Half-baked Food Safety “Facts”
November 7, 2007
By Paul Medeiros
What you think you know can really hurt you.
Not too long ago, a young woman ate a soft chicken taco at a local restaurant outlet. That night, her jaw began to tighten up and swell. The swelling worsened, and within a couple of days, she could hardly move it. She visited her doctor. He had no idea what could be causing the problem, so he ran some tests. From the tissue and saliva samples, he immediately discovered the cause of the problem.
Apparently, her taco had contained a pregnant cockroach. The eggs had somehow become embedded in her saliva glands, and incubated in her mouth. Her doctor was able to remove all the eggs. If this condition had continued untreated, the eggs would have hatched inside the lining of her mouth … Sound familiar?
This popular myth and several versions of it have been making the email rounds for years. Science (and common sense) tells us it is impossible for this tale to be true, but, as unbelievable as it may sound, many people accept it.
Several food safety-related myths have made their way into the bakery world.
Although not as dramatic as the cockroach myth, they can be just as dangerous, if believed. Just as the soft chicken taco/cockroach myth has been busted, this article will bust a few common bakery food safety myths. Hang on to your taco shells (baked of course) ….
Myth No. 1:
Bakery products are not capable of making anybody sick.
Bakery operators who believe this myth should check with the British Columbia-based bakery that sickened 62 customers in August 2000 with Salmonella. Other bakeries have experienced similar outbreaks, resulting from a variety of causes such as product contamination by raw eggs, sick bakery workers or poor sanitation practices.
Foodborne illness is not the only food safety concern facing bakeries. Several Canadian bakery products have been involved in national recalls, due to the presence of dangerous foreign material. One recent example occurred in April 2004, where a large bakery had to recall significant amounts of whole wheat bread products following consumer reports of glass fragments in the product.
In addition, several recalls have occurred in Canada resulting from undeclared allergens in baked products. The presence of undeclared allergens poses a serious risk to consumers. The presence of undeclared allergens is often traced back to errors in packaging/labelling or cross-contamination on the production line. Examples of recent allergen-related recalls include three different recalls in 2006 for undeclared soy; recalls for undeclared sesame and soy in 2005; and recalls for undeclared egg, milk and soy in 2004.
Acknowledging that the sometimes-heard mantra, “We bake our problems out of our product,” is false, and that baked goods can indeed pose a food safety risk, is the first step in ensuring you have the right programs in place to produce safe products.
Myth No. 2:
The responsibility for food safety rests with the Quality Assurance Department.
The responsibility for producing a safe bakery product rests with everyone in the bakery, including the owner or president, supervisors, line operators, maintenance staff, and even sales staff.
Gone are the days where important food safety checks like metal detector monitoring were conducted exclusively by a Quality Assurance Department employee. Critical Food Safety monitoring should be conducted by line personnel, because they are the ones in the best position to react quickly, and they are the ones who actually control the production process. In addition, every employee on the bakery floor must realize that an error on their part, whether it involves failure to wash hands, failure to properly wash or to sanitize a particular utensil or piece of equipment, failure to handle maintenance tools or parts correctly, or even failure to report suspicious behaviour, could result in contaminated products, complaints, illnesses or recalls.
Myth No. 3:
The local health department always gives me a clean bill of health, so I must be doing everything right.
Health inspectors work very hard during inspections to make sure they identify and address food safety issues. However, if the Canadian public health system was perfect, we wouldn’t have over eight million Canadians stricken with foodborne illness every year.
Health inspections are basically a “snapshot” in time. Only the hazards that are observed by the health inspectors during their brief inspections get addressed. “Inspections,” by their very nature, differ from “audits,” in that they do not assess the underlying systems that support food safety. Those systems include elements such as training programs, pest control programs, recall programs, sanitation programs, and even a HACCP program, to name a few.
A “clean bill of health” by the health department basically tells you that on the day of the inspection, you were doing okay. If you really want to know how safe your products are, take a good look at your underlying food safety systems, because only through having strong systems in place will you ensure your product is safe day after day.
The food safety myths identified in this article interfere with two key food safety principles: (1) Understand and acknowledge the risks in your product; and (2) It is up to you to control those risks. Busting myths like these is an important first step to ensure you produce a consistently safe product. Otherwise, you may go the way of the cockroach myth –- you might get BUSTED.
Paul Medeiros, M.Sc. is manager of GFTC’s Food Safety and Quality Management Consulting Services. He is responsible for developing and delivering public and customized, onsite training in food safety and quality for food service and retail, food manufacturers and food distribution sectors. He can be reached at 519-821-1246 ext. 5043, or e-mail: email@example.com.
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