How Important is food safety for someone who doesn’t work with food?

Initially, I was going to reply to this question directly. But after thinking for a while, I thought to myself “Well food safety is important to everyone, regardless of where you work”. And this analogy popped into my head: “How important is electrical safety to someone who overloads extensions?…How important is fire safety to someone who’s house is ablaze?…” To put it simply; If you consume food, then food safety is important to you!

Food is a part of our everyday lives, we cannot live without it. So it’s important that the thing keeping us alive isn’t causing us illness, prolonged health conditions or even death. And although that may sound pessimistic, the awareness of food safety and good hygiene over the past 30 years, has reduced the chances of these things happening.

Listeria Monocytogenes is part of the ‘main 10 bacteria’ we study in food safety. This particular bacteria is incredibly hard to identify as the incubation period can be up to 90 days after eating contaminated food. (“what did you eat 90 days ago?”) It can result in the normal symptoms of diarrhoea, vomiting and fever. But is also known to cause flu like symptoms, which most of us would never consider food poisoning. However…

Meningitis, Septicaemia, Encephalitis & Miscarriage can be the most severe symptoms associated with Listeria. In 2019, 7 people sadly died as a result of sandwiches and salads contaminated with Listeria within a hospital setting. The sandwiches had been prepared in a manufacturers setting and the Listeria outbreak had originated from a supplier of cooked chicken used in the sandwiches. This shows that although we have made good steps in controlling food pathogens and hazards alike, to completely remove these hazards would be near impossible. The table below gives examples of where some bacteria naturally exist:

Although we can identify where bacteria comes from and what foods it may present itself on, the most important thing anyone can do is use controlling factors and preventative measures. Luckily I have a food safety poster to hand to simplify the complex terminology:

Obviously there’s plenty more rules to follow, but these first 8 give you a good start whether you’re just entering a catering environment, or doing a bit of home baking. But the most important thing to take from these rules; Is that if you follow them, you will never make yourself or give anyone you cook for food poisoning or illness. A common counter question I receive is:

“I’ve been cooking food this way for 40+ years and I’ve never had a problem. Why should I start caring now?”

Like all types of safety; whether its chemicals, fire, working at heights etc. it only takes one mistake for us to regret not taking it more seriously. The more modern food safety risks such as Hepatitis E, C. Botulinum or E. Coli are significant in that they don’t discriminate against age or gender.

It’s believed E. Coli O157 was birthed into food through the industrial changes to farming and nutrition in cattle feed, but this is only theory with the first confirmed case in 1982 by the CDC. Hepatitis E is becoming a more common problem as the food source is mainly from pork
products (Joints, Sausages). So when people tell me they’ve been cooking food the same way for 40+ years, I remind them that food is not the same as it once was 40 years ago. Pathogens naturally want to survive, and will try to adapt and mutate to suit new environments. So it’s important not to stay stuck in the past and accept that food safety can, and will change.

E. Coli O157:
Hepatitis E:
General Food Bacteria pathology information resources/further reading:
Managing food safety (19th Edition) – Highfield International LTD
FSA – Food Standards Agency
PHE – Public Health England
*All images, tables and visual content used are Intellectual Property of B A Ireland, and shared with HSE People
**The content within this article has been compiled with an approach to inform and educate, It should only be used as guidance not be relied on as absolute fact or law.