Know thy enemy - microbiological hazards in RTE foods - Part 2

By Rika Le Roux Kemp on 06 February 2017

Ready to Eat (RTE) food can be defined as food products which are in a form that is edible without additional preparation to achieve food safety.  The final product may receive additional preparation for palatability or aesthetic, epicurean, gastronomic or culinary purposes but NOT to make it safe to eat. In part 2 of this series, Rika discusses HOW to control the microbiological hazards in RTE foods.

 

Get the basics right

The manufacturing of RTE food requires a particularly high standard of hygienic preparation. Good manufacturing practices (GMP’s) should be in place. Regulation 962 of 2012 (Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, Act 54 of 1972) as well as the SANS10049:2012 can be used as pointers to implements such. The specific risks and hazards of the products also have to be taken into account when the GMP’s are compiled and implemented.

 

GMP’s include amongst others:

  • Effective cleaning and disinfection systems
  • Maintenance of premises hygiene
  • A high standard of personal hygiene
  • Purchasing of ingredients from reputable suppliers
  • Procedures based on Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles, including separation between RTE and non-RTE food (e.g. cooked meat and raw meat) and associated equipment and personnel.
  • A system must be in place to check and review the effectiveness of HACCP based procedures and hygiene, and records kept of these data. 

High Risk/High Hygiene Zones

A high risk/high hygiene zone is required for handling product after the kill step:

  • This must be an area that is physically segregated, maintained to a high level of cleanliness and sanitation where operating practices, including personnel, materials, equipment and environment are controlled to minimise product contamination. Typical examples of High Risk areas are sandwich materials make-up and sandwich production.
  • High Risk areas must include essential services and facilities (eg. wash-up and cleaning) and only essential materials and equipment must be allowed access.
  • Outer wrappings must be removed from raw materials prior to entry and only fully processed or disinfected food components (and inner packaging) admitted, with entry through hatches or other dedicated openings.
  • Surfaces must be constructed of water impervious, easily cleaned materials and equipment hygienically designed to avoid contamination. Wood is prohibited.
  • Personnel must enter high risk areas through a specially designated changing facility and must follow appropriate specified procedures for changing, donning visually distinctive clean overalls, head and footwear and observing GMP in relation to hand washing.
  • There must be thorough cleaning and disinfection according to a laid down programme but the area must be kept as dry as possible.
  • Drainage flow must be from High Risk to Low Risk areas.
  • A temperature of maximum 12°C must be maintained.
  • Chill rooms for materials awaiting packing must form part of this High Risk area.

Point of Consumption

Ensure the RTE product is still safe at the point of consumption

It is important that the manufacturer have evidence that RTE product is still safe to eat at the point of consumption. This evidence must be based upon shelf life studies which should initially consist of information on the specific composition for your own product (i.e. physical and chemical characteristics, including packaging) and consultation with relevant scientific literature.  If the results of these studies give sufficient confidence that pathogens will not grow in the final product no further studies are needed.

However, if your results do not give sufficient confidence additional studies will be necessary. Such studies may include the following:

i) Historical data

ii) Predictive microbiology

iii) Specific laboratory shelf life studies, i.e. durability studies, challenge testing

 

Do you need to confirm the shelf life of your product?
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