Food Poisoning and How to Handle it.


Food poisoning whether due to negligence or not ruins a restaurant. The food service establishment buys wholesale, process and sells retail.

Several steps in the production can cause food poisoning including unsanitary conditions in the kitchen, sick employees, dirty machinery, and poor cooling and/or heating of cooked food.

Yet many of the claims of food poisoning regarding restaurant food are difficult to prove, and occasionally prove to be caused in another place. However, if someone thinks, or states that the poisoning occurred in a particular establishment the damage can be financially devastating, if and when this information becomes public knowledge.

Restaurant owners often hire unskilled individuals, fail to train them properly, and worse do not supervise them adequately to prevent disasters.

Food can never be 100 per cent safe.

There are too many variables and too many people involved in its production, packaging, distribution, and handling.

The idea is to prevent to the extend possible such incidences. The first and most important step is to educate farmers, managers of meat production facilities (I call them meat factories), food handlers, and cooks about contamination and its repercussions.

Too often gullible or greedy farmers and “food factory” owners believe sales representatives singing the praises of pesticides, fungicides, manufactured feed, and antibiotics just to name a few possibilities.

In general, food in North America is safe but several levels of governments fail to implement correct decisions regarding inspection of slaughterhouses because of pressure from owners who contribute to the coffers of different political parties. Food safety has gradually been neglected by both official agencies, processors, and producers. They then lobby for favourable legislation regarding their sector of business.

The public had never heard so many meat recalls, salmonella, e.coli and listeria incidences as during recent months.

Bacteria, once established in food, multiplies rapidly and requires swift action to prevent its spreading. Often government agencies in charge of health checks are reluctant to publicize the names of infected meat plants before it is too late.

In many cases, if the plant is federally inspected, inspectors are too busy chasing papers and forms rather than spending time on the floor where they should be.

Deregulation of food inspection is an on-going process that weakens the system to deliver safe food to the public.

Each year, contaminated food sickens millions of people all over the world (an estimated 10 million in Canada), causing billions of dollars of economic losses.

Two major slaughterhouses – Cargill and XL Food, control Canada’s meat packing industry. Lately XL Food had to be closed for a few days, and after mandatory cleaning and changing of procedures was allowed to open.

Maple Leaf, Olymel and Quality Meat Packers control most of the pork processing.

Canada’s meat industry produces over 20 billion worth of goods, of which approximately ten per cent are exported, mainly to the U.S.A., but also to Pacific Rim countries, and Europe. Interestingly enough well over 13 thousand tones of horsemeat were exported to Europe last year, where some people prefer it to beef due to its finer texture and less fat. England does not import any horsemeat. To the English the idea of eating horsemeat is revolting and unacceptable.

Listeria monocytogenes is found in the soil, vegetables and livestock. It also thrives in poorly managed and dirty meat processing plants. Listeria grows even under refrigeration and affects pregnant women, and the elderly more readily. Approximately ten per cent of the population carries listeria benignly.

Clostridium difficile, a spore-forming, and ehat reistsant bacteria are known to have killed thousands of elderly and infirm in hospitals.

Recent studies have determined that pathogenic bacteria in up to 30 per cent of sampled of raw and/or ready-to-eat meat products exist and are served in restaurants, cafeterias, and hospitals.

It seems that every day, the news brings a harrowing story about yet another outbreak of listeriosis, salmonella, e-coli, undercooked meat or poorly handled food.

Restaurants, food processors and government agencies in charge of food inspection can never be vigilant enough but proper training of food handlers and food distributors can prevent most of pathogenic bacteria containing food. Unfortunately, this is something neglected.

Any food processor or provider must have a food poisoning emergency communication plan in place. When a disaster occurs only one person, preferably a well-chosen spokesperson, must communicate with the media and public at large. The legal department of a company or a lawyer is not recommended.

Second, it is important to be truthful and not try to hide the problem under the carpet.

Third, hire experts, have them formulate a course of action; tell the public what you are doing to prevent the problem from recurring.

Ensure that all precautions are taken for the future. Treat everyday as if you are starting anew and train people to be responsible, cautious, and vigilant!

When in doubt, do not serve contaminated food just to save a few pennies.