Covid raised awareness of the importance of food safety & hygiene and if you own or manage a food service business, one of your most important responsibilities is making sure that food is handled and prepared in accordance with the relevant Food Safety Standards.
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Be Food Safe
Covid and food safety & hygiene?
Everyone working in the operation needs to recognise how imperative it is to ensure that the food you prepare and sell is safe and that food hygiene and safety practices are maintained on the premises. Anything less and there’s the risk of not only damage to the business’s reputation, but hefty fines and possible loss of trading license.
That’s why understanding and practicing good hygiene, storage and refrigeration practices is so important. The onset of Covid served to shine a light on these areas, particularly the importance of sanitising countertops, tables, and work surfaces.
Suddenly we had an infectious disease and staff were unsure whether their current cleaning and sanitising regimes were good enough. The first thing we had to determine were the basics: whether a commercial dishwasher would kill the virus, would a washing machine kill it from your clothes, could you use regular hand sanitiser, would your usual cleaning chemicals work? Early on a lot of the questions, we were asking were medical in nature: how to wash your hands properly, was there a need to wear face masks when preparing food?
The food industry generally is well equipped for these things, because we normally undertake procedures to kill bugs like salmonella – and it is after all an industry where workers are supposed to wash their hands and sanitise work surfaces. So the advice that we were getting out to people was as long as they were following those standard procedures, they were doing the right things already.
Awareness has been raised within the foodservice sector generally of a whole range of food safety and hygiene-related issues. One important benefit is that staff now have a far greater awareness of the importance of hand washing – they know it’s not a question of just whisking your hand under a hot water tap; the whole idea of ‘sing happy birthday twice’ while you’re washing your hands has hit home.
We also now have an emphasis on disinfecting or sanitising, rather than just cleaning surfaces. More people now understand that a surface might look clean but still be infected. That has always been the case for food-borne illnesses like listeria and salmonella, but Covid and food hygiene & safety has really brought it home.
The discussions about whether Covid can live on the outside of a frozen food pack have also made people stop and think about the fact that the outside of a food package is not clean. It sits on a truck, it gets delivered, it’s out on the street or in the loading dock, and it gets dirty. In high-risk environments like hospitals, they won’t let cardboard into the kitchens, they’ll decant the contents rather than bring in the packaging. And even in general foodservice staff are now wiping down cans before opening them, or washing cutlery and crockery prior to first use.
It’s not a universal trend but it’s certainly growing – people are realising that what they’re bringing in from outside needs to be cleaned before they use it in the kitchen. So there is a greater awareness generally of germs and the risk of infection, and that has been very beneficial for the industry. While Covid is not a cause of food poisoning, the fact is that if you clean to get rid of Covid, you’re getting rid of the food poisoning bugs at the same time.
If you want to know how clean the kitchens are, take a look at the toilets. How businesses look after their toilets is a good indicator of how they look after the kitchen. How they store the garbage is another sign of how they’ll tend to store food in the kitchen. Most of us as consumers have walked through those café precincts which have rear lane entry and seen things that have made us look twice.
Despite the gains in awareness that have been made over the past two years, there are already signs of regression, at least with regard to sanitisation. People are going back to their old ways of doing things. We’ve also seen that on public transport where everyone was wearing face masks and now they’re not anymore. Once people aren’t pressured to do something they tend to relax about it. Having said that, we were probably guilty of a bit of overkill before, cleaning every single surface which probably wasn’t necessary.
(Source: FoodServicerep June/July 2022. Simplot Food Service, Gary Kennedy).
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