The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has called for views on proposed changes to its E. coli O157 guidance.

The document helps businesses comply with food hygiene legislation and control cross-contamination with E. coli O157.

Guidance is for local authorities and businesses that handle raw and ready-to-eat (RTE) foods. It includes best practices about hygiene, separation and safety measures to avoid cross-contamination.

Following it will also help control cross-contamination from other foodborne bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and different pathogenic E. coli strains.

Direct sources of cross-contamination include raw meat, fresh vegetables and fruit, and unpasteurized dairy products. Indirect sources are surfaces, hands and equipment used for raw food.

The only change is the format – there have been no modifications to the policy, science or law since the last revision in 2014.

Key control measures in the guidance to control E. coli O157 cross-contamination are separation, effective cleaning, good personal hygiene, staff training and management controls.

E. coli O157 is a hazard that needs to be controlled through businesses’ food safety management systems.

Control measures vary between different businesses and should be proportionate to the risk posed from activities of the companies.

The most effective control to minimize risk of contamination from E. coli O157 onto RTE food is the separation of staff, storage areas, preparation tables, utensils and equipment. This means there will be no contact between people handling RTE foods and those preparing foods which may be contaminated, according to the guidance.

Where complete physical separation is not possible, other controls such as temporary separation arrangements, space or time separation, cleaning and disinfection between uses will be necessary.

RTE food should be prepared first and served for immediate consumption or chilled. Then the food preparation area can be used to prepare raw meat and other raw vegetables that require cooking.

The FSA recommends using heat or chemical disinfectants and sanitizers to kill E. coli to control cross contamination.

The guidance states that if the same utensils and equipment are used for raw and RTE foods at separate times, they should be heat disinfected or go through an adequate dishwasher cycle between uses.

A sanitizer is a two in one product that acts as a detergent and disinfectant. First to clean and remove grease and then to disinfect. Manufacturer’s instructions must be checked to ensure the work surface has been cleaned and residue from disinfectants or sanitizers doesn’t contaminate food.

The manufacturer’s instructions must also be followed for chemical disinfectants as there will be information on how to use it including dilution rate and contact time.

Food businesses should have a system to regularly verify processes are working such as monthly checks of the cleaning of a different area at various times, according to the guidance.

Methods of heat disinfection such as a sterilizing sink or a steam cleaner are acceptable if they remove E. coli O157 from all surfaces. Adequate time and temperature combinations need to be considered and utensils and equipment should be visibly clean prior to heat disinfection.

Food businesses should consider having separate staff for handling raw and RTE foods. Training staff on a regular schedule will help reduce cross contamination risks and potential food incidents.

Washbasins must be located to prevent contamination of RTE foods by splashing, and have an adequate supply of hot and cold running water, cleaning materials and hygienic means of drying hands. It is important staff dry hands thoroughly as bacteria can spread more easily if hands are wet. Gloves are not a substitute for effective handwashing.

People who work around open food while suffering from certain infections can contaminate the food or surfaces it may come into contact with. Penalizing staff for being ill by not paying them when they are excluded from work, could lead to them not reporting illness and working whilst ill. Incentives to have limited sick days can have a similar effect.

Legislation requires companies to put in place food safety management procedures based on the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) principle.

Firms should have a food safety management system that is appropriate to the size and complexity of the business. They must keep records that cover cross contamination control and be able to demonstrate that procedures are followed correctly.

The system must be reviewed whenever substantial changes are made such as introducing a new product or using a new ingredient in a recipe. Records should be held for an appropriate length of time. For example, if the shelf life of a product is two years the records relating to it should be kept for at least three years.

Any verification check that establishes a loss of control must be considered a serious risk of cross-contamination and corrective actions must be taken immediately.

Responses on the consultation should be sent to by Dec. 21, 2018.

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