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Food Safety Paramount in Preventing Illnesses

12 January 2000

Food Safety Paramount in Preventing Food Borne Illness

Reports of notifiable food borne illnesses continued to drop last month.

For the month of December a total of 1,004 cases of campylobacter were reported compared to 1,274 in December 1998. Salmonella was also down from 168 reports in December 1998 to 116 last year. In November the number of reports of campylobacter dropped from 1226 in 1998 to 817 last year, however reports of salmonella were slightly up from 130 to 169.

Overall, 1999 saw a 30 percent drop in reported cases of campylobacter down from 11,580 to 8,135 however salmonella slightly increased from 2071 to 2081.

Chief Advisor Safety and Regulation Dr Bob Boyd said the drop was pleasing, and may indicate that people are taking more care with food storage and preparation, however there is no room for complacency.

"Food borne diseases are more common in summer and people need to be especially aware of the extra care they should take with the food they prepare and eat."

"The warmer temperatures allow bacteria to multiply faster on food, resulting in larger doses of bacteria if food is not properly cooked before being eaten."

Dr Boyd says it is important for the public to maintain basic home hygiene in order to combat these bugs.

Salmonella and Campylobacter are both bacteria found in a wide range of animals and foods of animal origin, especially poultry and meats.

Background

The Ministry of Health has introduced a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) system to help identify areas of risk. It specifically targets restaurants and cafes. Most of the food industry has food safety programmes either in progress or fully in place through HACCP, which is almost most universally accepted as the most appropriate means of ensuring food safety.

The Ministry is also, together with the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Wellington Medical School, developing a co-ordinated plan of research to try to identify the infection pathways and, hence, what steps might be effective in diminishing the reservoirs of Campylobacter in human, animal and bird populations in New Zealand.

Key ways to protect against food borne illness

1) Reduce bacterial contamination and growth: store foods at an appropriate temperature out of the 'danger zone' (between 4 deg C and 65 deg C - ie fridge and piping hot) do not leave perishable food at room temperature for more than a total of two hours cook and reheat foods, especially meat and poultry, so they are piping hot throughout use cooked foods, that have been stored in the refrigerator, within two days never reheat food more than once wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly freeze foods quickly, thaw in the refrigerator or microwave, avoid re-freezing thawed foods

2) Protect food from cross-contamination through appropriate storage, handling and sanitation: keep raw and prepared foods separate during preparation, serving and storage store prepared foods above raw foods in the refrigerator store foods in covered containers whether in the fridge or the cupboard keep food storage, preparation areas and equipment clean using hot soapy water. It is a good idea to have separate cutting boards for raw foods such as meat and poultry, and ready to eat foods such as cheese, cooked meats and salads.

3) Ensure good personal hygiene: ensure adequate personal hygiene including hand washing after handling raw foods, refuse, animals, visiting the toilet or changing nappies do not cough or sneeze over food do not smoke when preparing food (handling cigarettes puts saliva and bacteria from skin or lips onto your hands which may then contaminate the food)

ENDS

For more information contact: Selina Gentry, Media Advisor ph: 04 496 2483, pager 025 277 5411 Internet address: www.moh.govt.nz/media.htm

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