Processing is defined as altering crops or animal meats into what we recognise as food. Processing can involve various steps using a variety of foods.
If contaminated water or ice is used to wash, pack or chill fruits or vegetables the contamination can spread to those items.
Peanut butter can become contaminated if roasted peanuts are stored in unclean conditions or come into contact with contaminated raw peanuts. This is a good example of cross-contamination of raw ingredients and the final product.
During the slaughtering process, pathogens on an animal’s hide can come into contact with intestines and can contaminate the final product. This is especially true for chickens.
Distribution is the means by which we transport food from farm to processing plants to the consumer or food service facility such a restaurants or hotel kitchens. This step may involve transporting foods just once, such as trucking produce from a farm to local farmers markets or it may involve many stages. For example, frozen hamburger patties might be transported from a meat processing plant and then to a larger supplier, stored for a few days in the suppliers’ warehouse, trucked again to a local distribution facility for a restaurant chain and finally delivered to an individual restaurant.
Preparation can be defined as the process of getting foods ready-to-eat. This step may occur in the kitchen of a restaurant, home or catering facility. It may also involve following a complex recipe with many ingredients, simple heating and serving on a plate or just opening a package and eating the food.
Mishandling at multiple points
By the time food causes illness, it may have been mishandled in several ways along the production chain. Once the contamination occurs, further mishandling of food such as undercooking or leaving out at ambient temperatures can allow an outbreak to be more likely. Many pathogens grow quickly in food held at room temperature and a tiny amount can grow to a large number in just a few hours.
Reheating foods after items have been left out at room temperature for long periods, may not always be the final answer due to pathogens that produce toxins that are not destroyed by heat. Therefore, it is imperative to follow all the food safety pillars to ensure that a solid foundation of safe food can be built.