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Food Safety and Hygiene

The production, processing, distribution and retail of food in Wales and the UK is governed by strict legislation to help ensure that food is safe to eat.
 
Additionally, following simple food safety advice when handling, preparing, cooking and storing food in the home can significantly reduce the risk of spreading harmful germs that can cause food poisoning such as salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli and listeria.
 

What is the scale of the problem?

It is estimated that each year in the UK there are about a million people who suffer a foodborne illness, of which 20,000 receive hospital treatment and there are 500 deaths [Annual Report of the Chief Scientist 2010/11, Food Standards Agency].
 
However, as most people experience mild symptoms, only a proportion seek medical attention and so the numbers of notifications of food poisoning reported in the UK is less than 100,000 each year. In Wales in 2010, there were 4,979 food poisoning notifications reported to Public Health Wales.
 
More information about food poisoning and notification data for Wales is available from our food poisoning webpage.
 

Minimising the risk at home

Following the simple guidelines below on how to prepare and cook food at home will help reduce the risk of food poisoning.
 
Washing hands
Our hands are the main way germs are spread, so it’s important to wash them thoroughly with soap and warm water before handling food and after touching raw meat or unwashed salad, fruit or vegetables. Hands should also be washed after contact with pets, after using the toilet and after cleaning up after others, especially children or pets with diarrhoea, to help reduce the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses.
 
Meat and poultry
Raw meat, including poultry, contains harmful bacteria that can spread easily to anything it touches. This includes other food, worktops, tables, chopping boards and knives. Worktops and utensils should be washed with hot water and detergent after being used for raw meat and if possible it is best to have a separate chopping board for use only with raw meat.
 
Cooking food at the right temperature will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed. Check that food is piping hot right through to the middle before eating. This is especially important for poultry, pork, burgers, sausages, rolled joints of meat and kebabs which should always be fully cooked with no pink meat remaining.
 
washing vegIt’s safe to serve steak and other whole cuts of beef and lamb rare (not cooked in the middle) or blue (seared on the outside) as long as they have been properly sealed (cooked quickly and at a high temperature on the outside only) to kill any bacteria on the meat’s surface.
 
Take particular care to keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat foods such as bread, salad and fruit. These foods won’t be cooked before eating so any germs that get on to them won’t be killed. When storing raw meat, always keep it in a clean, sealed container and place it on the bottom shelf of the fridge where it can’t touch or drip on to other foods.
 
Finally, there is no need to wash raw chicken as any germs on it will be killed by thorough cooking and washing may in fact cause germs to splash on nearby surfaces. 
 
Salad, fruit and vegetables
Salad, fruit and vegetables should be washed thoroughly with running tap water; this is especially important if they are to be eaten raw. Peeling and cooking fruit and vegetables can also remove harmful germs.
 
Cans and jars
One rare but potentially serious form of food poisoning is foodborne botulism. Foodborne botulism occurs when the bacterium Clostridium botulinum grows and makes botulinum toxin in food. The toxin is only produced when Clostridium botulinum grows in an oxygen-free environment.
 
Certain foods that are packaged in airtight containers (for example in cans, jars, vacuum packaging or modified atmosphere packaging) or in oil, can represent a potential botulism risk, and so care needs to be taken by manufacturers when they are produced, transported and stored.
 
Botulism is very rare in the UK, although it’s sensible to follow basic hygiene advice below produced by the FSA when storing and using these types of foods.
 
  • Before using, check if the packaging has distorted or burst, if the lid has ‘popped’ or the seal is broken. If so, do not eat the product.
  • Follow any storage instructions on the label. If the food should be stored in the fridge, make sure it’s kept at 5ºC or below. Some unopened food that can safely be stored at room temperature must be refrigerated after opening – check the label.
  • Don’t eat food after its ‘use by’ date.
  • Use any opened food within two days, unless the instructions state otherwise.
  • Follow any instructions on the label about how to cook or reheat food. 
 
Storage
Cooked leftovers should be cooled quickly, ideally within one or two hours, and then put in the fridge or freezer once cooled. Ensure that raw and ready to eat foods are kept separately in the fridge and that the fridge is at the recommended temperature (between 0-5C).
 
Unwashed salad, fruit or vegetables, as well as raw meat, should be kept separately from any food that will be consumed without further cooking at high temperature.  
 
If you are reheating food, make sure it is piping hot all the way through and do not reheat food more than once.
 
Cleaning up
Wash all worktops and chopping boards before and after cooking as they are sources of germ cross-contamination.
 
Damp sponges and cloths are the perfect place for bacteria to breed. Studies have shown the kitchen sponge to have the highest number of germs in the home. Wash and replace kitchen cloths, sponges and tea towels frequently.
 
Barbecuing
Food poisoning cases double over the summer.  Warm weather enables the bacteria to multiply faster in conditions where food hygiene practices are poorer, and people change their eating habits in the summer months, eating more cold food, more buffets  where food is left out for long periods, and more barbecues.
 
When using a barbecue to cook meat, it must be cooked until it’s piping hot all the way through, none of the meat is pink and the juices run clear. When barbecuing for lots of people, it may be advisable to cook meat indoors and finish it off on the barbecue for added flavour.

Also:
 
  • Charcoal should be glowing red, with a powdery grey surface, before starting to cook.
  • Frozen food should be properly thawed before cooking.
  • Turn food regularly, and move it around the barbecue, to cook it evenly.
  • Check that the centre of the food is piping hot.
  • Don't assume that if meat is charred on the outside that it will be cooked properly on the inside.

Cross contamination of cooked food with bacteria present on uncooked food may also occur. It may be prevented as follows:
 
  • Always wash hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.
  • Use separate utensils for raw and cooked meat.
  • Never put cooked food on a plate or surface that has been used for raw meat.
  • Keep raw meat in a sealed container away from ready-to-eat foods, such as burger buns and salads.
  • Don't put raw meat products next to cooked or partially cooked meat on the barbecue.
  • Don't add sauce or marinade to cooked food if it has already been used with raw meat
 
Accompanying cold foods such as salads, dips, desserts, sandwiches, cooked meats and cooked rice should not be left out in the sun or out of the fridge for more than a couple of hours.
 
Further information
Further food safety advice is available from the Food Standards Agency website at: http://www.food.gov.uk/ and the NHS Choices website at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/homehygiene/Pages/Foodhygiene.aspx
 

What is done to reduce the risk at a national level?

The production, processing, distribution, retail, packaging and labelling of food stuffs in the UK including Wales are governed by a number of laws, regulations, codes of practice and guidance.
 
The Food Standards Agency is an independent Government department set up by an Act of Parliament in 2000 to protect the public's health and consumer interests in relation to food. The FSA provides advice and information to the public and Government on food safety from farm to fork. It also protects consumers through effective food enforcement and monitoring. More about the FSA is available from their website at: http://www.food.gov.uk/
 
Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are employed by all local authorities to ensure that all businesses that produce or prepare food for the public adhere to food safety and hygiene legislation.
 Food hygiene rating scheme
In 2010, The Food Standards Agency, in partnership with local authorities, introduced the national Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. The scheme help consumers choose where to eat out or shop for food by giving them information about the hygiene standards in restaurants, cafés, takeaways, hotels and food shops.
 
All 22 Welsh local authorities have implemented the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme and are displaying ratings for businesses in their area.
 
These ratings are available from the FSA website at: http://ratings.food.gov.uk/LocalAuthority.aspx?reg=WA
 
Monitoring levels of notifications of food poisoning and incidence rates of organisms associated with it enables any increases in incidence, which may indicate an outbreak, to be promptly identified. Appropriate measures to contain an outbreak, to prevent further spread and to identify possible sources are implemented by Public Health Wales and other bodies responsible for public health and food safety in Wales.
 
Public Health Wales is also involved in collaborative research on foodborne gastroenteritis with other partner organisations. These include the Foods Standards Agency (FSA)-funded research to investigate Campylobacter contamination in chicken available to the consumer and the Second Study of Infectious Intestinal Disease in the Community (IID2 Study).
 

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Last updated: 19 January 2012