Food meant for human and animal consumption must meet certain quality and safety criteria to be adjudged safe for consumption after production. And this is only possible if the production process follows certain guidelines which are all geared towards ensuring the safety and hygiene of the final product. Several factors affect the quality of food and food products. Some of the principles of ensuring adequate food hygiene are highlighted in this section.
- PERSONNEL HYGIENE
Personnel hygiene is critical in every food producing industry. Most food borne diseases are acquired via the contamination of food by food handlers or food processing personnel who are sick or have one infectious diseases or another. Such sick individuals can pass on the infectious agent they are harbouring to unsuspecting consumers through the food that they process or produce. Because of this, food handlers and people who work in food producing companies are expected to maintain a high level of hygiene at their place of work; and those with contagious infections are advised to come forward or explain their ailments so that appropriate treatment can be administered to them to break the disease-transmission chain. In addition to maintaining a proper personal hygiene, there should be washing hand sinks, detergents and lavatories for workers in such facilities. The proper protective clothing, footwear’s and head coverings should always be worn during production or while in the manufacturing or production room. Personnel in food processing industries should report all medical conditions to management especially clinical symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, flu and discharges from the body amongst others so that appropriate containment measures could be taken to alleviate the malady. Other personal behaviour such as coughing, indiscriminate spitting or sneezing over uncovered food during production should be avoided as much as possible, because such practices could serve as route via which infectious disease agents, could be transmitted via food to consumers.
- DESIGN OF FACILITY
A suitable production facility is critical to the production of safe and hygienic food for consumers. Food producing facilities should be designed in such a way that sterile rooms are well separated from non-sterile room; and personnel should have specialized rooms for changing their clothing’s, eating, relaxation rooms and good lavatories for personal convenience. The surfaces where the raw materials are processed and even those surfaces that come in contact with the already processed food should not have any adverse effect on the food; and they should be easy to clean and maintained hygienically always. Though the design of food processing facilities may vary from one region or country to another depending on the unique sanitary guidelines of every country for the construction of such a facility, it is important that food processing industries have effective cleaning and holistic maintenance measures which will help to reduce the level of microbial load in the environment. Such a facility should also have a laboratory unit or section where raw materials and processed food can be tested routinely to ensure that they are harmless to consumers. The food production facility should also have a sustainable program for disinfection and cleaning of the environment (both indoors and outdoors) as this will help to minimize food contamination; and the facility should be designed to take care of effective waste management which could be a source of contamination especially if wastes are not properly managed.
- PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT
Production equipment could also serve as sources of contamination in food production companies especially if the equipment is not routinely kept clean and maintained. Equipment used for food production should be easy to clean after precaution and even in the course of production (in some cases); and they should be non-toxic to the end product. Generally, food production equipment should be easily disassembled so that they can be properly cleaned to avoid microbial contamination.
- CONTROL OF PESTS
Pests are living organisms including insects, plants and animals that carry diseases or infectious disease agents and transmit same to other organisms. They destroy plant products especially raw materials meant for food production. Pest control is critical in food processing companies because of their role in destroying raw materials for food production and even already processed food. Because of the danger they pose to the safety and hygiene of food, food producing facilities should maintain proper sanitation always to avoid pest infestation in their facility. Pest infestation if allowed can be a source of contamination and destruction of food products and even raw materials. A good pest control measure that does not affect the safety and suitability of food should be put in place to assuage possible pest infestation in food processing industries.
POTENTIALS OF MICROBES IN FOOD PRODUCTION
Microorganisms inclusive of bacteria and fungi play tremendous roles in sustainable agriculture. And these organisms used for food production including bacteria and fungi have been found to improve the health status of the consumers. Due to the prevailing shortage of food or food scarcity in some parts of the world; microbes are currently being applied to increase crop yield, improve the fertility of the soil and also to increase the growth of crop plants. Rhizobium species and mycorrhizae are typical examples of microbial interactions that have the potential to transform and ensure food sustainability across the globe. Several fermented food products including fermented milk and beverages are produced through the fermentative action of microorganisms including mesophiles, thermophiles, lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and yeasts and moulds. For example, acidophilus milk contains Lactobacillus acidophilus (a probiotic organism); and this bacterium improves the general health of the consumers by altering the intestinal microflora of the GIT. This activity of L. acidophilus in the GIT may help control the problem of colon cancer. Thermophilic-fermentations carried out by thermophiles at about 45°C are used in the production of fermented foods like yoghurt. Cultured buttermilk and sour cream like vinegar can be produced from the microbial activity of mesophilic bacteria at temperatures lower than 45°C. These organisms produce mesophilic acids that cause protein denaturation. Microbes are also employed in the production of several alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages such as wines, beer and champagne. Fermented milk products containing Bifidobacterium species improve lactose tolerance in individuals experiencing lactose-intolerance. Such fermented milk products also possess anticancer activity; and they help reduce serum cholesterol levels, assist calcium absorption, and promote the synthesis of B-complex vitamins. Such fermented milk products are usually recommended for patients passing through any of these clinical conditions. Aerobic yeasts (e.g. Saccharomyces cerevisiae) fermentation is used to produce carbon dioxide with minimal alcohol production in dough, and this contributes to the rising of dough – a significant process in bread production. Microbes also add or improve the taste and flavours of fermented food products through their fermentation activity. The addition of microorganisms to the diet (as microbial dietary adjuvants) in order to provide health benefits beyond basic nutritive value is a key aspect of improving the gut flora and the general health of the individual. Probiotics is one example of microbial dietary adjuvants used medically to improve the health of the gut.
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