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Foodborne Illness in Australia

Food poisoning is the name for a range of illnesses caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or drink. It is also called foodborne illness.

The effects of foodborne illness are considerable:

  • 1.2 million people visit the doctor
  • 300,000 prescriptions are written for antibiotics
  • 2.1 million days of work are lost every year.
  • 15,000 to 18,000 hospitalisations occur
  • An estimated 125 people die each year from foodborne illnesses

Most food poisoning is caused by harmful micro-organisms (pathogens) getting into food and drink.

  • The most common types of food poisoning are caused by:
  • bacteria eg Salmonella, Campylobacter, E.coli and Listeria
  • viruses eg Norovirus, Rotavirus and Hepatitis A
  • toxins produced by some bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus and Clostridium perfringens.

Some of these micro-organisms can also be transferred from person-to-person with or without symptoms, or via contaminated surfaces. The symptoms they cause are the same even if food is not involved.

 

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Food Safety Plus in PNG

Prima Smallgoods is a leading manufacturer of smallgoods and meat products in Papua New Guinea. It is a PNG based company, in operation for over 40 years and achieving great success in food safety.

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How to plan and conduct an effective internal audit.

Planning and conducting an internal audit can be a stressful time for auditors. Many first time auditors wonder:

  • Where do I start?
  • How much time will I need
  • What do I need to audit?
  • Who will I interview?

 Following a step-by-step process goes a long way to alleviate this stress.

 STEP 1 – Type of audit

As an internal auditor you will need to know what type of audit you are going to conduct. For example:

  • Audit of organisational processes as part of business improvement
  • Audit of compliance to Australian, international standards, legislation such as the Food Act

The amount of time required to plan and prepare will vary considerably depending on the audit type and its requirements.

STEP 2 – Where do I focus my audit?

Most organisations have an ‘audit schedule’ that describes when each area or activity within an organisaation is to be audited. An effective auditor will look to become familiar with the procedures and activities in the area to be audited. A review of the flow diagrams, hazard audit tables, site plans, relevant procedures, and previous audit reports will provide information on the nature and scale of activities carried out. This will help an effective auditor target the audit activities, records, equipment and processes.

You may also wish to consider:

  • Customer feedback
  • Supplier performance
  • Re-work and downgrade
  • Corrective actions and non-conformances
  • Previous audit reports

Finding out where this information is kept and speaking with the staff responsible for a process is a starting point in developing the auditor’s understanding of the ‘big picture’ – that is, how the organisation operates, its risks and controls. This will also assist you in determining your objective for the audit.

STEP 3 – Putting a plan together

As if the above wasn’t enough to think about, you as an auditor now have to consider how you will manage your time during the audit. This is referred to as an audit plan and can be as simple or as complex as you and/or your organisation requires. With this in mind, your plan of activities can be via an electronic appointment, email, formal document attached to an email etc. Some points of information the person being audited will want to know is:

  • Date of the audit
  • Time of the audit (especially how long)
  • What are you auditing them against (organisation procedures, HACCP, Food Standards Code
  • The food business processes and locations you will be auditing
  • The name of the auditor
  • Records, reports etc. you would like them to have available as evidence
STEP 4 – Choosing the day of the audit

When choosing the day and time of the audit, it is a good idea to find out what else is going on in the business. For instance you might need to consider when external audits (certification/accreditation, regulatory, financial) being conducted, peak times/shut downs and end of financial year a good time to audit?

These points need to be considered to ensure that staff are available and attentive so you can get the best out of the audit.

STEP 5 – Conducting the audit

By doing your homework and reading the relevant procedures you will be well prepared for the audit. From this understanding, you will be able to ask questions a way that makes sense to the person being audited.

When ready to begin the audit you will need to hold an ‘entry interview’ where you explain to the supervisor / manager of the area about the audit process and answer any question they may have.

During the audit it is likely you would review:

  • the facilities  and equipment where food is handled and processed
  • records e.g. food receipt, cleaning, thermometer calibration, pest control, refrigerator temperature checks and training
  • that digital thermometers are working and accurate
  • that food grade sanitiser is available and is used.
  • how allergens are managed
  • that food handlers have adequate skills and knowledge in food safety.

Internal auditors are generally free to talk with a good cross-section of staff involved in the process being audited. Speaking solely with management will not give you a good perspective on what is happening.

You will conclude your audit with an exit interview where you provide feedback. Remember your role as the auditor is to collect information and evidence then report it back to the decision makers within your organisation

STEP 6 – Audit Reports

A good report is one that attracts the intended reader’s attention.  Most organisations have audit report templates in place with main categories of information required listed. A good report enables a person who was not present during the audit to understand what was audited and where improvements may be required. A tip is to keep it simple and easy to read. In our case we want our reports to be read by top management. It is important that senior management see your reports as a valuable resource.

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HACCP certification for the Pest Management Industry

Food Safety Plus offers HACCP certification for the Pest Management Industry.

The Food Act requires that each food premises has effective pest control measures. This is not a new concept – the significance of pests in the food industry has long been understood and appreciated. Pest control is an inescapable part of any food safety and HACCP considerations that a food business may make.

The following outlines some of the more common situations which will have to be managed by the pest control industry:

  • the need for a clear explanation to management of the food business about the treatments to be carried out and agreement reached about their suitability, location, potential for causing food hazard and any action which may need to be taken by the food business
  • the need for clear advice to the management of the food business about the types of pests identified and their possible effect on food safety
  • restrictions on use of materials restrictions on entry times to food business
  • regular and systematic cleaning by the food business could make it more difficult to detect, trace and identify pests possible destruction of chemical treatments by cleaning materials
  • need to account for all preparations when any specific treatment is completed
  • documentation and record keeping

Much of this is not new to the pest control industry especially to those who operate with or are familiar with Integrated Pest Management and the safe use of hazardous chemicals. HACCP and the safe use of chemicals require documented work processes, so it means that most pest controllers are already aware of systematic controls. Therefore HACCP principles certification can be easily and readily adopted in pest control industry.

HACCP Certification offers pest controller industry an opportunity to work in partnership with food businesses. By making both industries aware of each other’s priorities and systems, it will prove to be a positive benefit for the consumer by the production of safer food.

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Food Safety in Child Care Centres

Australia has one of the safest food supplies in the world. However, foodborne illness is an ongoing problem that state, territory and Australian governments are working together to minimise. Each government adopted the national food safety standards as described in the Food Standards Code, The food safety standards focus on measures to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness by specifying the requirements that food businesses need to follow to ensure food sold in Australia is safe to eat.

Food safety standard 3.3.1 “Food Safety Programs for Food Service to Vulnerable Persons” outlines the requirement for food businesses that process or serve food to vulnerable populations to implement a documented and audited food safety program (FSP). In Western Australia this requirement came into force in October 2008.

Vulnerable people are defined within Standard 3.3.1 in terms of the facility in which they are cared for or as clients of a delivered meals organisation.

The facilities listed in the standard include child care facilities, including long day care, occasional care and employer-sponsored child care for children up to 4 years of age where the facility is not a private residential dwelling.

What is a food safety program?

The Food Act requires child care centres which prepare and serve food to develop and implement a food safety plan. A food safety plan is defined in Food Safety Standard 3.2.1 as a written document that systematically identifies the risks present in the food handling operations of a food business and provides for the control, monitoring and regular review of those risks in order to ensure food safety.

Your first thought might be that developing a plan may be time consuming, difficult or even just too hard. However there are many free and simple to use guides and templates available on the internet.

As the purpose of a food safety plan is to safeguard children’s health and to protect your centre, utilising a simple plan is well worth the effort. In most instances, a food safety plan comprises three parts and will likely formalise your existing good practices. The first part includes a description of your centre and names of the staff that are responsible for food safety.

The second part describes:

  • your food handling activities such as food receipt and refrigerator storage,
  • what can go wrong and cause injury (biological, chemical incl. allergens, and foreign object food safety hazards)
  • how you will prevent or manage the hazards
  • what checks and balances you will undertake
  • what records you will keep

The third part describes good hygiene practices. These include staff hygiene, training, maintenance and thermometer calibration, cleaning and sanitising programs, pest control procedures, etc.

In other words, your food safety program should document clearly the procedures and practices within your centre (i.e. what you do). Your centre will be audited against these procedures and practices.

What you can do to facilitate compliance

  1. SA Health offers a free food safety plan that you can download and tailor to suit Child Care & Early Learning Centre. The plan is widely used throughout WA.
  2. Once tailored to suit your business you will need to submit this plan to the local council for a process called verification. This means the council needs to review and approve your food safety plan, however if you have used the above template this process is very straightforward.
  3. Have your staff complete “I’m alert in Food Safety”. This free training program is available from your local council and is completed online. This training program is widely used and is supported by local government health inspectors throughout Australia.
  4. Purchase digital thermometers to assist you measure the temperature of food and refrigeration.
  5. Ensure that food grade sanitiser is available for use.
  6. Before any audit you will need to commence completing the records outlined in your food safety plan. A reputable auditor will need to see at least 3-6 months of records.

How Food Safety Plus can help

Food Safety Plus provides regulatory food safety auditing services to child care centres in a positive, engaging approach and seek to build long term professional relationships with our clients. We service over 150 child care centres in metropolitan and regional Western Australia and offer you a great service at very competitive prices.

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