Helpline Advice 4 – Food Poisoning

With many of our clients in the hospitality industry and lots of you ready to cook the perfect Christmas feast, what better time to discuss food poisoning and what to do if something goes wrong?

Food poisoning is caused by consuming food that has become contaminated by bacteria, viruses, environmental toxins or toxins within the food itself. Although normally not serious, the symptoms can be extremely troublesome and can comprise of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pains, lack of energy and appetite, high temperature and aching muscles.

A study published by the FSA in June 2014 revealed that there are over 500,000 reported cases of food poisoning a year from known pathogens. Food can become contaminated at any point during production, processing or cooking and is most common in raw meat and poultry, raw eggs, raw shellfish, unpasteurised milk and ready-to-eat foods (sliced meat, pate, soft cheeses and pre-made sandwiches).

Did you know?

Campylobacter, found on raw or undercooked meat, unpasteurised milk and untreated water, is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, with around 280,000 reported cases each year. You can’t see it, smell it or taste it but, if it affects you, you won’t forget it.

An article published by Food Manufacturer in February 2016 states that even though Campylobacter is the single largest cause of food poisoning, its presence is continuing to fall in supermarket chickens which was revealed by the latest data released by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) showed the presence of the bacteria continues to fall in supermarket chickens.

Salmonella lives on/in raw eggs, milk and other dairy products and is the most common pathogen to cause hospital admission. Around 2,500 cases are reported each year.

Listeria takes habitat in chilled ready-to-eat foods, for example pre-packed sandwiches, cooked meats, pate and soft cheeses, such as Camembert and Brie.

Ways to avoid food poisoning:

  • Thoroughly cook through food, especially poultry. Christmas day is in full swing. Your bird is the star of the day and ready to be served to a flurry of customers – so leave extra time or cook in advance
  • Store food that needs to be chilled below 5°C
  • Don’t leave cooked food for long periods in warm temperatures
  • Don’t serve food past its use-by date
  • Sufficiently reheat previously cooked food
  • Clean your hands thoroughly and don’t handle food when ill
  • Avoid cross-contamination
  • Keep surfaces clean and disinfected

What happens if something goes wrong?

Conducting checks and keeping records are key to your company’s due diligence defence. As long as you’re filling in your food safety due diligence records, following your Policies and training your staff adequately, you have a much better chance at protecting yourself, your business and your customers. Complaints of food borne illnesses or allergen incidents must be taken seriously and a prompt investigation needs to be carried out. We suggest that company policies state that all food related allegations and similar incidents are recorded.

Our Helpline Team have put together some steps we recommend you follow upon receiving a complaint:

  1. The first and most important step is to apologise to the guest/customer but do not admit liability. If a Manager or Supervisor is unavailable, you must take all of the necessary contact details from the complainant. This must include their full name and a contact telephone and/or mobile number. Repeat the details back to the complainant to ensure they are correct.
  2. You must ask the customer if they have been to their GP with the symptom. Symptoms can vary from immediate onset after eating (for example, scombrotoxin) to up to 24-72 hours (and longer) to materialise. And in fact, the illness may not actually be food poisoning – the Winter Vomiting Bug (Norovirus) is particularly common during the cold months. You can read up on this in our blog Helpline Advice 3 – Norovirus.
  3. Inform the customer that a responsible Manager or Supervisor will be carrying out an investigation and that they will be contacted in due course.
  4. You also may like to contact Environmental Health as a business – mainly to ask for help but also to protect yourself. It is much better they know in advance rather than a member of the public contacting them. In the age of social media an accusation can also have a serious financial impacts on the business, whether a large business or a single site.
  5. If you’re one of our clients, remember to log the case on the Helpline App on the Compliance Centre. By having your cases managed by a qualified third party gives peace of mind to your customers when incidents are reported and logged.
  6. Do not discuss any kind of compensation until the investigation has been conducted. If the guest/customer enquiries about compensation, explain that you are not authorised to discuss this and explain that an investigation will be conducted.

Want peace of mind? Shield Safety are ready and equipped to help.

Our interactive Helpline Service, manned by Environmental Health Practitioners will ensure you stay compliant and is supported by industry experts when carrying out internal investigations in cases like these.

By following our Team’s advice, you can help your customers enjoy the festive season filled with winter warmers rather than winter vomiting disease.

Industry experts will guide you through investigating any incidents in your restaurant and can also assemble action plans to help you improve your Food Hygiene Rating. To access the full Helpline Service or for more information on our other services, get in touch today on 020 3740 3744 or visit our homepage.

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