Cleaning up the food industry

28 November 2018 | Web Article Number: ME201812895

Food & Beverage
Industrial Cleaning
Occupational Health

CLEANLINESS and hygiene in South Africa’s food sector continues to be in the spotlight, given the deadly listeriosis outbreak which claimed nearly 200 lives since 2017 and recent reports of milder outbreaks.

New research from the University of Pretoria shows that some foods being sold in informal shops still carry the listeria pathogen.

The industry and authorities would have more cause for concern after the World Health Organisation reported earlier this year that South Africa has just one environmental health practitioner per 30 000 people‚ three times fewer than the ratio recommended by the WHO.

The World Health Organisation recommends a ratio of one environmental health practitioner for every 10 000 citizens. The South African Institute of Environmental Health say the country was currently closer to one for every 30 000 South Africans.

Emma Corder, Country Manager of Nilfisk South Africa, said the challenges should be a call for the industry and everyone involved in the food value chain.

“With December here, restaurants will see an increase in foot traffic and with the heat they need to be vermin proof. The food industry is built on trust between consumer and supplier and this holds true now more than ever given the challenges we have faced recently,” said Corder.

“The problem is that the food chain is integrated in ways that make contagion a very real possibility. And that threat is not only of a bacterial, but also economic if allied sectors are considered a health risk.”

The Minister of Health has published regulations setting out the general hygiene requirements for a food premises and for the transportation of food.

The Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (Fedhasa) points out that the regulations provide specific hygiene requirements for matters concerning food premises, food facilities, food containers, appliances and equipment, food display, food storage and temperature, employee protective clothing, the duties of those in charge, the duties of a food handler, the handling of meat, the transportation of food and certain exemptions.

Restaurants, at the end of the food ecosystem, therefore cannot afford any slip-ups in cleanliness and hygiene – whether that be front of house or behind the scenes in the kitchen and premises.

“This sentiment is backed up by International studies which show that as many as 99% of shoppers say poor cleanliness would negatively affect their perception of a retail environment.

“These are factors which we can control. We have to take responsibility for the spaces in which we host customers,”

Fedhasa said there are specific requirements regarding interior walls, ceilings, floors, ventilation and lighting. “Food facilities must have a wash-up area with hot and cold running water and a waste disposal system approved by the local authority. There must be handwashing facilities for staff and guests, refuse containers with close-fitting lids, storage space for food and equipment, a separate changing area for employees with sufficient toilets and hand washbasins,” the federation said.

Dimitri Manousakis (pictured), owner of The Fat Greek in Table View, Cape Town, said they have different cleaning regimens for off-peak season and for the busier holiday season.

 Cleaning up the food industry

“In off-peak, we close one day a week and do a scrub down. For the busy season what we do is prevention rather than cure. So all the pest control is done before the season rather than during (the busy season) and we maintain cleanliness levels during season.”

Manousakis said their storage areas, which could be a breeding ground for vermin like cockroaches, are washed and checked bi-monthly.

He said health inspectors conduct unannounced visits and if the establishment does not conform to regulations, the inspectors will require the situation to be remedied within a specific timeframe.

Corder said that having been in the cleaning industry for more than a century, Nilfisk has been on top of trends and legislative requirements.

“The cleaning industry has also had to evolve – given the drive for everyone to be more environmentally friendly. The listeriosis tragedy as well as water shortages have also made us acutely aware of our responsibility in this ecosystem.

“For example, with Nilfisk Ecoflex, it minimizes the environmental impact by reducing water and chemical consumption in the retail space. We are very proud of this system and it has proven to be an effective and successful system in the retail space.”

She said research shows that unclean washrooms and unpleasant odours rate higher than poor customer service in turning consumers away.

“Consumer responses show that they doubt the safety of food being served if a restaurant’s restrooms are not clean. Similarly, they’re more likely to recommend a restaurant if it is clean, and many people are willing to overlook slow service if a business is notably pristine,” Corder said.

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