As 2015 draws to a close, religious festivals and celebrations abound. From Halloween and Thanksgiving, to Christmas and New Year, the scope for food safety failures increases significantly.

Hot, cold, pre-cooked and unpasteurized foods all present a potential risk to consumers, especially the elderly, children under five and pregnant women.

Tucking in to Turkey

Families at both Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations will often tuck in to a special dinner including roast turkey. Campylobacter and salmonella pathogens are commonly found on raw poultry. At this time of year, food poisoning cases typically increase as consumers cooking at home, and even commercial restaurants are unfamiliar with best practice and cooking times for this large bird with dense meat.

In the UK, campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning. Out of an average 280,000 cases of food poisoning each year, it is responsible for 72,000 of them1. In the USA, this festive season sees an increase in salmonella poisoning, a pathogen that the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates as the cause of 1.2 million cases of food poisoning annually, including some 450 deaths2.

Food processors and manufacturers in the USA need to ensure they comply with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) standard for salmonella and campylobacter pathogen reduction3. Retail and hospitality outlets need to ensure compliance to the latest addition of the Food Code along with local, county and state specific requirements.

Milk and cheeses

Listeria monocytogenes causes listeriosis, a serious disease for pregnant women, newborns, and adults with a weakened immune system. This type of listeria is a life-threatening bacterium commonly found in raw animal products such as milk, eggnog and unpasteurized cheeses such as brie and roquefort.

E. Coli, estimated to cause 73,000 cases of food poisoning annually, is found in a variety of raw and unpasteurized beverages, such as eggnog and apple cider, as well as raw milk and unpasteurised juices.

During the holiday season, consumption of these raw foods soar, presenting an increased risk to consumers whether they are dining out, attending parties or eating at home.

Shellfish and seafood

Particular attention should be paid to the preparation of seafood and shellfish products. Often served raw or lightly preserved (oysters, carpaccio, gravlax, sashimi) there is limited scope for the consumer to mitigate or reduce the risk of food poisoning caused by pathogens. Processors and operators must implement rigorous food safety standards and optimise food-testing programmes to identify risk before products reach the end-retailer. 

Seafood is particularly prone to contamination with Listeria monocytogenes and Vibrio vulnificus – neither is pleasant for victims and both are potentially very dangerous to vulnerable consumers.

Animal proteins

At any time of year, food derived from animal proteins has the potential to cause debilitating food poisoning. Deaths are thankfully rare, but there are plenty of examples of poor food hygiene and preparation, resulting in mass outbreaks of food poisoning, damaging the businesses and brands who supplied the products, and ruining the holiday season for consumers unlucky enough to fall ill.

Food safety failure

In the UK, on Christmas Day 2012, 128 diners enjoyed a traditional turkey dinner at a public house. 33 diners fell ill and 1 died as a direct result of the presence of Clostridium perfringens bacteria. In January 2015, following investigation and prosecution, the venue chef and manager were jailed for 12 and 18 months respectively, for their part in the falsification of food safety records following the incident4.

Avoid the pitfalls of the holiday season, both personally and in business. Ensure your food safety strategies, plans and systems are rigorously implemented – if they’re found to be lacking, the business is still culpable, so instigate a programme of continuous monitoring and improvement to ensure any gaps are identified and rectified promptly.

For more information, please visit Food Safety.

Jim Cook
Food Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager
SGS North America, Inc.
t: +1 973 461 1493

1 Food Standards Agency - Campylobacter 
2 CDC - What is Salmonellosis? 
3 CDC - Pathogen Reduction – Salmonella and Campylobacter Performance Standards Verification Testing 
4 BBC News - Pub Christmas dinner death: Chef and manager jailed