Poultry production hygiene standards - are you hitting the mark?

With 50% of all meat dishes sold/prepared in the UK being made with poultry of one sort or another, it is no wonder there is a great deal of attention in the news this week regarding hygiene standards of certain poultry processing plants. Only two examples have been highlighted in the media, but how indicative is this of the whole industry and how worried should the public really be?

All food producers are aware (or should be) of all the stringent regulations and EU Directives that exist to ensure the food on our plates isn’t going to make us ill, leave us with life changing and permanent medical conditions or worse still, kill us. Aside from the human impact of not adhering to these regulations, there are also the damaging effects to the businesses concerned in terms of customer confidence. No food retailer wants their brand associated with a food safety scandal.

Yet these types of food safety scandals keep cropping up. Clearly something isn’t working.

Consumer demand for inexpensive meat has put an extraordinary amount of pressure on the system. Food manufacturers are continuously looking at ways to make the process more efficient and cost effective. Inevitably, something is going to give.

But, it’s not all bad news. In our experience, as food safety consultants working with a whole range of food producers and processors including meat processing for more than 20 years, what we’re seeing is the media bringing to public attention alleged cases that are the exception and not the rule.

The vast majority of poultry companies in the UK dedicate significant resource and effort to ensuring their production sites are meeting or exceeding the hygiene standards expected and required. It makes good business sense.

                                

Food hygiene includes all practices, precautions and procedures involved in; protecting food from contamination; preventing organisms multiplying to the extent that could be harmful to human health or prematurely degrade the food and the destruction of harmful bacteria through cooking and processing.

One of the most important things that food manufacturers can, and should, be doing to protect public safety as well as their own businesses is to have a robust HACCP system in place. In particular, meat plants will be focussing their systems to reduce the likelihood of contamination from microbiological hazards such as E.coli O157 and Campylobacter, during production.

HACCP controls involve good hygiene practices – maintenance and cleaning of processing facilities and equipment, pest control, training, personal hygiene, traceability, waste management, wrapping and packaging and transport.

HACCP controls also involve operational hygiene controls – handling raw materials, animal welfare and transport, slaughter, dressing, storage, cutting and processing.

A key to ensuring good practice in this area in particular is ongoing staff training and competence.

Some retailers have stringent rules and penalties to ensure that their supply chains are providing regular food hygiene training to employees. In an industry where employee churn can be quite high along with the use of a migrant and agency labour force, this is a constant challenge. But, it is critical for a business to maintain food hygiene training of all staff that are exposed to the processing facilities and equipment even if they are only intended to be temporary labour or agency workers.

Effective food safety training for food handling operatives underpins the entire Quality Management System.  Manufacturers can have the best operational hygiene and biosecurity procedures in place, but unless they are actually implemented and policed, the systems will be useless.

The increased trend of short term contracts must be supported by suitable induction and food safety training to ensure staff are appropriately trained before they start work.

Regular hygiene assessments are another way of ensuring hygiene standards are as they should be. A good hygiene assessment should be thorough.  The process needs to review at every stage and all the potential routes of contamination identified and considered. Once you have a clear picture of this then a programme of improvement and maintained can be designed to manage the risks. You can’t manage what you don’t know. This process is designed to give you the knowledge you need to manage all your risks.

Regular assessments will ensure that you are proactively managing the risks and maintaining a good standard of hygiene.

If you are doing all these things and can hand on heart say your food manufacturing business is maintaining good hygiene standards and practices; then you and the public have nothing to worry about…

Find out more about our food safety trouble shooting and crisis management services.

Post date: 25 Jul 2014

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