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The Afternoon Show
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Food Safety

Friday, 7 May 2010

Tina Leonard, Consumer Expert

Lisa Fitzpatrick

Lisa Fitzpatrick is an Environmental Health Officer with the HSE. It is her job to enforce the rules and regulations that govern food safety and she has carried this out on RTÉ's The Enforcers.

We will examine the following:

Cold Room / Refrigeration/ Freezers - Maintenance of the Cold Chain

The cold chain is one of the most important areas of a restaurant inspection. The temperature has to be checked as well as properly completed records. The restaurant must be very careful not to overstock the refrigeration space and they must also have good practices in place to prevent cross contamination, for example you can see here that all raw meat is stored on the lowest shelf below all the "ready to eat" food. All high risk food should be in proper lidded containers and believe it or not we will also check the country of origin of the beef and cross-check it with the menu to make sure it is displayed!"

Preparation, cooking, Service area

The preparation, cooking and service area can be a breeding ground for germs and cross-contamination can occur very easily. I need to check that separate utensils, equipment and work surfaces are being used to prevent this and that the recommended colour coding system is in place (for example red is for raw poultry etc.). I check that a hand basin is available plus an electric fly killer is suitably located. Finally, a working probe should be available plus a method of cleaning.

Rear yard area Cleaning Store

In the yard area cleaning store, I need to check that there is no evidence of pest issues and also check the last pest control records. All external bins should be lidded and should not be overflowing. There should also be a separate chemical store away from food storage so there is no risk of contamination from chemicals

Tina's Advice

If you've ever got a tummy bug from eating in a restaurant, then you'll know all about it, but did you do anything about it? Any business serving food is responsible for following the law when it comes to hygiene and food safety. So if something happens to you or if you notice something amiss you should complain and ensure that hygiene and food are improved in that establishment.

What to look out for:

For anyone running a restaurant or café there is a huge amount they must adhere too. Aside from general hygiene and safety, there are rules on food preparation, food storage, temperatures etc, there is also the element of staff training to make sure that anyone handling food, whether in a top end restaurant or at a deli counter understands and follows the safety rules.

For example, a system called Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point (HACCP) allows the business to identify and control any hazards that could pose a danger to the preparation of safe food. It involves identifying what can go wrong, planning to prevent it and making sure you are doing it. HACCP is a legal requirement.

Nonetheless things can go wrong:

o You get sick after eating a meal and can identify that it was that meal that made you sick and not something else.

o You notice dirt or bad hygiene in a restaurant or premises serving food.

o For example, you are at a deli counter and notice that the server keeps his gloves on when handling money and then goes back to handling raw food or doesn't change his/her gloves for each raw food handled. Or the server's hair is not tied back in a cap but is hanging over the raw food for example.

How to complain:

If you have become sick or noticed bad hygiene in a restaurant, then you can fill out the online complaint form on the FSAI website at: or you can telephone the FSAI on 1890 33 66 77.

What the Food Safety Authority does:

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is responsible for enforcing food safety legislation in Ireland. This includes all food items sold in any shop, food producers, manufacturers and distributors and restaurants and other retail premises preparing and selling cooked and prepared food.

When a complaint is received from a consumer in relation to a restaurant for example, they pass on the information to an Environmental Health Officer in the relevant area who will then inspect the premises. 22% of complaints (of 2,762 received in 2008) related to suspected food poisoning, although often it is very difficult to prove that a case of poising is related to a particular premises.

In 2008 over 31,000 premises were inspected in the service sector and 29% of those were found to have committed an infringement of food safety rules. The most common problems related to general hygiene issues. Depending on the outcome, an Improvement Notice could be given or if that isn't complied with then an Improvement Order. More serious is a Closure Order. Another type of order is the Prohibition Order, which bans the premises from selling a specific item.

All orders are listed in a database on the FSAI website for everyone to see. Closure and Improvement Orders remain in this database for a period of three months from the date the order was lifted. Prohibition Orders remain in the database for a period of one month from the date the order was lifted. For example so far this year there have been 12 closure orders, 1 improvement order and 5 prohibition orders. In 2009 there was a total of 34 closure orders, 7 improvement orders and 13 prohibition orders.