for the month of February, 2012

Tragic Fife couple’s case leads to calls for national norovirus review

1st of February 2012

Dorothy and Andy McEwen, who were both 83, died only days apart in 2010. Mrs McEwen fell ill with norovirus while a patient in Queen Margaret Hospital, Dunfermline, and her husband went on to catch the bug after talking his wife’s laundry home to wash, unaware of potentially fatal risk from germs clinging to the clothing.
In fact it has emerged NHS Fife, in line with the majority of Scottish health boards, don’t wash soiled garments which belong to patients. Instead, clothing is placed in special sealed bags to give to relatives to wash at home along with handling instructions.
The double tragedy for the close-knit Fife family has prompted Mrs Eadie to back leading bacteriologist Professor Hugh Pennington in his call for a review of hygiene practices.
”We are getting to grips with MRSA and C. diff but norovirus is a problem we are no getting to grips with yet,” he said.
He said verbal information was vital, as well as written details of how to safely handle personal effects soiled with the active and virulent bug, which closes wards and hits thousands of Scots every year.
Mrs Eadie said: ”There needs to be an urgent and thorough investigation into these incidents. Professor Pennington is absolutely right to call for a root and branch review of hygiene practices in all Scottish hospitals and, personally, I think that we should not expect relatives to take home the washing of patients any longer.
”Norovirus is a serious matter in hospitals and is more infectious that either MRSA or C. diff.”

Full Story

Breaking out – blog

3rd of February 2012

Across the pond, cantaloupes, pine nuts, romaine lettuce and sprouts caused serious outbreaks of illness in 2011, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US. In fact, five of the most significant or unusual outbreaks of foodborne illness involved fresh produce. The CDC said that 2011 was the most active year in recent history for ‘foodborne illness outbreaks that crossed state lines’.

Over here the picture is slightly different. The most recent figures we have are for 1992-2010. Although the figures aren’t directly comparable, according to the Health Protection Agency, poultry meat was the most frequently implicated vehicle in food outbreaks in England and Wales during this period; a much smaller proportion was associated with fresh produce and a range of other foods.

While produce may not be top of the list when we think of ‘danger’ foods, this doesn’t mean we can lower our guard.

Last year’s E.coli outbreak in Germany was due to sprouted fenugreek seeds, and there was a separate E.coli outbreak here in the UK linked to handling certain loose raw vegetables. The range of culprits that caused outbreaks in the US – 30 people died as a result of listeria-contaminated cantaloupes – shows how foods you might not suspect can be the source of serious illness.

To raise awareness of the importance of good food hygiene, we ran a media campaign in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reminding everyone to wash vegetables, as well as their hands and any utensils used in preparation.

The campaign recently finished, but our message stays the same: ‘Vegetables: best served washed.’

Full Blog

Dangers of work at the health and safety watchdog

4th of February 2012

Britain’s health and safety watchdog has failed to meet more than half of its own targets for workplace safety.

Some 243 accidents or injuries were recorded in the offices of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) last year, an increase of 16 per cent on 2009-10.

Nine were serious enough to merit reporting to the HSE’s national database of industrial accidents and diseases.

In all, the organisation fell short on seven out of 11 of its own targets on staff safety, according to an internal audit. They included regularly assessing staff on how they used computer monitors, taking action on risk reports within a month and providing “defensive driver training” to staff travelling long distances by car.

Critics say its inability to meet its own rules is indicative of the burden placed on employers by safety red tape.

The report shows that 72 HSE staff members were injured in the course of their work, including 13 by trips or slips and five in road accidents. A further 29 suffered illnesses, such as back and neck injury, from using computer monitors, while 22 were off with work-related stress. Nine people suffered accidents that left them unable to work for more than three days and the average annual amount of sick leave rose to 6.8 days, with 24,000 hours lost to ill health.

The HSE’s Basingstoke office was visited by environmental health officers after a spate of staff illnesses.

The agency is seeking to “streamline” its internal health and safety regime after being ordered to cut its £330 million budget by a third by 2015. It has eight regional health and safety committees overseen by 13 site safety coordinators, who report to the national Corporate Health and Safety Committee. There is also a corporate health and safety advisers team and mandatory safety training.

Full Story

An interesting article on “Useby” dates and eating food past the “use by” date

6th of February 2012

Steve Naldrett of Ardan Training Consultancy says, “The following issue is one of the most talked about topics on any food safety course that I run.”

Most of us have packets of food lurking at the back of the cupboard which are long past their best-before date. But as so many Irish households cut back on their grocery spend, is it a false economy to eat food that is out of date?

A survey by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) showed that nearly half of us eat foodstuffs which have passed their use-by date. The results, from a group of 1,000 questioned by the FSAI and Teagasc, show that consumers rely on their instinct, as opposed to labelling, to judge if something is safe to eat.

The 46pc of Irish consumers who disregard use-by dates said that they were happy to eat food as long as it “looked and smelled okay”. The FSAI think the statistic is worrying and shows Irish consumers are still willing to put their health at risk rather than throw something out.

“We would caution people, as food products contaminated with harmful bacteria may look okay and no different when they have gone beyond their use-by date,” says Dr Wayne Anderson, director of Food Science and Standards at the FSAI.

But ‘best-before’, ‘use-by’ and ‘sell-by’ dates are very frequently confusing and as the survey shows, many consumers don’t understand what the terms actually mean. Over a third of Irish consumers will not eat food that has passed its best-before date even if it looks and smells fine. This over-caution leads to many households needlessly wasting food.

The simplest way to understand ‘use-by’ and ‘best-before’ dates is to see them as applying to two different types of food. ‘Best-before’ dates are for foods that are not highly perishable. These are the groceries we store in cupboards or freezers: tins of beans, dried pasta, soups, noodles, pulses, sauces, frozen peas and pizzas. The best-before date gives a timescale for when the food can reasonably be expected to retain its “optimum conditions” — the specific properties of that food.

“With dry foods such as a packet of flour, their keepability is directly related to their dryness, so you’ve got to follow the storage instructions first,” says Dr Anderson. “The date is the cut-off point from where the manufacturer stops taking responsibility for that food, but a product could be good to eat for several months after a best-before date.”

So when it comes to those out-of-date tins of beans, use your own discretion whether to eat them or bin them. Dr Anderson urges consumers to “use your sense of smell, sight and taste — is there mould on it, is it discoloured or has it a strange smell? If it does, don’t eat it”.

‘Use-by’ dates need more serious attention. They are required for foods which after a certain period may develop microbiological risks and pose a danger to human health.

“Don’t mess about with use-by dates,” says Dr Anderson. “They are applied to products which are by law “perishable”. So even if that packaged ham looks fine, after the use-by date it could be growing bacteria and mould which can produce toxins, particularly in the case of meat and raw chicken.

So will a pack of rashers cooked a day or two past its use-by date make you sick?

“Probably not,” says Dr Anderson, “but it’s Russian roulette. There’s often one or two days of leeway built into that date in case there is a delivery hiccup or something like that. It’s a case of using your judgment and if you’re not sure, throw it out.”

Full Article

Public back targeted food inspections

7th of February 2012

A survey carried out for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has uncovered public support for allowing a ‘lighter touch’ for low-risk businesses under the principle of earned recognition, as long as they are not left to their own devices for years on end.

Under earned recognition food businesses that can prove their ongoing compliance with food safety law would not face as many inspections.

But participants were concerned that businesses could end up being left to ‘self-police over substantial periods of time’ unless regulators maintained contact.

People also expressed fears that big businesses could abuse the system and pay out ‘backhanders’ as inducements if they were allowed to use private food safety audit schemes.

Steve Naldrett of Ardan Training Consultancy said of the fear that big food buisinesses could abuse the system. ” Most large food manufacturers are stringently audited by their customers, such as Tesco, Sainsbury, Marks and Spencers for example, so would not be able to abuse the system. In fact they are subjected to more onerus audits than the local authority carry out.”

Full Story

Health and safety is no 'monster'

7th of February 2012

As a former president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (2000-02) I was disgusted by the vitriolic tirade of nonsense spouted by David Cameron about how he will “kill off the health and safety culture” (Report, 6 January). He has learned nothing from the carefully researched Löfstedt report but has crafted it to suit his own ends.

Sir Bill Callaghan, when he was chairman of the former Health and Safety Commission, said that health and safety was the cornerstone of a civilised society. It is clear that Mr Cameron and his conservative cronies are determined to destroy that aspiration.

I challenge Mr Cameron and his yes man Chris Grayling to frontline participation in a workplace fatal accident investigation from the initial “blood on the floor” phase, through the inquest, to the criminal and civil claim proceedings, just as an inspector of the HSE or a local authority would have to do. This might cause him to stop and remember that the health and safety code, which I and others in my profession daily apply sensibly and proportionately to protect the lives of our workplace colleagues and the public, is the envy of the world.
Shame on you, Mr Cameron, in your espousal of the “big society” for failing to support this essential element of a civilised one, founded on the toll of death, injury and disease suffered by so many working people and other citizens over the past 200 years.
Paul Faupel
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

Full Story

Emerging technologies for microbial control in food processing

7th of February 2012

Food safety is one the pivotal concepts that have driven development of modern food processing. Conventional methods of microbial control mostly rely on refrigeration, heat, and/or chemical preservatives.

Although these techniques are largely successful, their major drawbacks are related to their effect on freshness and nutritional quality of processed food as well as their high energy demand. In recent years, there has been a strong demand for high-quality foods that retain most of their natural freshness and other organoleptic properties.

This has led to the development of several novel and innovative methods of microbial control in food processing, the most notable being microwave and radiofrequency heating (MW/RF), pulsed electric fields (PEFs), high pressure processing (HPP), and ionizing radiation.

Other emerging technologies include ohmic heating (OH), ultraviolet light, and ozonization.

After a brief overview of the conventional methods of food preservation currently employed, this chapter provides an in-depth analysis of the current state-of-the-art, applications, and challenges for these novel technologies.

Although many of these emerging methods have generated considerable interest among researchers, food producers, and consumers alike, several challenges need to be overcome before they obtain complete industrial and consumer adoption. In all likelihood, the future and success of these novel technologies will be driven by consumer demand for processed food that is safe yet fresh and the need for sustainable and energy-efficient practices in the food industry. To read full chapter-

Food hygiene rating system Hull, Is your local food outlet safe?

8th of February 2012

Do you know how safe your favorite takeaway is? Steve Naldrett, director of Ardan Training Consultancy Limited has been having a look at the hygiene ratings* for food businesses in Hull.

He said ” On the one hand the results really shocked me as approximately twenty five outlets scored 0, Over eighty premises scored only 1 and sixty scored 2. All of these premises represent unsatisfactory food safety standards. On the other hand 360 premises scored 3 and 4, while over three hundred and eighty scored the top score of 5.”

These figures show 17% of the 1000** retail food outlets in Hull are below the minimum food safety standards, but a massive 34% have scored the top score of 5.

Steve said, ” You might want to check your local food retailers score before comitting you and your family to their hygiene standards.”

* The food Hygiene Rating System is run by local authorities in partnership with the Food Standards Agency.
In areas where the scheme is running, each food business is given a food hygiene rating on a scale from 0 to 5 when it is inspected by a local authority food safety officer. The top rating is ‘5’ – which means the hygiene standards are very good. The bottom is ‘0’ – which indicates urgent improvement is required.
When you eat out or shop for food, look for a sticker, showing you the food hygiene rating for that business. You might find it displayed in the window, on the door, or as a certificate.
Does your favourite restaurant, takeaway or food shop have good hygiene standards?
You can find out at
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is new. This means that not all food businesses will have a hygiene rating yet, but more businesses are being rated all the time.
A different scheme, with similar aims, is being rolled out by local authorities in Scotland.

**This figure is only the businesses in Hull that have been recorded so far on the online rating system.

These figures

Worker suffers severed finger at plastics firm

10th of February 2012

A plastics firm which manufactures cases for computer games has been fined after an employee severed his finger in machinery at a factory in Corby.

The worker, who has asked not to be named, was trying to fix a problem on a colour dosing unit attached to an injection moulding machine at DuBois Ltd’s premises in Arkwright Road when the middle finger on his left hand became trapped in the rotating dial used to add colour to the plastic.

Doctors were unable to save his finger and it had to be amputated just above the knuckle. He was off work for several weeks and required physiotherapy for almost 10 months.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the incident, which happened on 22 May 2010, found the machine’s guard had been removed.

DuBois Ltd, trading as AGI Amaray, of Slough Interchange, Whittenham Close, Slough, Berkshire pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 11 (1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. Today, Corby magistrates fined the firm £7,000 and ordered it to pay costs of £4,677.

After the hearing HSE inspector Sally Harris said:

“The guarding was regularly removed to allow staff to calibrate the machine but it had not been put back. This meant the company did not prevent access to dangerous rotating parts and as a result a man suffered an entirely foreseeable, preventable and painful injury.”

Full Story

Crawley, St Helens and Wycombe launch the FHRS

10th of February 2012

Crawley Borough Council, St Helens Council and Wycombe District Council have rolled out the Agency’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme. 185 local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are now publishing more than 150,000 ratings at
Other local authorities will be rolling out the scheme over the next few months.
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme helps you choose where to eat out or shop for food by giving you information about the hygiene standards in restaurants, pubs, cafés, takeaways, hotels and other places you eat, as well as in supermarkets and other food shops.

About the scheme
The Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is run by local authorities in partnership with the Food Standards Agency.
In areas where the scheme is running, each food business is given a food hygiene rating on a scale from 0 to 5 when it is inspected by a local authority food safety officer. The top rating is ‘5’ – which means the hygiene standards are very good. The bottom is ‘0’ – which indicates urgent improvement is required.
When you eat out or shop for food, look for a sticker like the one below, showing you the food hygiene rating for that business. You might find it displayed in the window, on the door, or as a certificate.
Does your favourite restaurant, takeaway or food shop have good hygiene standards?
You can find out at


11th of February 2012

The Food Standards Agency’s latest public attitudes tracker shows that the main food safety issue people continue to be concerned about is food hygiene when eating out. Other issues include food poisoning and the use of additives in food.

The Agency’s Food Hygiene Rating Scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Food Hygiene Information scheme in Scotland, aim to reduce these concerns by encouraging businesses to improve hygiene standards and reduce the incidence of foodborne illness. The schemes help consumers choose where to eat out or shop for food by giving them information about the hygiene standards in restaurants, cafés, takeaways, hotels and food shops.

In this latest tracker survey, three new questions were asked to measure people’s awareness of food hygiene schemes. The results show that 19% of respondents had seen or heard about this type of scheme. When prompted, 21% of respondents reported that they had seen or heard about the ‘Food Hygiene Rating scheme’, 12% had seen or heard about ‘Scores on the Doors’ and 10% had seen or heard about the ‘Food Hygiene Information Scheme’.

This latest wave of research was undertaken in November 2011, with a total number of 2,076 respondents interviewed via the TNS consumer face-to-face omnibus survey.

To view the survey

FSA e news for February is now available

28th of February 2012

Please follow this link, to read the FSAs newsletter for February 2012