Food Safety for the Holiday Season
As 2017 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 and its 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 them.1 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 million cases of food poisoning annually, including some 380 deaths.2
Food processors and manufacturers need to ensure they comply with, in the USA for example, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) standard for Salmonella and Campylobacter pathogen reduction.3
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, eggs and unpasteurized cheeses such as brie and Roquefort.
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.
Delicious homemade eggnog with raw eggs is a holiday favorite. However, adding alcohol such as rum or whiskey might be great while sitting in front a fireplace, but it will not kill Salmonella. Using fully cooked or pasteurized eggs and keeping the drink cold is the way to prevent illnesses.4
While many believe that Salmonella in eggs is just a problem in the United States, Japan and Europe, it isn’t. In Europe, 11 million shell eggs from Israel were recalled recently, adding to the fipronil headache.5
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 optimize food-testing programs to identify risk before products reach the end-retailer.
Seafood is particularly prone to contamination with Listeria monocytogenes and Vibrio vulnificus.
Avoiding raw meat
Any product made with raw, partially cooked meat, such as foie gras, beef/steak tartare, tiger meat (raw beef), or a cannibal sandwich comes with the potential horrors of E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter bacteria. Grinding your own cuts of meat doesn’t prevent the problem. Cooking thoroughly is the solution, unless one uses irradiated ground beef, pasteurized eggs and spices treated to remove pathogens.
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.
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 program of continuous monitoring and improvement to ensure any gaps are identified and rectified promptly.
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For further information, please contact:
Global Food Inspection Technical Manager
t: +1 973 461 1493
3 Pathogen Reduction – Salmonella and Campylobacter Performance Standards Verification Testing
4 Homemade Eggnog: Make it Safely
5 Salmonella Contamination Forces Massive Egg Recall in Israel