The E.coli O157 guidance was developed as a result of two serious outbreaks of E.coli O157 in Scotland in 1996 and in Wales in 2005. These outbreaks were due to cross contamination arising from the poor handling of food.
Although this guidance has been produced to control E.coli O157, the measures it contains will also help in the control of other harmful food poisoning bacteria such as campylobacter and salmonella.
What is E.coli O157?
Escherichia coli O157 (E. coli O157) is a dangerous type of bacteria which can cause food poisoning. It can cause serious illness and could be fatal, especially for vulnerable people such as infants, young children and elderly people. Only a small amount of bacteria is needed to cause illness.
The E. coli O157 bacteria has been found in:
- raw meat
- unpasteurised milk
- sprouted seeds
- salad vegetables
Cooking foods to above 75oC kills the bacteria, but some of the foods listed above are often eaten without being cooked. Foods can be easily contaminated with the bacteria after cooking through cross contamination if food handling and preparation practices are poor.
How do I comply with guidance?
Cross-contamination can be controlled and prevented by:
Separation of food
Raw foods must be kept strictly separate from ready-to-eat foods at all times, even if the food is packaged.
Where possible you should have separate work surfaces for raw and ready to eat foods.
If you have little space you can separate in time by preparing raw meat and vegetables and then thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the area before any ready to eat foods are prepared or handled. or cooking takes place.
Foods must not have direct contact with the work surface. Separate boards or trays must be used.
If possible you should have separate fridges and freezers for raw and ready to eat foods. If a single fridge or freezer is being used, raw food must be stored at the bottom and separate from ready to eat foods.
There must be separate equipment and utensils for raw and ready to eat foods. These must be identifiable and must be stored separately unless they are heat disinfected. It is good practice to always keep them separate.
Complex machinery for slicing, mincing or vacuum packing can be difficult to clean and disinfect thoroughly therefore separate machines for raw and for ready-to-eat foods must be provided.
Effective cleaning and disinfection
Cleaning must always be a two-stage process:
- Stage 1 - Cleaning should remove visible dirt, grease, food particles and debris, so that disinfectants can reach every part of a surface.
- Stage 2 - Disinfection destroys harmful bacteria. Disinfectant needs to be applied at the correct dilution for the correct amount of time to destroy bacteria. This contact time can vary between products, so you must read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
It is best to use single use disposable cloths for wiping any raw meat or soiled vegetable spillages or for cleaning these areas. If you use re-usable cloths these should be discarded after cleaning contaminated surfaces and washed at a temperature above 82oC.
Sanitisers have both cleaning and disinfection properties in a single product but the two stage cleaning and disinfection process must still be carried out. The sanitiser is used in stage 1 to clean and again in stage 2 to disinfect.
Any disinfectant or sanitiser used must meet the official standards of BS EN1276:1997 or BS EN 13697:2001. You can normally check on the bottle that it meets this standard, contact the manufacturer or check the list of compliant products.
If you have a dishwasher, you should use this to wash all equipment you use. To be effective, water reservoirs should be kept above 80oC for at least 15 seconds.
If you do not have a dishwasher you should designate equipment (boards, knives, containers) for raw food handling and wash these separately after you have washed other equipment. The sink must then be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected using a two-stage process. Equipment used for raw foods must be stored separately from ready-to-eat equipment.
Alternatively all equipment after washing must be heat disinfected, using steam or boiling water. Caution will be necessary to prevent scalding injury, and devising a safe method is critical.
Good personal hygiene
It is important to wash your hands after touching raw meat or raw food contact surfaces.
You should provide soap, hot water and a paper towel dispenser by the washbasin.
A paper towel should be used to turn off taps after hand washing to prevent clean hands from becoming contaminated again.
Alternatively non-hand operated taps can be fitted such as push button, lever or knee operated.
You need to consider a good hand washing technique and ensure staff are trained in hand washing and their practices monitored.
You will minimise the handling of food by:
- buying already washed and prepared vegetables to avoid contamination by soil
- buying already prepared raw meat
- using tongs and other utensils to handle food. Colour coded tongs etc. for raw and ready-to-eat foods will improve controls
- disposable gloves can be used to handle raw foods, provided they are disposed of once the task is completed. Hands should be washed before handling ready-to-eat foods. Separate packs or colour coded gloves can help control cross-contamination.
Use the E Coli Checklist to make sure your business is complying with the E.coli O157 guidance and record the controls you have put into place.
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