There is a reason your food hygiene certificate training looks at the basic principles and the science behind the practice of safer food handling.
While it may seem easier to just remember the rules it is actually not a very good learning technique. Understanding makes using the rules make sense and knowing the reasons behind the rules makes understanding easy. With something like food hygiene if you understand why you are doing something then you tend to be more proactive in your approach. Think of it like putting petrol in your car. A sign saying ‘no smoking’ is one thing, understanding that if you smoke the petrol could ignite and explode gives the sign a lot more impact.
When it comes to food hazards they tend to be easily grouped into four general categories. This ‘not so fantastic four’ will help you recognise danger and respond appropriately.
· Chemical Hazards
It may seem obvious but the cleaning chemicals that we use to make the kitchen safe are not to be consumed. So, while it is good to anti-bac the surface of a chopping board, we wouldn’t want it in the soup. Chemical contamination can be highly dangerous in the case of poisons such as pest control materials, but let’s face it, we would rather not have any chemicals in the food at all. You should have a clearly laid out system of cleaning that ensures no cleaning fluids, sprays or any similar potential contaminants come into contact with food.
· Physical Hazards
A physical contamination hazard means something is in the food that should not be there. Common culprits are sticking plasters, jewellery, fingernail fragments and (everyone ready for a stomach flip moment?) pest droppings and the pests themselves. This is a long way from the whole list though. When you think how far a shattered jar or dropped tumbler will spread glass you can see how easy it is for fragments to get into the food. It only takes a moment’s thought to see why jewellery is forbidden in kitchens and why gloves and plasters are made from easily spotted materials. Broken objects should be cleaned immediately, and every piece accounted for. Packaging and kitchen aids like cling film and tinfoil are also regular culprits. As well as it being pretty unappetising to find a dead wasp or piece of cling film in your food they present a health and choking hazard.
· Allergenic Hazards
Allergic reactions can kill. I am not being over dramatic because the truth is that a reaction to a common allergen can escalate quickly to full-blown anaphylaxis. The victims’ airways or tongue can swell, their blood pressure can plummet, and they will struggle to breathe. In some cases, these symptoms can appear within minutes and even result in death. Knowing your allergens and recognising the need to be vigilant is vital. We have a poster on our website (see below) that you can print out and we suggest you put it up where everyone will see it on a regular basis. Many pre-made ingredients contain allergens and cross-contamination is easy so pro-active checking is a must.
· Microbiological Hazards.
This is probably what we mostly associate with food poisoning and hygiene issues. The introduction of bacteria and similar nasties into food will cause a range of illnesses. There is far too much to discuss on this subject for one article but anyone handling food will need to be very aware of the potential for a breach of good hygiene and should be fully trained to recognise the hazards.
Knowing your risk areas means you can easily identify potential hazards and resolve them, or even better, prevent them from happening in the first place.