Industrialization and urbanization have increased the demand for food establishments and food processing units. Contamination can happen anywhere in the food supply chain. Sometimes environmental factors like pollution lead to food contamination but more often it is inadequate knowledge on the part of food handlers that leads to food contamination in processing and packaging units. In the food sector besides the larger food processing and packaging unit there are a number of small scale processing units that are not well informed about the food safety and food contamination. Inadequate infrastructure, poor supply of potable water, inadequate cooling and storage facilities besides unhygienic handling of processed foods are some of the leading factors that result in contamination which cause foodborne illnesses.
Food Safety & Quality
The managements of food processing and packaging units need to understand the importance of having a quality and safety system which is in keeping with the FSS Act, Rules & Regulations. The Schedule 4 of the FSS (Licensing & Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations, 2011 has defined the guidelines for general & specific sanitary & hygienic conditions for all FBOs including that for processing & packing units. Food Safety & Hygiene system should be such that there is proper
- Examination of raw materials to ensure that it is not contaminated with pesticide residues and/or enteric pathogens. Ensure that raw material is coming from farms that use clean irrigation water and which are managed as required by food safety norms
- Ensuring hygienic conditions right from the area of food production till it reaches the customer
- Identifying stages where contamination can take place in the processing units and ensuring that controls are in place that work effectively.
- If the processing equipment, packaging and storage as applicable are not examined for hazards regularly it could lead to contamination
- Contaminated water is another risk factor in the spread foodborne illnesses. It is important to send the water samples for microbial analysis as frequently as required by regulations especially if the water comes from wells or private sources.
Possible Animal Hazards
Foodborne illnesses can spread from animals to the food supply chain from the flesh, milk or eggs of the living animals. Food can be contaminated from the excreta of animals and so it is for this reason that
- animals like cats, dogs, birds and cattle cannot be allowed inside the processing units
- the processing unit should be free of pests, cockroaches, flies, rodents
- Screen must be used in the packing areas to keep insects and animals away
Bacteria and microbes in animal faeces can also contaminate the environment in which they live like in slaughter houses. Since animal hides can contain pathogens they need to be kept clean by regular washing. Raw meat cannot be allowed to become infested with contaminants from animal intestines in meat processing units. In areas where chicken is slaughtered hot water is required to dip the birds to remove feathers that contain pathogens.
A facility that is poorly designed is a health hazard.
- If toilets face the packing area then contaminants can spread from the toilets to the food. Toilets and hand washing facilities must be separated from the processing and packing areas
- If the processing and packing unit is open then the dust can enter foods.
- Drainage facilities that do not drain out water or that leave the floor wet are hazardous.
- Floors and walls that are cracked and which absorb water are prone to moulds that can spread pathogens to foods
Spread of foodborne diseases from human being
The most common pathogens that are transmitted by food handlers are Norovirus, Salmonella and Hepatitis A virus (HAV). If humans are infected then the pathogens can spread to food through poor personal hygiene practices and improper hand washing especially after toilet use.
Training is an important aspect for the spread of foodborne diseases and so all staff must be trained in food hygiene as well as personal hygiene
- All employees handling food in the processing as well as the packing unit need to be healthy and free from contagious diseases. They need to be examined by a doctor from time to time.
- Employees need to be instructed in the proper method of washing hands and drying. All food handlers need to wash their hands after they leave the processing and packing area and when they re-enter. Washing hands after using toilet has to be monitored strictly.
- They need to wear clean clothes, use gloves and caps if required to ensure food safety and change their outdoor shoes for indoor shoes if that is required
Fruit and vegetable used in food processing
If fruit and vegetables are not cleaned and sanitized prior to food processing then they can spread foodborne diseases as deterioration in these raw foods sets in very quickly. Unlike other processed foods, raw vegetables and fruit can be kept safe only with washing properly and maintaining the right temperature before processing and ensuring personal hygiene of food handlers
- Was fruit and vegetables in potable water
- Maintain appropriate levels of chlorine in the tanks in which fruit and vegetable is washed
- Examine and adjust chlorine level if it falls below required levels
- Wash and sanities crates and boxes for packing fruit and vegetables or when reusing
- Ensure that raw fruit and vegetable is being transported appropriately
The WHO slogan for World Food Safety Day this years is “from farm to plate keep food safe” so the need to prevent food from contamination starts at the farm level, where food is harvested and slaughtered, and continues with transportation of raw material to the processing and packing units. Food safety before processing is as important as packaging and transportation to the market. Reducing foodborne infections by making food safer is the result of efforts by many partners in the food chain as also in the food safety system.