Whilst we often associate the summer months with an increase in food related illnesses due to increased temperatures, food handlers and their employers need to remember that winter is also a high-risk time
due to an increase in viral gastroenteritis.
This highly infectious condition causes vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches and muscle aches and is easily passed from person to person through poor hygiene and food related practices.
NSW Food Authority Warning
This week a warning was raised by Dr Lisa Szabo, Chief Scientist for the NSW Food Authority cautioning against preparing food when feeling unwell.
"Don’t cook when you’re crook is a good basic rule to apply whether you are cooking commercially or preparing food at home," Dr Szabo said.
"However, this warning applies particularly to food industry professionals who come into contact with the preparation and service of food for hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
"Under the Food Standards Code it is illegal for food handlers to handle food when they have a gastric illness. It is also illegal for food businesses to allow staff to work if they are aware they have a gastric illness.
"To put people to work when you know they’re unwell, or to not declare an illness, could potentially put the health of many people at risk."
Dr Szabo advises that the first rule of food safety is to thoroughly wash and dry hands before beginning to prepare or eat any meal, or after handling raw met or poultry.
"Good and thorough hand washing removes dirt, leftover food, grease and harmful bacteria and viruses from your hands preventing them from spreading to food, work surfaces and equipment," she said.
Legal Obligations for Food Handlers
Under Standard 3.2.2 of the Food Standards Code it is specified that a food handler must notify his or her supervisor if the are suffering from, or suspect that they are suffering from, a foodborne illness or disease.
They must not handle any food or take part in any other work on he food premises that may result in contamination of food. And they must let their supervisor know if they suspect that food may already have been contaminated.
Legal Obligations For Employers
The same standard specifies that if a person is suffering from, or is suspected to be suffering from, a foodborne illness or disease, that it is the responsibility of the food business to ensure that the food handler does not engage in handling of food for the food business where there is a reasonable likelihood of contamination.
Furthermore, the food business should only allow the food handler to resume handling food after receiving advice from a medical practitioner that the person is no longer suffering from, or is a carrier of, a foodborne disease.
It is the responsibility of the food business to ensure that food handlers understand their responsibilities in regards to working when they are sick. So, remind your staff of their food safety obligations and stay safe this winter!