The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued guidelines for all food businesses on controlling cross contamination by E.coli 0157 between raw and ready-to-eat-foods.
The agency said it had published the guide in response to serious outbreaks of the foodborne pathogen in Scotland in 1996 and Wales in 2005 which were triggered by cross-contamination violations.
Although E.coli is the key focus of the document, the measures will also help control other bacteria, such as campylobacter and salmonella. It not only contains guidance on compliance with Regulation EC No 852/2004 but also outlines a raft of best practice recommendations, said the food safety watchdog.
A major element in the guide is the principle of physical separation of so-called clean environments, where RTE foods are handled and stored, from other surfaces or equipment not designated for use in the clean area. Key to this is the use of separate equipment and utensils.
Complex equipment such as vacuum packers, mincing machines and slicers should never be used for both raw and RTE foods – and separate equipment should be provided, urged the paper.
Maintaining all surfaces, equipment clothes etc in clean areas as E.coli free is vital “because no further controls will prevent that contamination spreading within the clean area,” said the report. “Food premises should be designed to enable adequate separation.”
Handwashing and disinfection
Staff movement between RTE and raw food areas should be minimised and where it does occur strict handwashing controls must be implemented. Hygienic hand rubs and antiseptic gels should only be considered an additional precaution but not an alternative to handwashing.
Disinfectants and sanitisers must meet officially recognised standards and should be used as instructed by the manufacturer – but cannot be used as a substitute for physical separation.
But it added that “effective chemical disinfection is an essential prerequisite hygiene measure throughout the food industry…”
Documented procedures and control measures
Food business must employ “robust documented procedures” and strict supervision to ensure compliance with valid E.coli control measures. Breakdown in procedures should be treated as a “serious incident” and immediate steps taken to stop any potentially contaminated food from reaching leaving the premises.
Staff training on all aspects of E.coli control is also key.
To read a full copy of the guidelines click HERE