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When is the right time to start a food safety culture?

This week I had the opportunity to work with a tiny food company. A start-up in a caravan intent to trying to supply nutritious meals to construction workers on large building sites. Size of company: 2.

In visiting the facilities and being confronted with some of the real issues – food safety and otherwise, I was very aware of the challenges of implementing even basic food safety requirements (look out for our Food Truck Food safety series coming soon).

But it struck me that if you start right, you do have a better chance of creating a food safety culture in your business. The right time to start a food safety culture is when you START a food business.

Size is not a determinant for food safety culture. Smaller businesses can still be at risk of causing food-borne illness. This may be because the owner of the business may not be competent in food safety and therefore not understand the hazards they deal with daily. Handling cooked foods is one thing but introducing some salads for additional nutrition, while admirable, can introduce more hazards, as an example. Small businesses can still have large food safety failures. We should learn from Mr. Tudor.

There was an outbreak in South Wales caused by E. coli O157:H7 in September 2005. The outbreak was traced to the consumption of cooked meats provided to schools by John Tudor & Son, a catering butcher business. A packaging machine at the business, used for both raw and cooked meats, was identified as the probable source of contamination where E. coli O157:H7 was most likely transferred from raw meat to cooked meat. The 2005 outbreak was the largest caused by E. coli O157:H7 in Wales and the second largest in the United Kingdom to date; ultimately 31 people were admitted to hospital and, tragically, Mason Jones, a five-year-old boy, died (Pennington, 2009).

According to Powel et al (2011), a public inquiry into the outbreak determined that William Tudor, the proprietor of John Tudor & Son, had a significant disregard for food safety and thus for the health of people who consumed meats produced and distributed by his business. The inquiry heard that there had been serious, and repeated, breaches of federal food safety regulations at the catering butcher business. William Tudor had failed to ensure that critical procedures, such as cleaning and the separation of raw and cooked meats, were carried out effectively. He also falsified certain records that were an important part of food safety practice and deceived Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) on issues such as the use of the packaging machine. A negative food safety culture had been established at John Tudor & Son.

In his report, Professor Hugh Pennington, chair of the public inquiry, concluded that Tudors’ food safety culture was completely different from that which might be expected from a business managed by a person with an advanced food hygiene qualification. The culture that emerged was one of little regard for the importance of food safety but where making and saving money was the priority (Pennington, 2009).

Of course, Mr Tudor had no excuse. He knew about food safety. As the owner of a small food business you have no excuse either. R638 REGULATIONS GOVERNING GENERAL HYGIENE REQUIREMENTS FOR FOOD PREMISES, THE TRANSPORT OF FOOD AND RELATED MATTERS is a mandatory requirement for all businesses and it tells you what the basics are. It also requires you receive proper food safety training to KNOW the risks associated with the foods you prepare and serve. Don’t let your ignorance be the reason someone gets ill. Food safety culture starts with you.

References

Pennington, H. (2009). The public inquiry into the September 2005 outbreak of E. coli O157 in South Wales. https://www.reading.ac.uk/foodlaw/pdf/uk-09005-ecoli-report-summary.pdf

Powell, D. A., Jacob, C. J., & Chapman, B. J. (2011). Enhancing food safety culture to reduce rates of foodborne illness. Food Control, 22(6), 817-822.