Monitor temperatures to improve food safety

HLP Controls Pty Ltd

Monday, 24 August, 2015

Monitor temperatures to improve food safety

There are temperature management, alarm monitoring and reporting systems available today that can ensure your food is safe for consumers.

With the technology and knowledge that we have today, why are there still so many foodborne illness cases?

Prior to our current knowledge base regarding bacteria, viruses, etc — and the development of technology for refrigeration, temperature monitoring and hazard analysis in storage and production — there were many illnesses and deaths due to food poisoning. But as we’ve developed solutions to these problems, how are they still happening?

There are around 59 food recalls per year — a number which is increasing. This may not sound like many, but it’s more than one each week.

More than half of these are for microbial contamination which is entirely preventable.

Far and away the most common of the microbial contamination culprits is Listeria monocytogenes (very bad for pregnant women, as it can cause spontaneous abortion). This is followed closely by Salmonella and E. coli.

Of course the main foods implicated are meats, including chicken — and, to a lesser degree, dairy products — but eggs, fruit and vegetables and nuts are also sources.

All of this leads to a whopping 5.4 million people becoming ill from foodborne illness in Australia each year. These are reported cases — not just where someone felt ill and didn’t go to the doctor. The actual figure would therefore be much higher than that. The worst outcome of foodborne illness is death, which occurs in around 120 Australians each year. In the UK, there are around 400 deaths and more again in the US.

Microorganism growth requires (for the most part) moisture, a food source, warmth and time. Take out one of these elements and the multiplication to dangerous levels is severely reduced, resulting in safer food. The growth requirement which is most easily controlled is warmth — we can control temperature — so this is the easiest way of ensuring safe food.

We are all well aware of the temperature controls required to kill and minimise microbial growth. All we have to do is implement these and monitor temperatures.

In production, you only need a simple digital probe thermometer to ensure that potentially hazardous foods are maintained at safe temperatures. Not only do you need to have one, but you must also use it and know the temperatures applicable to what is being done!

In storage, there are data loggers — now even automatic data logging systems which send an SMS to your phone if there is an alarm situation. You no longer have to stand by with a thermometer in hand.

The systems available today in temperature management, alarm monitoring and reporting do not have to take personnel much time to use, and, as technology improves (as with all equipment), they have become more and more affordable. But what price can you put on the food in storage in a chiller, should the refrigeration fail? Or on your business, should there be a recall of your food, or a class action from people who became ill eating the contaminated food, or the death of a consumer?

If you don’t know what to do, talk to experts in food safety — don’t rely on people unsure of the rules or of product which is not to food safety requirements. Monitor temperatures, then record and keep your monitoring as proof of your diligence to keep your product and your consumers safe.

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