Last week I came up with my definition for food safety. Did you agree? I realized that I also needed a definition for food quality. Food quality is pretty vague as it depends on so many different factors. We quite often link food quality and food safety because a food containing hazards isn’t of a high quality.
As food processors and food manufacturers, the most important quality specification is based on our consumer’s needs and desires. Consumers may base their idea of a high quality food on many different factors. Price or good value for money is probably the most important, even though a lot of us won’t admit that openly. As consumers, we may also be concerned about how the food product was made and whether it is organic or has certain health attributes.
For my book, I am looking for definitions for topics that I, as a food scientist, might consider obvious. Thus, last week I found myself looking for a definition of food safety. This was not something I thought would be hard to find. However, I couldn’t find a decent definition in introductory food science textbooks. There are many people and organizations are involved in food safety. Surely one of them has a good generally understandable definition of food safety?
When I was a graduate student, I visited Malta and I bought home nougat for my friends. Only to find when I gave it to my friends that there were ants in the packet. Ugh, some gift that turned out to be. Make sure you know the source of all your ingredients and check that they don’t have ants and that the package is intact when you receive them.
Many small food businesses start out buying ingredients from their local supermarket. We can trust food bought at the supermarket because it has been manufactured and packaged by businesses that have to follow federal food safety regulations. However, as you grow this might not be the best source of your ingredients and you may need to buy greater quantities than they keep in stock. As you buy larger quantities of ingredients, you need to consider your supply chain program.
To support the local food system, you may also buy from small local farms and food businesses. You must ensure their practices meet your standards for food safety and that the farmer is following food safety procedures and good handling practices and you receive the best quality ingredients.
The best way to ensure that your ingredients come from a safe source is to have a list of approved suppliers. These are farms, local businesses, supermarkets that you have checked to make sure they handle your ingredients to maintain their quality and safety.
Individually checking each supplier can get time consuming and you can ask each farmer or supplier if they follow certain standards. For example, you can ask for their food safety plan or for their third party audit.
In addition to having an approved supplier list, you also need standards for each ingredient. You can ask your suppliers to provide a certificate of analysis (CoA) to come with each batch of ingredients. For example, if you use peanuts, you will want to make sure that they are free of aflatoxin, a known carcinogen. Many peanut farmers and distributors test for aflatoxins and provide certificates to their buyers.
A supply chain program is required as part of the FSMA regulations and restaurants are expected to have an approved supplier list too. Not sure how to start to set up an approved supplier program? Let’s chat so I can support you.
The third CDC foodborne illness risk factor is Contaminated Utensils and Equipment. This is the use of dirty utensils and equipment which spreads bacteria and may also cause allergens to be somewhere unexpected. I want to discuss these and also look at storage.
Bacterial Cross contamination
Bacteria are spread through cross contamination when bacteria spread from a high risk food such as raw meat to food that is normally low risk and eaten without heating, such as fresh vegetables and fruit. Storing all ingredients and food to prevent cross contamination is equally important. The classic example of cross contamination is using cutting boards or knives for raw meat and then reusing them ready-to-eat vegetables and fruit. Hopefully we all know is wrong wrong, wrong.
In this series of posts I am discussing how the knowledge of the CDC foodborne illness risk factors can be used by us, as consumers and food entrepreneurs, to reduce foodborne illness. The CDC foodborne illness risk factors are the top five ways that restaurants and food manufacturers cause foodborne illness. FightBac gives consumers four core practices, chill, cook, clean, and separate, for food safety at home. To produce safe food we need to make sure these risk factors are NOT present in our facilities or homes. Last week I discussed why keeping food cold was important.
This week I am discussing the second risk factor, Cooking or Processing at an Improper Temperature. This is covered for consumers by the FightBac practice of cook. Cooking temperature was previously discussed in the first of my articles on HARM, H=heat. In that post I wrote:
“[T]he most common way to remove microorganisms by using heat. No one likes being boiled, microorganisms are no exception. We can either kill all of them by heating the food to a really high temperature, this is called sterilization. Or we can heat the food to a reasonably high temperature to kill off the pathogenic microorganisms. This is pasteurization.”
Keeping our consumers safe is one of the most important responsibilities of a food business. Whether you run a local restaurant or a multinational food business, I hope the last thing you want to do is to make your customer ill or worse.
In my last article I discussed the top five factors that the CDC considers the most important causes of foodborne illnesses. These risk factors apply to consumers as well as to food businesses.
The first CDC risk factors was “Holding at an Improper storage temperature”. What does that mean?
I call this food safety factor, the “keep hot food hot and cold food cold” rule.
Holding your food at an improper temperature means holding food in the temperature danger zone (40 to 140 F which is 5 to 60 C) for too long, (2 hours or more).. If you are making food to store for longer than 2 h, you must cool it down as food that is kept hot keeps cooking and the bacteria can keep growing. For the quality perspective, think about when you have put food in a oven to keep warm when your kids are late for dinner. It isn’t very attractive after an hour, is it?
Food manufacturers make sure that any food they heat to process is quickly cooled to refrigerated temperatures, below the danger zone. This need to cool quickly doesn’t apply to a hot fill process or an aseptic process because the kill step and the packaging ensure that no bacteria are present to grow as the food cools down through the danger zone. An example of a hot fill process might be bottled barbeque sauce or jams and jellies.
Other places in the production flow where the “holding at an improper temperature” might occur putting our consumers at risk in when we receive refrigerated or frozen product and when we thaw frozen ingredients. As responsible food processors, we monitor the temperature of food to make sure that it arrives cold or frozen and we make sure that food is thawed either slowly in a refrigerator or more quickly under running cold water. We follow the recommendations of how to cool hot food down and we don’t store high risk food in the danger zone.
Are you holding food at a proper temperature? If you are not 100% sure and you are not keeping records, you MUST book a call NOW so we can address this immediately. The health of your consumers and the survival of your business depends on you preparing food properly and keeping good records.
As food entrepreneurs we have the responsibility to make and sell safe food. The overwhelming wealth of information about how to make our food safe makes it hard to filter out the best way to make safe and tasty food.
The CDC’s five top foodborne illness risk factors which would be good to avoid if you are producing food for other people to eat. Start with these five when you are beginning to develop a new food product to ensure that it will be safe from day one.
Over the next few weeks I shall write more about how we, as food entrepreneurs, can prevent each one of these five factors from happening in our processing facility. Make sure you are following this blog!!
Let’s start by looking at the Food Safety Partnership’s four steps that consumers must take to ensure their food is safe. There is quite a bit of overlap with the CDC factors. The recommendations for consumers are to cook, chill, clean, and separate.
Cook is cooking to the right temperature
Chill is storing at the right temperature
Clean means not using contaminated utensils and equipment and WASH your damn hands
Separate means avoiding cross contamination and storing food so that raw meat juices, for example, aren’t dripping onto your lettuce
One thing we have all learned from COVID-19 is that public safety is being considered in ways it never was before. This means food safety is more important than in the past. Do not risk losing your business & potentially killing someone because of a silly food safety mishap –schedule your food safety chatnow.
Be safe. Wear a mask. Wash your damn hands. Eat a healthy diet.
I am outraged about needless deaths caused by our political leaders failing in their responsibility to support their citizens to be the best people they can be.
I am outraged that not all people have access to healthy, safe, and culturally appropriate food.
I am outraged about COVID-19 being unnecessarily out of control in most states, and about the economy tanking with little or no support for those who cannot work due to the pandemic.
I am outraged that on July 31st 2020 both the extra $600/week for unemployed will end with NOTHING to take its place AND the eviction moratorium ends. This leaves 12 million tenants at risk of becoming homeless and leaves many more having to choose between paying rent and buying food.
I am outraged about the risks faced by essential grocery and restaurant workers from people who apparently think wearing a mask takes away their freedom. Being DEAD takes away your freedom. If you don’t want to wear a mask, DON’T GO OUT!
Unlike meat companies and political leaders, let us take responsibility as food entrepreneurs. We can help our clients, our suppliers, our co-workers, and our customers by putting in processes and infrastructure which will ensure their safety. For example we can set up our facilities to make sure co-workers can work 6 ft apart, train them to put their masks on safely, and create a business culture that allows co-workers to take sick leave if they feel unwell. Perhaps you will check with your suppliers to see if they are being responsible and treating their employees with dignity and respect.
By now you should have a COVID-19 response plan. If you still don’t have a plan as you are not sure what it should include, schedule a call TODAY. We can work together to responsibly support you business, your team, and ensure that your customers are safe.
Do big businesses have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their employees? What about towards their customers? Or is the only reason big food businesses worry about the health and safety of their employees and their customers is because of government regulations? If given the choice, would food businesses go back to the days without food safety regulations, without adulteration or misbranding laws and let anything go as long as they make a profit? It deeply concerns me that the big food businesses would throw away all regulations if given the chance and leave us all at risk from foodborne illness. This is why I take food safety so seriously.
We saw something like this happening after the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1984 when dietary supplements manufacturers produced products without evidence of their efficacy and without really testing for active ingredients. Some dietary supplements were so dangerous that they were banned by the FDA because they killed people.
We’ve also seen the reactions of the CEOs of the meat slaughterhouses after they were required to close by their local health department due to the spread of COVID-19 infections within their facilities. Rather than slow the lines down, test every employee, split shifts, support employees taking sick leave, and install protective equipment; they pressured Trump into passing a Defense of America order making meat processing critical infrastructure.
Other ways we have seen food companies lack responsibility is in their refusal to follow animal welfare recommendations which are required by law in Europe. So instead of caring for farm animals properly using acceptable husbandry practices, the animals are given antibiotics and hormones. Apparently it is just too costly to look after farm animals in the US!
These companies have shown over and over again that their employees are replaceable and are as little value (or possibly less) than the meat that they are processing. This lack of respect concerns me because I think it also extends to the customer. Food safety is only as good as the regulations and the inspectors implementing them.
This is why we need a better, more resilient, sustainable and equitable food system. One in which employees are treated with respect and humanity and where animal welfare is an equal priority along making a profit. A profit without these is not an honest result. Here are three things you could do:
Buy meat and poultry from a local source where you can check that the animals and workers are well cared for;
Show in your company and personal values that worker and animal welfare are priorities;
Develop policies around animal welfare, worker health and safety, and customer safety, including an excellent food safety plan as offered by the Food Industry Employment Program LLC. Click here NOW to get your plan setup or updated.