Last week we took you through the 10 types of harmful bacteria that can crop up in your commercial kitchen, but your kitchen can be at harm from viruses and parasites as well! Similar to bacteria These viruses and parasites can also cause serious outbreaks of colds, flus, and foodborne illnesses, affecting both your staff and customers. They tend to spread as a result of poor handling of food via hand-to-hand, hand-to-food contact.
Knowing what to watch out for can be really valuable in tackling outbreaks and will give you the knowledge you need to support any procedures you put in place. So we’ve pulled together a list of the three most well-known viruses and parasites that you as a food handler should be aware of:
Norovirus refers to a group of highly contagious viruses of which a tiny amount of its particles can make someone sick. The most common reason for its spread is through human contact, but oysters harvested from contaminated water or fruit and vegetables that have been contaminated in the field are also sources.
It can take between 12 and 48 hours after consumption for symptoms, which include diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain, to appear. Those who are infected are at their most contagious while their symptoms are obvious, but also during the first few days of recovery. Anything they touch that has traces of faecal matter or vomit becomes contagious. Indeed the mere touching of ready-to-eat foods with bare hands before serving them can cause a food poisoning outbreak.
Food handler tip: As a food-handler you should not return to work for at least 48 hours after your symptoms have ceased. Beyond this it is important to practice extra careful personal hygiene such as hand-washing. That being said, the virus is sadly difficult to eradicate through normal sanitary and food safety measures.
2. Hepatitis A & E Virus
Hepatitis A & E Viruses cause liver disease which can in rare cases lead to liver failure and death. Although one can be vaccinated against both strains, if they are not, the contagious virus spreads in a similar way to bacterial infections that cause food poisoning: through food contaminated by faecal matter and poor handling of contaminated food.
The most dangerous part about both strains of this virus is that they have a relatively long incubation period, which means that the disease can be spread easily without anyone being aware of it. It is possible for no symptoms to appear at all, but they usually appear after infection within 2 to 7 weeks for Hepatitis A and 3 to 9 weeks for Hepatitis E. One might develop muscle aches, headaches, loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, fever and fatigue. After a few days this will develop into jaundice.
Consuming undercooked food tends to be the most common reason for the contraction of Hepatitis A or E. Hepatitis A is particularly related to seafood and especially oysters, clams, and other shellfish, whilst Hepatitis E is more commonly connected to pork or wild game.
Food handler tip: Poor cooking and handling of seafood is the biggest reason for the spread of both strains of this virus and as such the best method to remove this possibility is to take extra care with both.
Toxoplasma are parasites that live in the flesh of many animals and can be passed on to any animal or human that consumes the infected meat or touches meat in its raw form and spreads the parasite to their mouth by not properly washing their hands. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and foetuses because it can transmit to a child via the mother.
Most people who are infected with the parasite are not even aware of it and it is estimated that between 30-50% of the global population is chronically infected with the parasite. The symptoms can really vary between healthy individuals and those with a low immune system. The less severe symptoms range between headaches, muscle ache and sore throat but in worse cases the parasite can cause confusion, fever, seizures and damage to the brain and eyes. Although it is important to note that symptoms tend to last no longer than a month, serious chronic illnesses do result from it and there is always a lifelong persistence of cysts.
Food handler tip: The best way to remove the parasite from food is to freeze meat several days at sub-zero temperatures and fully cook the meat (75°C for 45 seconds; 82°C in Scotland). Cross contamination prevention is also extremely important.
To conclude, although relatively fewer in number compared to the number of harmful bacteria that could live in your kitchen, viruses and parasites are not to be messed with. To eradicate these problems from your kitchen it is really important to introduce overarching rules and procedures for cooking, storing and handling food. Training your staff in best practices is an obvious next step too. Violations of basic food safety standards could have serious consequences and for this reason alone food safety considerations should be at the forefront of every food handler’s mind. Due diligence to legal requirements is another huge reason to maintain appropriate food safety standards. If you require any industry advice on how to remove these threats from your kitchen, then our Food Safety experts can help guide you through this process. Get in touch today to book a free, no obligation consultation by calling 01279 620 866 or hitting the Get a Quote Now button at the top right of your screen!