Food borne illness can be a killer
Food poisoning affects over 5 million Australians annually and symptoms can be serious, particularly amongst vulnerable populations. Residents in aged care facilities are particularly at risk due to potentially lower immunity, changes to the gastrointestinal tract associated with aging and/or lower body weight.
Food borne illnesses from unsafe food can cause acute issues (diarrhoea, vomiting; fever); lifelong issues (kidney injury; brain and nerve damage); and in some cases death.
Research by Australian National University identified 86 deaths in Australia due to food borne illness in 2010. While most food borne illness occurs in the home, it has been previously estimated that 35% of deaths resulting from food poisoning complications, were due to outbreaks in hospitals and aged care facilities.1 It is important, residential aged care facilities (RACFs) emphasise good food safety practices to protect resident and staff health and safety, and the facility’s reputation.
How does food borne illness happen?
Bacteria, parasites and viruses can contaminate food and cause food borne illness. Bacteria are the most common cause of food borne illness. Listeria and salmonella are among the most common bacterial pathogens causing food poisoning. Most food we eat contains very small amounts of potentially hazardous pathogens. It is when food has been contaminated with large amounts of these pathogens or pathogens have been allowed to multiply to unsafe levels, that food becomes dangerous to consume.
How can we prevent contamination?
Contaminated food is one major cause of gastroenteritis in elderly people. Early recognition of outbreaks and implementation of control measures are key to reducing effects of food poisoning outbreaks for RACFs residents and staff.
We can prevent pathogens contaminating food by:
- Ensuring food handlers maintain good personal hygiene.
- Keeping food covered.
- Maintaining cleaned, sanitised environments (including kitchen, storage areas and dining areas).
- Having good pest control procedures in place.
How can we prevent bacteria growing to unsafe levels?
The bacteria that causes food borne illness, thrives and multiplies in the “temperature danger zone” (5oC to 60oC).
We can prevent bacteria growing to unsafe levels by:
- Minimising time high risk food spends in the temperature danger zone.
- Cooking and reheating food to at least 75oC.
- Storing high risk foods below 5oC.
- Placing cooling foods in the fridge as soon as they have stopped steaming, not leaving them to fully cool on the bench.
- Defrosting foods in the fridge or in a microwave and not defrosting foods on kitchen benches at room temperature.
1. Dalton, C., Gregory, J., Kirk, M., Stafford, R., Kraa, E., Gould, D. Foodbourne disease outbreaks in Australia, 1995 to 2000. Communicable Diseases Intelligence, Volume 28 No 2, June 2004.
2. Kirk, Martyn; et al. “Foodborne illness in Australia: Annual incidence circa 2010 pp7-9”. Australia Department of Health. Australian National University.2014.
How can RACFs minimise food safety risk?
Good food safety is not a kitchen staff responsibility. Good food safety practices are essential from when food is delivered to your facility to when dining rooms are been cleaned after meals. RACFs have an obligation to have in place and implement, policies and procedures to ensure high-quality food safety practices are maintained. RACFs should consider the following to be essential:
- Have an up-to-date regularly reviewed food safety program which meets state and national requirements.
- Provide regular safe food handling training for all staff.
- Maintain an approved suppliers list; check foods at delivery.
- Do regular internal food safety audits.
- Ensure someone is responsible for checking all record sheets to assist with early identification of non-compliance and need for corrective action.
- Provide an environment which is supportive of staff reporting potential food safety issues.
- Do not allow staff to work as food handlers when they have/ potentially have a food borne or contagious illness.
- NAQ Nutrition provides food safety training, auditing and consultancy services. For more information visit: www.naqld.org/foodsafety
“It is important, residential aged care facilities emphasise good food safety practices to protect resident and staff health and safety, and the facility’s reputation.”
Amelia Webster is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), Sports Dietitian and Trainer & Assessor for NAQ Nutrition (the Queensland Division of Nutrition Australia). Amelia delivers Food Safety Supervisor training along with other nonaccredited training in nutrition and food safety, including menu planning, to both the health and community services sector, including aged care, and the retail and hospitality sector.
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