According to the RSPH, while we have high levels of food hygiene in the UK on the whole, some of us (including some professional caterers) are still making basic mistakes.
The RSPH has released the list to mark the launch of its a new e-learning course in Food Safety, which is aimed primarily at the UK’s hospitality workforce.
Here are a few of the hygiene areas we need to work on, both in professional and personal kitchens.
Common Mistakes Made In The Home
Aside from the single most prevalent and remediable hygiene mistake – failing to regularly and thoroughly wash one’s hands – some of the most common and hazardous mistakes made by the public are:
1. ‘If it looks alright and smells alright, you can eat it.’
A dangerous mistake encountered frequently by RSPH examiners is thinking that dangerous pathogens in food must be detectable through sight, smell, or indeed taste. In fact, many of the most harmful and widespread pathogens can cause severe illness and even death when present only in very low numbers which don’t affect the taste, appearance, smell, or texture of the food at all.
2. Using one pair of tongs for a BBQ.
As summer reaches full swing, many BBQ chefs will tend to spread pathogens via their equipment, by handling raw meat, cooked meat, and sometimes even salads all with the same tongs. Though most people know to avoid this cross-contamination – and would do so in their own kitchen – this practice often goes out the window when the BBQ lights up.
3. Failing to segregate raw and ready-to-eat foods.
Food safety experts told RSPH that, though strict food segregation is well enforced in the catering industry, much of the general public do not appreciate the elevated risks of food poisoning that come with even slight mixing of raw meat with ready-to-eat food. Campylobacter – the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK – is found on the outside packaging of 5.7% of supermarket chickens, highlighting the importance of segregating food from the moment it hits the shopping trolley.
4. Washing raw chicken.
Campylobacter, found on nearly 60% of supermarket chicken, will be killed by thorough cooking, but could spread throughout a kitchen when people try to wash their raw chicken under the tap.
5. Pets in the kitchen.
This is a common practice in domestic kitchens. Even in homes where pets are kept off work surfaces they will still spread all kinds of pathogens, and ideally should be kept out of kitchens entirely.
Common Mistakes Made By Caterers
According to RSPH food safety examiners, the main areas of misunderstanding and malpractice among caterers are:
1. Buffets can be a hot-bed for bacteria.
Bacteria thrive in temperatures between 5 and 63°C – the danger zone – and failing to swiftly cool cooked food below this limit is a high risk factor for food poisoning. Buffet restaurants that leave their dishes out for more than an hour or two are alarmingly commonplace examples of this, and have been described by some examiners as the number one practice among caterers putting people’s health in danger.
2. Continuing to work when ill.
In many food-handling workplace environments there is an inadequate understanding of infectious diseases and how easily they can be spread by an infected member of staff entering the kitchen – even if they are no longer visibly ill. Though the onus is on food-handlers to report when they have or have recently had an illness, there is a danger that pressures to not lose out on work, particularly among zero-hours-contract workers, are leading many to overlook this.
3. Inadequate understanding of the controls necessary to prevent allergen contamination.
Though food poisoning affects the public’s health in far greater numbers than allergens, the UK still sees around 10 deaths per year due to undeclared allergenic ingredients and a great deal more near-death incidents. Food safety experts believe that in many food environments there is insufficient understanding of the controls needed to prevent allergen contamination and highlighted the need for watertight communication channels between front-of-house, waiting and kitchen staff when dealing with customer allergen information.
4. Re-use of unclean cloths for cleaning surfaces.
In many catering establishments, staff will simply leave cleaning cloths to dry overnight and then reuse them day after day, a prime risk for spreading pathogens all around a food-handling setting. Instead, staff need to have adequate procedures for ensuring that cleaning products are themselves kept clean.
5. Temperature checking.
When monitoring food temperature, catering staff may just check the temperature of the fridge, but this often leads to mistake – it is the food itself which must be probed.