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Food Safety and Food Poisoning
What is food poisoning? It is an acute illness, usually sudden, caused by eating contaminated or poisonous food. Symptoms of food poisoning are:
1. nausea – a sick feeling like you’re going to be sick
2. illness – vomiting
3. Pelvic pain – squeezing pain in the stomach area
The main causes of food poisoning are:
1. Bacteria – the most common
2. Viruses – which are smaller than bacteria, usually found in water
3. Chemicals – Insecticides and weed killers
4. Metals – lead pipes, copper pans
5. Poisonous plants – drumsticks, red beans (undercooked)
Bacteria is the most common form of food poisoning and therefore it is important to know more about them. Bacteria are tiny insects that live in the air, water, soil, on and in people, in and in food. Some bacteria cause disease. They are called PATHOGENIC bacteria. Some bacteria cause food to rot and decay, they are called SPOILER bacteria. There are four things bacteria need to grow. These are:
Warmth. They love a body temperature of 73 degrees but can grow happily at 15 degrees. They grow most easily between 5c and 63c. This is known as the DANGER ZONE
Time. Each bacterium grows by dividing in half. This takes time, on average every 20 minutes. This is known as BINARY FISSION. Imagine, a single bacterium dividing in half every ten minutes can become more than a million in 3 and a half hours.
Food. They like high protein foods for example, poultry, cooked meat, dairy products, shellfish, cooked rice, stews and meats.
The humidity. They need water, and most foods have enough water or moisture to allow bacteria to thrive.
Some bacteria can form a hard protective case around themselves, this is called a SPORE. This happens when ‘the look gets tough’, when it gets too hot or too dry. So they are able to survive very hot or cold temperatures and can be present even in dry foods. Once the right conditions return (5 – 63c), the spore emerges from its protective body and becomes a growing, food-poisoning bacterium again.
Bacteria and food poisoning
We have proven that the presence of bacteria is one of the most common causes of food poisoning – the presence of poisonous chemicals can also cause food poisoning. There are a number of potentially toxic chemicals present in food. For example, potatoes that have turned green contain the toxic substance, Solanine, which is dangerous only when eaten in excess.
Rhubarb contains oxalic acid – the amounts present in the stems, which are usually cooked, are relatively harmless to humans, but the higher concentration in the leaves makes them too dangerous to eat.
A toxin is a poisonous substance that can be produced by the metabolism of a plant or animal, especially certain bacteria. Toxic food poisoning is mainly caused by staphylococcus in Great Britain and less commonly in this country, Clostridium botulinum.
The foods most often affected by staphylococcus are:
• Meat pies
• Sliced meats
• Gravy Pie
• Synthetic cream
• Ice cream
50-60% of people carry staphylococci in the nose and throat and are present in nasal secretions after a cold. Staphylococci are also present in wounds and skin infections and find their way into foods through the hands of an infected food handler. Hence the importance of keeping all wounds and skin conditions covered. Although staphylococci themselves are easily destroyed by thorough boiling or reheating, the toxin they produce is often much more resistant to heat and may need a higher temperature or longer cooking time for its complete destruction.
Clostridium botulinum food poisoning – known as botulism – is extremely serious. This produces a life-threatening toxin, which is the most virulent poison known. The foods most often affected by clostridium botulinum are:
• Inadequately preserved meat, vegetables and fish.
During the commercial canning process, every care is taken to ensure that each portion of the food is heated to a high enough temperature to ensure complete destruction of any clostridium botulinum spores that may be present.
YEAST AND MULAK – microscopic organisms some of which are desirable in food and contribute to its characteristics. For example, baking cheese, fermenting bread, etc. They are simple plants that look like whiskers in food. To grow they require warmth, moisture and air. They are killed by heat and sunlight. Molds can grow where there is too little moisture for yeast and bacteria to grow. Yeasts are plants or single-celled organisms larger than bacteria that grow on foods that contain moisture and sugar. Foods that contain a small percentage of sugar and a large amount of liquid, such as fruit juices and syrups, can be fermented by yeast. Yeasts are destroyed by heat.
VIRUS – food-borne microscopic particles that can cause disease. For example, hepatitis A (jaundice). Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot multiply or grow in food.
PROTOZOA – single-celled organisms that live in water and are responsible for serious diseases such as malaria, usually spread by infected mosquitoes, and dysentery. These foodborne infections are mostly caught abroad.
ESCHERICHIA COLI – E Coli is a normal part of the intestines of humans and animals. It is found in human feces and raw meat. E Coli causes abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea and vomiting. High standards of hygiene must be applied and through the cooking of foods. Raw and cooked meat should be stored at the correct temperature and cross-contamination should be avoided.
SALMONELLA – is present in the intestines of animals and humans. Affected foods include poultry, meat, eggs and shellfish. Prevention should include:
• good standards of personal hygiene
• elimination of insects and rodents.
• Washing hands, equipment and surfaces after handling raw poultry
• not allowing disease carriers to handle food.
There are three ways to control bacteria:
1. Protect food from airborne bacteria by keeping food covered. To prevent cross-contamination, use separate cutting boards and knives for cooked and raw foods Use different colored cutting boards for separate foods. For example, red for meat, blue for fish, yellow for poultry, etc. Store cooked and uncooked foods separately. Wash your hands often.
2. Do not keep foods in the danger zone between 5c and 63c for longer than absolutely necessary.
3. To kill bacteria, subject the bacteria to a temperature of 77 C for 30 seconds or a higher temperature for less time. Some bacteria develop into spores and can withstand higher temperatures for longer periods of time. Some chemicals also kill bacteria and can be used to clean equipment and utensils.
The main food hygiene regulations relevant to the food supplier are: The Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995 and The Food Safety (Temperature Control) Regulations 1995. These implement the EC food hygiene directive (93/ 43 EEC). They replaced a number of different regulations including the Food Safety (General) Regulations 1970. The 1995 Regulations are similar in many respects to the earlier regulations. However, as with Health and Safety legislation, these regulations place great emphasis on owners and managers to identify safety hazards, design and implement appropriate systems to prevent contamination, these systems and procedures are covered by Critical Points of Hazard Analysis Control (HACCP) and/or Secured Catering. The regulations establish two general requirements for food business owners:
• To ensure that all food handling operations are carried out in a hygienic manner and according to the ‘Rules of Hygiene’.
• Identify and control all potential food safety hazards, using a systematic approach or HACCP or Safe Catering.
• Furthermore, any food handler who may be suffering from or carrying a food-borne disease has an obligation to report this to the employer, who may be obliged to prevent the person concerned from handle food. Catering establishments have a general obligation to supervise and instruct and provide food safety and hygiene training in accordance with the responsibilities of their employees. Details regarding the amount of training required are not specified in the regulations. However, the HMSO Industry Guide to Catering provides guidance on training, which can be taken as a general standard to comply with the legislation.
Prevention of food poisoning
Almost all food poisoning can be prevented by:
• compliance with hygiene rules
caring and thinking head
• ensuring that high standards of cleanliness are applied to premises and equipment
• accident prevention
• high standards of personal hygiene
• physical ability
• maintaining good working conditions
• maintenance of equipment in good and clean condition
• the use of special equipment and knives for cooked and raw foods
• Ample provision of cleaning facilities and equipment
• storing food at the right temperature
• safe reheating of foods
• rapid cooling of foods before storage
• protection of foods from parasites and insects;
• hygienic washing procedures;
• Knowing how food poisoning is caused
• performing procedures for the prevention of food poisoning.
This has only been a brief overview of food safety. If you are in the catering trade or are planning to become a cook or chef, it is essential that you learn everything you need to know about the subject. The following links should help fill in the blanks.
Basically, you need to know the Food Regulations pertaining to your country. It is pointless to follow UK Food Safety Regulations if you live or work in Australia, Spain or New Zealand.
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