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The efficacy of sanitation on microbiological hazards in ready-to-eat food outlets from selected primary manufacturers in Gauteng Province, South Africa
Lambrechts, Andre Albertus
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The retail sector in South Africa is increasingly evolving into a dynamic industry, driven by changes in technology, saturating markets and globalisation. A major phenomenon in South Africa has been the evolution of hypermarkets, which sell large quantities of almost all consumer goods on a self-service basis. The South African consumers are becoming increasingly health conscious and, as such, the demand for wellness foods, health and convenience food has escalated. Convenience foods are expected to remain popular with consumers and supermarkets and will therefore increase the amount of ready-to-eat food items offered. As the retail industry has changed over the last two decades, so has the epidemiology of foodborne illnesses, with an increase in the incidence of bacterial infections caused by emerging organisms. In addition, there are certain food safety issues specifically associated with ready-to-eat foods. In recent years, incidences of enteric diseases associated with meat consumption have risen. The emergence of several new foodborne diseases has led to an increased focus attention on the issue of food safety by consumers and the industry. The most commonly implicated foods in these disease outbreaks have been meat and dairy products. The microbial load of eight convenience food manufacturing plants was determined by firstly sampling stainless steel food contact surfaces after they had been cleaned and sanitised at the end of a day‘s shift. The samples were analysed for Total Plate Count (TPC), Escherichia coli, Salmonella species and Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria. The results showed that 59 % of the total areas sampled for TPC failed to comply with the legal requirements for food surfaces specified in the South African Health Act (< 100 cfu.cm-2). Listeria was detected in 23 % of the samples taken and E.coli was found in 1.3 % of the samples, while S. aureus was not detected in any of the samples. Fifty percent of the plants applied conventional cleaning methods for cleaning and sanitation and the remaining 50 % used the low-pressure foam (LPF) method. The bacterial results of the two cleaning methods were statistically compared and a statistically significant difference (P ≤ 0.05) was found between the TPC means of the cleaning methods after cleaning. No statistically significant difference (P > 0.05) was found in terms of the Listeria species counts after both cleaning processes. The LPF method proved to be the superior cleaning option for reducing TPC counts. Secondly surface samples were collected from washed and sanitised dominant hands of food handlers and analysed for the presence of total plate counts, S. aureus and E. coli. The study aimed to evaluate the efficacy of hand washing practices and sanitation before commencing work. A total of 230 samples were collected, involving 100 % of the food handlers in selected convenience food outlets. The highest bacterial count taken from handswas 7.4 x 10-3 cfu.cm-2 and the lowest showed no detectable growth. Forty percent of the TPC analysed complied with the legal limit of < 100 cfu.cm-2 and only 18 % of the food handlers had no detectable bacteria present on their hands. One hand sample tested positive for E. coli, which is generally viewed as an indication of faecal contamination. S. aureus could not be detected on the hands of any of the food handlers. The results of this study indicated that hand hygiene is unsatisfactory and underlined the importance of further training to improve food handlers‘ knowledge of good hand washing practices. The study also aimed to present data on the food hygiene knowledge and practices of food handlers based on a representative sample from convenience food outlets in the Gauteng area. The management, as well as food handlers, were interviewed without prior announcement and managers were interviewed prior to starting their shifts, followed by food handlers, after they had passed through the change room and hand wash facilities. Although the majority of food handlers adhered to basic hygiene principles, the results highlighted a need for proper and continuous training in hygiene practices, not only for food handlers, but also for management. Furthermore, all food handlers should adhere to a formal cleaning schedule and specific courses should be planned for food handlers. Most training is done away from the workplace and the workers might find it difficult to translate theory into practice. Although food safety training programmes are essential, behavioural changes will not occur merely as a result of having received training but rather continuous development of food handlers. In conclusion, the popularity of convenience food is bound to increase with the growing appeal for modern foods. Consumers in South Africa nowadays demand good quality and safe products at a reasonable cost. Due to continuous time constraints, convenience food is the food of the future for the working mother. It is clear that managing foodborne disease is a challenge and an economic problem subject to various constraints. Food safety has too often become a hit-or-miss gamble, with parents obliged to roll the dice when it comes to the safety of their children‘s food and consumers in general. The food industry therefore needs to improve food safety processes to prevent the contamination of foods and use methods to ensure safe food for consumers. Better training, more testing and better methods of tracking food must be utilised to verify that the processes are working. This study endeavoured to add to the understanding and improvement of hygiene processes as well as food handlers‘ practices in the convenience food industry in the Gauteng Province.