Food hygiene is an essential consideration for providing safe and healthy foods to humans.
It refers to all the conditions and measures necessary to ensure the safety and suitability of food at all stages of the food chain, from production to consumption. These activities aim to produce food that is free from contamination by harmful micro-organisms for the consumer and helps in maintaining a shelf life.
Some of the harmful microorganisms that can compromise the safety of food products include bacteria, yeast, moulds and chemicals.
It is important for food producers and processors to provide safe and quality food for people. This helps to reduce the occurrence of food borne diseases in the population, and contributes to a healthy and productive society.
It is important to focus on hygiene issues in meat handling because poorly handled meat may lead to diseases in humans and animals. It also leads to spoilage of meat and rejection in the market, which may affect businesses along the supply chain.
Hygiene considerations in meat processing and handling are extremely important. Due to the nature of meat and meat products, it is easy for contamination and adulteration to occur during the processing, handling, storage, transportation and retailing processes.
Meat handling facilities range from the road side kiosk selling mȗtura, to your local butchery and nyama choma place, to the large meat processing factories. Procedures taken to ensure food safety may vary in these facilities, but the basic principles are the same. Irrespective of the scale and complexity of the business, there is an absolute duty on the management and staff to ensure that they produce safe food, which is suitable in every way for its intended end use.
Principles of food hygiene:
- Food hygiene measures should be applied throughout the food chain, from ‘farm to fork’, to achieve the goal of ensuring that food is safe and suitable for human consumption.
- Food hygiene is everyone’s business and everyone has a role to play:
- The government’s role is to ensure the development of food safety policies and legislation and oversee monitoring and enforcement of these measures. They should also encourage the implementation of food safety and hygiene measures by providing health education programmes that effectively communicate the principles of food hygiene to industry players and consumers.
- Food business operators have the primary responsibility of ensuring safety of the meat they handle through strict adherence to the set regulatory measures and standards. They should apply food hygiene measures in their procedures to ensure the safety of the food they handle. Additionally, processors should provide relevant, correct and easily-to-understand information to consumers. These can be done through package labels, point-of-sale displays, and other innovative means. There should be commitment by the senior management of food businesses to ensure all measures are followed to ensure and assure consumers of safe food from their businesses.
- Consumers should educate themselves on food safety practices. They should create a habit of following relevant instructions and applying appropriate food hygiene measures.
Sources of meat safety risk in a meat handling facility
- Cross contamination between products, e.g. between dirty and cleaned products or raw and cooked products
- Contamination from food handlers
- Unsafe raw material and other ingredients including unsafe additives
- Dirty processing equipment and contact surfaces, e.g. tables, knives, containers
- Multiplication of microorganisms in the cold-rooms
- Cleaning and sanitizing material such as detergents and disinfectants
- Physical hazards (metal, glass)
Factors contributing to safety of food in a food handling facility
Location and siting
A meat handling facility should ideally be in an area that is far from sources of contamination, They should not be situated near polluting industries, sewage systems or waste-disposal ‘dumping’ sites.
Design, construction and layout
Construction should be done using materials that are corrosion-resistant and can be easily cleaned. The properties of the materials used should also be impermeable to water to minimizing the growth of microorganisms.
Equipment design and layout
Meat handling equipment should be made using materials that are corrosion-resistant, can be easily cleaned and are impermeable to water.
Water and power
Adequate safe water and lighting should be provided. Also, uninterrupted power supply should be provided to ensure maintenance of cold chain equipment or required temperatures need for cooked and pasteurized products.
Process procedures and flow should minimize food safety risks. The production flow process should be unidirectional to minimize contamination between raw and finished products.
Workers hygiene and practices
Workers should be free from diseases and conditions that may cause food contamination.
They should also be regularly tested and trained in basic hygienic practices, and with their supervisors monitoring compliance at all times.
Pests in a food processing plant are one source of contamination of food. Food handling facilities should have an adequate pest control system.
Environmental hygiene and waste disposal
Dirty environment poses a risk to public health. Waste from the food handling facility can lead to environmental pollution with public health implications. The waste may also lead to food contamination within the facility.
Author: Joyce W. Thaiya
Institution: Directorate of Veterinary Services (DVS) in the State Department for Livestock
Current: Head of Veterinary Public Health at the DVS. Worked in Veterinary Public Health for 32 years, Food and feed safety and standards development specialist, lead auditor for ISO 22000 food safety management system. Livestock value chains development trainer