There is a risk of cross contamination if the same piece of complex equipment is used to process raw and RTE foods, said the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The revised guidance clarifies that businesses do not have to have separate areas for handling raw and ready-to-eat foods (RTE) where they can demonstrate effective cleaning and disinfection will manage the risk of cross contamination.
Less complex equipment, such as temperature probes, mixers and weighing scales, may be used for raw and RTE foods as long as it can be shown that equipment will be effectively cleaned and disinfected between uses.
Chemical or heat disinfection
Risk may be adequately controlled by an effective cleaning and disinfection process, but requires that all surfaces that could potentially be contaminated directly or indirectly, have the required chemical or heat disinfection.
Due to the complexity of certain types of machinery, including vacuum packers, slicers and mincers, it is considered too difficult to effectively clean such equipment between uses during the normal operation of a business.
“If the same utensils and equipment are used for both raw and RTE foods at separate times, they must be heat disinfected or put through the adequate dishwasher cycle between uses,” said the guidance.
“Any method of heat disinfection is acceptable provided that the process removes E. coli O157 from all surfaces; for example a dishwasher, a sterilising sink, or a steam cleaner.
“If heat disinfection is not available, food contact surfaces, equipment and utensils cannot be shared and need to be specifically designated for either raw or for RTE foods only.”
Halting cross contamination
Following the guidance will also help control cross-contamination from bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and other E. colistrains, said the FSA.
The first produced guidance into how to control the risks of cross-contamination was produced in 2011 in response to the public inquiry into the 2005 E.coli O157 outbreak in South Wales.
Businesses are advised to follow the guide to compliance, but it is open to demonstrate to their local authority that the objectives of the regulations can be achieved in other ways, said the agency.
When asked about the issue before it was published, a FSA spokesman told us the agency was aware of concerns on the practical application of the E.coli O157 guidance, especially for small businesses, and the review will make it more accessible.
“The guidance is now far less prescriptive and provides greater flexibility for businesses on how they may manage food safety risks, subject to their assessment of the particular risks relating to their business and subsequent assessment by the relevant Local Authority,” he said.
“We have also revised the layout of the guidance so that it now follows that commonly used in industry guides. This will make it easier for businesses to follow and distinguish between legal requirements, FSA guidance on compliance, and good practice.”
Business and other stakeholders have until August 29 to provide any further comments.