After the UK’s Food Standards Agency issued an official guidance this week, detailing the steps food handlers need to prevent cross-contamination by E. coli O157 and other bacteria, the head of a meat trade group called the standards “draconian.”
The guidance was developed in the aftermath of lethal outbreaks of E. coli O157 in Scotland in 1996, when 400 fell ill and 21 people died, and in Wales in 2005, which sickened 157, most of them children, and led to the death of 5-year-old Mason Jones. Both outbreaks were attributed to cross-contamination from a lack of hygiene and improper food handling.
Professor Hugh Pennington’s report into the 2005 E.coli outbreak and public consultation were taken into consideration in developing the new guidance.
However, Roger Kelsey, chief executive of the National Federation of Meat & Food Traders said his organization had been disappointed with the consultation process. Kelsey told Meat Trades Journal: “The actual report and the implications of the recommendations are draconian. It covers areas that can be addressed by adequate HACCP procedures.”
Some of the key measures highlighted in the guidance to control E.coli are:
• Identification of separate work areas, surfaces and equipment for raw and ready-to-eat food.
• Use of separate complex equipment, such as vacuum-packing machines, slicers, and mincers for raw and ready-to-eat food.
• Handwashing should be carried out using a recognised technique. Anti-bacterial gels must not be used instead of thorough handwashing.
• Disinfectants and sanitisers must meet officially recognised standards and should be used as instructed by the manufacturer.
Although E. coli contamination was the key focus of the guidance, FSA noted that the measures will help to control other bacteria, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella. The FSA said the guidance will also be used by local authority food safety officers when inspecting food establishments.