In June, BBC TV’s Watchdog programme revealed that ice from three of the UK’s biggest coffee chains (Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Caffe Nero) contained bacteria from faeces. The good news (if that is what you can call it) was that some of the bacteria identified were what are known as ‘opportunistic pathogens’, which are bacteria that do not often cause disease to healthy people. Unfortunately these bacteria do, however, cause disease to people whose immunity is reduced. Whichever way you look at it, kitchen hygiene has once more come under the spotlight and a less than perfect picture has emerged. As the countdown to Christmas gets underway, operators are urged to ensure that their kitchens are run as a tight, immaculately clean ship
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) estimates that up to 5.5 million people are being affected by food poisoning in the UK each year. In the vast majority of cases, the cause is thought to be food prepared outside of the home.
"Maintaining standards is a 24-hour, 365 days a year job," says Tony Lewis, Head of Policy for CIEH*. "The law is clear: food businesses are responsible for producing and selling safe food. As trade cranks up in the build-up to Christmas, catering businesses need to remember that standards should never drop. If there are failings, this could lead to unwanted attention or, worse still, you could find yourself facing action initiated by environmental health professionals."
Hands on approach
Paul Jakeway, Marketing Director at Deb, explains how operators can employ effective hand-hygiene regimes to avoid the double threat of foodborne illness and occupational skin disease
Food poisoning is a potential problem for any catering business. Germs and bacteria are invisible to the naked eye, travelling rapidly between food, equipment, and hands. To avoid cross-contamination, hand hygiene is crucial. Employees must frequently wash their hands – not just before and after contact with food – but before and after breaks. Also at key moments, such as after using the washroom, or when coughing, sneezing or touching contaminated surfaces.
Causes for concern
Alarmingly, when it comes to hygiene, research suggests cause for concern. In the FSA’s largest ever UK-wide survey of food hygiene knowledge among workers in the catering industry, 39% of employees admitted to not washing their hands after visiting the toilet while 53% did not always wash their hands before preparing food. Recognition of hand hygiene was low too, with just under half (42%) of catering managers listing hygiene as a key factor in the success of their business.
Occupational Skin Diseases
Poor hand hygiene can impact employees too. Foodhandling environments are in the highest rated risk category for Occupational Skin Diseases (OSD). From red, sore, or chapped skin to occupational dermatitis, OSD is the second most common work-related health problem in Europe, causing employees to miss around three million working days every year.
Risk, education and regular audits
To ensure risks are addressed, a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system should be implemented and regularly reviewed. This system identifies moments when cross-contamination could occur, or when certain arduous substances could irritate the skin. It calculates the likely incident rate, while anticipating and preventing hazards.
For a HACCP system to be effective, staff education is crucial. Catering managers must ensure employees know the critical handwashing points, such as before and after visiting the toilet, before preparing food, and after handling raw food and equipment.
Education should not be a one-off event, but an ongoing conversation between employer and employee. Materials such as leaflets, posters, and information boards are widely available and increase awareness of hand-hygiene compliance, as do regular staff meetings.
However, educating employees on protocols is futile if the correct skin care products are not present. These should be accessible, in easy-to-use dispensers and placed in critical locations. Regular site audits that consider compliance, accessibility and the right product choice can help to make sure a hand-hygiene regime remains effective.
Regular skin audits, meanwhile, are crucial to assure that the health of employees stays a priority.
Taking healthy steps
Using a cleanser at regular intervals will prevent employees from cross-contaminating food, but it will not effectively protect their hands. In catering environments, the hands are put under an immense amount of strain each day, requiring several different products to ensure they remain in a healthy condition.
If your customers fall ill as a result of the food they have eaten, you can be hit with considerable costs and lose trust that is not easily regained. If legal action is taken, the damage can be irreparable.
A proven 3-step programme for skin care should be implemented, identifying the crucial moments for hand hygiene.
- In the first step, a pre-work cream is applied to the hands to provide preventive care and protect the skin from exposure to arduous materials. These specially formulated creams leave a protective layer on the surface of the skin
- Hand cleaners should then be used regularly throughout the day
- Finally, an end-of-work cream is required to restore the skin’s strength and health.
Nice, ice baby
To help operators avoid the foul fallout suffered by Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero this summer, David Teasdale, General Manager of Dishwashers Direct, advises on how best to maintain your ice machines.
Ice machines are often some of the dirtiest pieces of equipment in the kitchen as they can be neglected and overlooked when cleaning. No matter what type or size of ice machine an establishment runs, this must not be allowed to happen. Any part of the unit that has contact with water can develop scale, slime, or mould, which will contaminate your ice and has the potential to harm your customers.
If you want a healthy, well-running ice machine, it must be regularly cleaned and maintained. Signs that you have neglected your machine include the following:
- Poor-quality ice, either soft or not clear
- Shallow or incomplete cubes
- Lower capacity.
Before you clean your machine, you should read the instructions in your ice machine’s manual. Most machines will follow this generic procedure:
- Open the front door to access the evaporator compartment. Remove all ice, for the cleaning cycle to be effective.
- Remove all ice from the bin or dispenser – either scoop out the ice, or turn the power off and allow the ice to melt. When cleaning, the ice machine should be empty, giving you easier access to the entire machine.
- Press the ‘clean’ or ‘wash’ button. This will allow water to flow through the water dump valve and down the drain.
- Wait until the water trough refills and the display indicates to add chemicals. This typically takes a few minutes. Add the correct amount of ice machine cleaner as stipulated in your manual.
- Wait until the clean cycle is complete. This can take up to 30 minutes. When complete, disconnect power to the ice machine the dispenser.
- Remove parts for cleaning. For safe and proper removal, refer to your machine’s manual.
- Mix a solution of cleaner and lukewarm water. Use a cleaner that is fit for use in food preparation areas and follow the manufacturer’s dilution guidelines.
- Use half of the water and cleaner mixture to clean all components and parts you’ve removed. Most solutions can foam once they come in contact with lime, scale, and mineral deposits.
- Once the foaming stops, use a soft-bristle nylon brush, sponge, or cloth to carefully clean all parts. All parts except the ice thickness probe can be soaked when heavily scaled. Rinse all components with clean water.
- Use the other half of the water and cleaner mixture to clean all other surfaces of the ice machine, bin, and dispenser. Use a nylon brush or cloth to thoroughly clean the following ice machine areas: side walls, base (area above the trough), evaporator plastic parts (top, bottom, sides), and the bin or dispenser.
- Finally, rinse all areas with clean water. This will help remove chemicals and prevent ice from becoming contaminated.
Take special care with the area near the drain as this is a common place for limescale to build up.
Ice machines can sometimes give off smells, which may be coming from outside the ice machine. Remember to clean the edges and exterior of the ice machine, as spills or food debris can gather around the edges. You also need to clean the area around the ice machine.
After cleaning an ice machine, it is a good idea to run a production test to ensure the machine is working properly. Do not serve the first batch of ice to customers. Finally, remember always to treat your ice as you would any other item of food. Always serve ice with a clean scoop, never by hand.