In understanding bacteria and how they grow and survive, we can begin to identify what is needed to prevent the growth of bacteria and how to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
What is Food Safety / Food Hygiene?
Food Safety is defined as handling, preparing and storing food in a way that reduces the risk of individuals becoming sick from food-borne illnesses. These risks include contamination from biological, physical or chemical sources.
Food safety systems or food hygiene programs are designed to minimise these risks.We need at least one of the below requirements and ideally a combination of each in order to ensure sufficient compliance:
- Sufficiently high temperature
- Chemicals or sanitiser
- pH, meaning high acidity or high alkalinity
- Reducing time of exposure. Remember that time, affects all of the previously mentioned requirements.
Because time is a key factor, we need to also consider the bacteriological growth curve
- The lag phase is a slow growth at first while bacteria acclimatises to the food and nutrients in the new habitat.
- The log phase is where bacteria start to multiply exponentially doubling in number every few minutes.
- The stationary phase is where bacteria start competing for dwindling resources and the number of bacteria stabilises.
- The death phase is where toxic waste products start to build up. The food for bacteria is depleted and bacteria starts to die off.
How does knowing this reduce the risk of food poisoning?
By knowing these factors, we can begin to understand why bacteria grow in our foods. By controlling these factors, we can begin to stop bacteria from growing in our food environment and therefore reduce the risk of food poisoning.
The amount of bacteria in foods is dependent on the quality of the ingredients used, the storage of the final products, the distribution of bacteria in food, the availability of nutrients as well as the stage of growth at which bacteria is in. And ultimately preventing any possible opportunity for cross-contamination to take place.
How do we stop bacteria from growing?
We already know that we cannot see bacteria with the naked eye and there is no day-to-day indication that bacteria is growing in our food and within your kitchen. Of even more concern is that we cannot see a pathogen is present within our foods. Remember no taste, smell or discolouration.
Therefore, we need to be able to put systems into place in order to minimise and prevent bacteria from getting into our foods and therefore reduce the risk. Fortunately, years of research on the understanding of how bacteria grow and survive have allowed us to develop systems that can effectively prevent food poisoning from taking place.
So how do we use this knowledge to develop a system that prevents bacteria from growing?
The Food Safety Pillars
The food safety pillars are designed from understanding all the factors that allow bacteria to grow. We can now apply this knowledge as well as the understanding of how food is prepared and categorised each step that reduce the risk of food poisoning into pillars that create the foundation for safe food.
What are the food safety pillars?
- The first pillar is cleaning and sanitising, meaning the physical cleaning and sanitising to remove germs and bacteria which by removing bacteria can reduce the risk of food poisoning.
- Personal hygiene, meaning regular hand washing as well as maintaining personal cleanliness and that of appropriate uniforms. Hand washing is arguably the most important factor in how to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
- Food storage meaning storing raw and ready-to-eat foods separately from each other. Separating raw foods which naturally contain bacteria from foods that shouldn’t will reduce the risk of food poisoning, especially in the fridge.
- Temperature control, meaning keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Keeping food out of the critical danger zone at which bacteria rapidly multiply can reduce the risk of food poisoning.
- Food Handling which includes the principles of cooling, reheating and defrosting practices. Following these principles will naturally reduce the risk of food poisoning.