically food poisoning is caused by the presence of pathogenic bacteria.
Also known as Salmonella Enteritis, this is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. Salmonella can survive for weeks outside the body. It’s not destroyed by freezing but is killed by temperatures above 55°C.
A group of bacteria commonly found on the skin that cause a multitude of diseases from direct infection to production of toxins that then harm us via food poisoning. Most common food poisoning variant is Staphylococcus Aureus. Around 20-40 % of people in the UK are now carriers of Staphylococcus Aureus.
A potentially fatal poison produced by certain plants, animals and bacteria that can attack various parts of the body including the nervous system and major organs. Many pathogenic bacteria produce toxins as you cook the food (released as you kill them), others as a natural by-product of life.
That’s it for now, however during this course you’ll be introduced to well over 100 definitions, concepts and phenomena. Make sure you watch the Learn, Mini Audit, and Battle Tactics videos for this chapter, then move on to Chapter 2 - Legislation & responsibilities.
By the end of this chapter you should have developed an awareness of some important definitions used in the food and food safety industry, and be aware of the knowledge and skills required to become an effective Supervisor in the food industry, including:
- Awareness of issues you will need to understand and the skills you will need to develop in order to perform the role of Supervisor in a food production or food service environment
- An understanding of the key differences between bacterial food poisoning and foodborne illness in terms of physiology and method of attack
- Awareness of important emerging trends in terms of food poisoning incidents in the UK
- An understanding of basic definitions used commonly in food safety, hygiene and food business management
Covid 19 guidance
In order to help you through the rapidly evolving pandemic situation, we recommend reading the detailed Government guidelines on operating a food business in restricted circumstances.
There are three versions of these guidelines that may be useful to you:
- Working safely during COVID-19 in restaurants offering takeaway or delivery Click to download
- Working safely during COVID-19 in factories, plants and warehouses Click to download
- Working safely during COVID-19 in shops and branches Click to download
We recommend that you read these in conjunction with the appropriate chapters of this course, as they provide additional information that will help you address the additional business requirements including social distancing, staff and customer welfare and infection control.