The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has highlighted its concern in relation to the current outbreak of E. coli O157 at a Dublin hotel and urged the entire food industry to rigidly adhere to the best food safety practices or face stiff consequences.
An FSAI spokesperson stated that "as investigations continue into the biggest outbreak of E. coli O157 in Ireland to date, this should serve as a 'wake up call' to the entire food sector that no area can be overlooked in the proper monitoring of food safety systems".
In particular, the FSAI also stressed to the industry that there needs to be extra vigilance in ensuring that all food workers wash their hands after using the bathroom and before handling foods, and in ensuring that food safety systems are able to cope despite warm weather conditions or busy periods.
According to Peter Whelan, director of service contracts at the FSAI, E. coli O157 is the most serious food poisoning threat to consumers as up to 30 per cent of people infected with E. coli O157 can develop kidney failure and 3-5 per cent of these people die. The food industry is compelled by law to have robust food safety systems in place based on the principles of HACCP and to ensure that every single food worker is trained in best food safety techniques.
"This outbreak should serve as a strong reminder to the entire food industry that they can not be complacent about the need for robust, rigorous and closely monitored procedures for ensuring food safety. Training all food workers in the practice of food safety is now imperative for the industry and for the good of the public's health and well-being. One food worker can spread food poisoning bacteria and cause infection of consumers and colleagues. If food workers are not trained to abide by the most basic and simple food safety guidelines, such as washing their hands after using the bathroom, the industry risks causing another serious outbreak," said Whelan.
Whelan also states that food workers who are suffering from symptoms of food poisoning should not be at work as they are putting customers and other workers at risk. Additionally, once a food worker has recovered from illness, he/she can still carry the bacteria and pass it on to others.
"What a lot of people don't realise is that food workers can also be asymptomatic, whereby they display no symptoms of illness and continue to go to work, unaware that they are carrying a potentially lethal bacteria. This is where personal hygiene becomes absolutely vital, to ensure that the bacteria is not passed to food or on to others," continued Whelan.
The FSAI has produced a suite of literature to advise food businesses about the dangers of not complying with the legal requirements. The leaflets include What is HACCP?, Terminology Explained, How to Select an External HACCP Consultant and HACCP for the Catering Sector. The information pack is available from the FSAI at www.fsai.ie.
Managers in the food industry who would like to learn more about E. coli O157, and how to employ food safety procedures to prevent an outbreak, are also recommended to study other publications available on the FSAI's website.