The importance of safe storage for perishable products can never be over-emphasised, since storing food at the wrong temperature can lead to a build-up of dangerous bacteria, causing food poisoning and serious illnesses.
Refrigeration helps to keep consumers safe from dangerous bacteria that can multiply rapidly. It’s vital that perishable food is refrigerated promptly, otherwise bacteria can grow within two hours, or even within one hour if the temperature is 90˚F or higher.
There are serious consequences for any company that provides substandard food for the public market, including hefty fines and even prison sentences.
Types of bacteria
Foodborne illness is more than just a simple “upset stomach”. On the contrary, some bacteria can even prove fatal. A study by the US government has revealed there are an estimated 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses each year. This is the equivalent of sickness for one-sixth of the population annually.
These cases result in an estimated 128,000 people going to hospital and 3,000 fatalities. The most serious bacteria is salmonella, which affects millions of people each year and is the leading cause of death from good poisoning.
Another potentially fatal bacteria, E coli O157:H7 produces a deadly toxin, leading to 20,000 to 40,000 cases of infection each year. Clostridium botulinum also produces a deadly toxin, causing a disease called botulism – characterised by paralysis of the muscles. Other illnesses caused by organisms such as Campylobacter, noroviruses and Shigella can lead to severe health problems.
Vulnerable people such as children, the elderly, mums to be and those who have a chronic illness, or a suppressed immune system are most seriously affected.
Certain foods are likely to carry more pathogenic organisms than others. The danger foods include raw and undercooked meat, seafood, poultry, eggs and milk. Even seemingly innocuous foods, such as fruit and vegetables, can also have organisms present.
Food and the law
European and British regulations govern the food production industry in the UK. The General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/2002 provides a general framework. It requires all food businesses to ensure the food they provide for the market is safe.
It also requires food to be traceable and stipulates that any product on the market deemed to be unsafe to eat must be withdrawn. The regulation covers all aspects of the food production chain, from the production of animal feeds through to the supply of food to consumers – every element of the production industry can have a potential impact on food safety.
Various regulations specifically relate to temperature control in the food production industry, stipulating the type of food that should be stored under controlled temperatures, including dairy products, raw products such as meat, fish and poultry, smoked or cured fish and uncooked or partly cooked pastry and dough products.
Meat production industry
The production of meat has its own strict guidelines beginning with animal feeds and ending with the consumer purchasing the meat at the supermarket or butcher’s shop.
There are a number of temperature-controlled storage options for the meat production industry including cold rooms, meat rail cold stores and freezers. Farmers and abattoirs work together to keep meat and poultry in the best possible condition, before it is transported to the next stage of the supply chain.
The general function of a cold room is for the chilled storage, or frozen storage, of meat and also for cutting, de-boning and packaging meat. There are various options to choose from when considering a cold room – its total capacity, its refrigeration system, storage and handling equipment and access route.
Some of these factors depend on the land area available for the store. The size of the chambers is determined by the volume of products to be stored and how they are being handled, such as whether the meat is hanging from rails, or whether access for forklift trucks is required.
Different chilled meats such as pork, beef and mutton, can be stored in the same room, as they don’t present tainting or temperature incompatibilities. The operation of cold rooms takes into account the storage requirements of the produce, maintenance and hygiene rules, loading procedures and the running of the refrigeration equipment.
Once the products reach their destination, the correct retail storage procedures must be followed to keep produce fresh, while adhering to safety regulations.
Cross contamination must be avoided. Cooked and raw products should never be stored together – even with the appropriate packaging, the risk is still there. This is more important for food in cold storage rather than frozen products, as chilled food is more prone to bacterial growth at lower temperatures.
Perishable produce should always be stacked in a way that enables the adequate circulation of cold air, with double stacking avoided at all costs.
Bacteria won’t grow at temperatures of -18°C or lower, so an appliance thermometer can be used to check the temperature of the cold storage facility. Storing food at a temperature greater than -18°C leaves it more open to the risks of bacterial growth over a long period of time.
Anyone in the food manufacturing industry who breaks the law in relation to food safety can expect to face stiff penalties. Under the Food Safety Act 1990, magistrates’ courts can decide upon the level of penalty, depending on the circumstances of the case.
The Act dictates the maximum penalty available to the courts. Magistrates’ courts can fine an offender up to £5,000 per offence, or impose a prison sentence of up to six months.
However, in the case of offences under sections 7 and 14, the magistrates’ court can impose a fine of up to £20,000 per offence. Crown courts can impose unlimited fines, or send offenders to prison for up to two years. This underlines the importance of adhering to food safety regulations.
1COLD’s solutions for food safety include cold rooms, industrial chillers and cold stores for the food and drinks industry. We are specialists in the design, project management and construction of hygienic, fire-rated and temperature-controlled environments. Please contact us for further information.