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Bacteria, such as E. coli O157, are invisible to the naked eye, so they can easily be spread to food without you realising.

These bacteria could make customers seriously ill, and can even kill. Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, nausea, and abdominal pain. They can be spread in food or person to person, making it easy to spread. Food businesses must practise good food hygiene at all times to make sure the food they produce is safe. 

The guidance was developed in response to the serious outbreaks of E.coli O157 in Scotland in 1996 and Wales in 2005, which were attributed directly to cross-contamination arising from the poor handling of food. Current guidance was developed following a public consultation and Professor Hugh Pennington’s report into the 2005 E.coli outbreak

The guidance was designed to clarify the steps needed to take to control the risk of food becoming contaminated by E.coli O157 and what businesses should be doing to protect their customers. The guidance is also be used by local authority food safety officers when inspecting businesses.

We are now going to look at some of the key measures highlighted in the guidance to control E.coli but these also help in the control of other bacteria, such as Campylobacter and salmonella:

  • Firstly you need to have separate work areas, surfaces and equipment for raw and ready-to-eat food.
  • All businesses should aim to design their work areas to ensure that permanent clean areas are designated for handling ready-to-eat foods. Where a permanent clean area is not achievable, an area can be temporarily designated and maintained as clean.
  • Having a permanent designation of a clean area enables businesses to manage potential cross-contamination risk.
  • If the designation of a temporary area is the only option available, the general environment, such as non-food contact surfaces, including worktops and walls, must present smooth impervious and easily cleanable surfaces and must be subject to strict cleaning and disinfection procedures.
  • Separate chopping boards and utensils must be designated for use in clean areas unless cleaned and disinfected by heat in a commercial dishwasher between their use for raw and ready-to-eat foods. The use of colour-coded equipment is a good way of ensuring that contamination does not occur.
  • Separation in storage areas must be sufficient to ensure that ready-to-eat foods are protected from cross-contamination risks.
  • Where separate units are not provided, the clean storage area for ready-to-eat food should be clearly identifiable. The separation in such cases should be sufficient to ensure that hands and clothing are not contaminated when storing or removing ready-to-eat foods.
  • Food businesses must ensure that where a permanent physical separation of raw and clean areas, is not possible, that effective controls are in place to ensure safety.
  • Hand washing should be carried out using a recognised technique. Anti-bacterial gels must not be used instead of thorough hand washing.
  • Store food at the correct temperature. Bacteria grow best at body temperature, which is around 37 Degrees C and in moist locations, but they can also grow rapidly in temperatures between 20 and 50 degrees C. To effectively control their growth you need to keep food below 5 degrees C or above 63 degrees C. Inside this zone is the Danger Zone.
  • When using disinfectants and sanitisers, they must meet officially recognised standards and should only be used as instructed by the manufacturer. 
  • If there has been a risk of contamination, all work must stop until the surfaces and equipment in the area have been sufficiently cleaned and disinfected, or replaced. Any potentially contaminated food should not be supplied for consumption. If it is suspected that contaminated food has gone to consumers, appropriate action must be taken.

We have put a link to the FSA's document covering the guidance in full.