Being at the end of the food chain, retailers have the final responsibility to ensure perishable products sold to the consumer are safe and meet their quality requirements. The retail sector can undo all the good done in the previous stages of the food chain if they do not ensure the cold chain in maintained from the time products are received to the time the consumer buys them. So, what’s the big deal?
Food businesses are required to ensure that the food they prepare, and sell is safe to eat. ‘Safe to eat’ means that food will not cause illness when someone eats it. The common symptoms of food borne illness, or food poisoning, are diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pains. Symptoms may also include nausea, headaches, fever, muscle and joint pains.
Food may cause illness because there are high levels of food-poisoning bacteria in the food. The bacteria themselves may make your customers ill or the bacteria may have produced poisons in the food that cause illness. These poisons are called toxins.
A way of preventing or limiting bacteria from multiplying to these dangerously high levels or producing toxins in food is to control the temperature of the food by either keeping it cold or very hot.
In the store, temperature control occurs in fixed locations and during food preparation. Such fixed locations include back of house chillers and freezers, as well as the hot and cold display cases on the sales floor. Food placed in a properly operating fixed location with the ability to maintain food at the correct temperature allows the retailer to limit the growth of microbes. When food arrives at the store level, it is critical to receive the products quickly; first making the decision to receive if the food meets the retailer's food safety and buying specifications, and then moving the food to a fixed location. This process must always be conducted in a manner that maintains the temperature integrity of the food.
It’s true that you want consumers to fill their trolleys, but you don’t want them hanging around in the perishable food section – you want this area so cold that they shiver! WHY? This way you know you are doing your best for the products sold in that area. Can you think of a retailer that is getting this right?
There are many opportunities for prepared food to be exposed to temperature ranges that may either encourage or discourage bacterial growth. This can be as a result of merchandising the shelves and leaving products out of a chilled environment for too long. It could also be incorrect promotional stacking where perishable products are not stored in a cold storage area due to high volumes for the promotion. Prepared foods such as hot dishes or salads need the appropriate hot and cold holding devices which offer the last opportunity to help the retailer control the growth of microbes during the time the food is offered for sale.
Potentially hazardous foods are foods that meet both the criteria below:
• they might contain the types of food-poisoning bacteria that need to multiply to large numbers to cause food poisoning; and
• the food will allow the food-poisoning bacteria to multiply.
|Raw and cooked meat||(including poultry and game) or foods containing raw or cooked meat such as casseroles, curries and lasagne|
|Dairy products||for example, milk, custard and dairy-based desserts such as cheesecakes and custard tarts|
|Seafood (excl. live seafood)||including seafood salad, patties, fish balls, stews containing seafood and fish stock|
|Processed fruits and vegetables||
for example salads and cut melons
|Rice & pasta||When cooked|
|Foods containing||eggs, beans, nuts or other protein-rich foods such as quiche, fresh pasta and soy bean products|
|Foods containing||these foods, for example sandwiches, rolls and cooked and uncooked pizza.|
These and other similarly potential high-risk foods occupy all retail stores shelves, and the ranges are growing.
“Ignorance of the law is no defence!”
The General Hygiene Regulation R962 of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, Act 54 of 1972, gives specific temperatures for food storage and transport:
ANNEXURE D [Regulation 8(4)]
Type of food
Required Core temperature of food products that are stored, transported or displayed for sale
|Frozen products||Ice cream and sorbet, excluding sorbet which is used for soft serve purposes||-18°C|
|Any other food which is marketed as a frozen product||-12°C|
|Chilled products||Raw unpreserved fish, mollusks, crustaceans, edible offal, poultry meat and milk||+4°C|
|Any other perishable food that must be kept chilled to prevent spoilage||+7°C|
|Heated products||Any perishable food which is not kept frozen or chilled||>1+65°C|
There is sound science for these temperatures. The types of microorganisms that may be found in various refrigerated foods are diverse. To further complicate matters, each type of microorganism has its own preferred growth temperature range known as minimum, optimum and maximum temperature. These microorganisms are classed into categories: thermophiles (grow at high temperatures, range 45°C to 70°C); meshophiles (grow at ambient temperature, range 10°C to 45°C) and psychrophiles (grow at cold temperature, range -5°C to 20°C). Under ideal conditions some bacteria may grow and divide every 20 minutes. Consequently, one bacterial cell may increase to 16 million cells in 8 hours.
The suggested temperature specification for refrigeration of foods has been revisited from time to time as knowledge and technology have advanced. Initially 7°C was considered the optimal temperature; however, technological improvements have made it economical to have domestic refrigeration units working at a temperature of 4-5°C. For perishable products ≤4.4°C is considered a desirable refrigeration temperature. Optimum refrigeration in commercial facilities not only demands that appropriate temperatures are maintained but requires that the relative humidity and proper spacing of products is observed.
Even these measures cannot control all pathogenic bacterial growth. For example, L. monocytogenes, Yersinia enterocolitica, Aeromonas hydrophila, B. cereus and C. botulinum will multiply at recommended “good” refrigeration temperatures (5°C). There are other bacteria (Salmonella spp., E. coli and S. aureus), that, although unable to grow at temperatures below 5°C), will take advantage of temperature abuse and grow. Some bacterial species will not grow at temperatures below 5°C, but will survive at these temperatures. In addition, some microorganisms are capable of initiating growth at temperatures greater than 10°C, including C. botulinum, B. cereus, C. perfringens and Campylobacter spp.
“The bottom line is this – the lower the better!”
You are also required to have the right equipment to prove this is done in your establishment.
“Every chilling and freezer facility used for the storage, display or transport of perishable food shall be provided with a thermometer which at all times shall reflect the degree of chilling of the refrigeration area of such facility and which shall be in such a condition and positioned so that an accurate reading may be taken unhampered.
(b) Every heating apparatus or facility used for the storage, display or transport or heated perishable food shall be provided with a thermometer which at all times shall reflect the degree of heating of the heating area concerned and which shall be in such a condition and positioned so that
an accurate reading may be taken unhampered”.
This applies to your under-counter fridges in the deli areas, walk in cold rooms and freezers back of house and at the distribution centres. The main area of concern are all the store chiller units where products are displayed for consumers.
“Please note that "thermometer" means an apparatus which can give the temperature readings referred to in these regulations, the combined accuracy of such a thermometer
and its temperature-sensitive sensor being approximately 0,5°C. “
Excerpt from The General Hygiene Regulation R962 of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, Act 54 of 1972
DON’T FORGET! - The calibration and verification of these thermometers is essential, as you will need to be able to prove that they are accurate.
I have on many occasions had to call the store manager to point out defrosting chicken, soft ice cream and blowing fruit juices in store freezers and chillers. How is this possible if you have staff manning these areas? Is anyone responsible for temperature monitoring? If not, how will you prove your innocence should there be a complaint from a customer? How will you demonstrate your compliance to the inspector? Ideally, you should have a record of your temperatures at all times. This can be done by completing a form to confirm your chillers, freezers and fridges are at the correct temperatures at least daily – preferably more often. Hot and cold serving areas in the delis should be checked during the day and recorded.
This could also be done more efficiently using fully automated systems which take the readings, log these and inform you immediately of deviations taking the hassle out of this necessary task. A small price to pay to protect your brand and your stock. Your suppliers will thank you for it as you will ensure their brands reach the consumer the way they were intended to!
• R962 of 12 November 2012, FOODSTUFFS, COSMETICS AND DISINFECTANTS ACT, 1972 (ACT 54 OF 1972) - Regulations governing general hygiene requirements for food premises and the transport of food
• Food Standards Australia New Zealand: Guidance on the temperature control requirements of Standard 3.2.2 Food Safety Practices and General Requirements, 2002