The Importance of Maintaining a Food Safety Audit Checklist

Given the vast quantities of processed foods and beverages required daily by a burgeoning world population and the urgency with which it is now required to get these products to the table, stringent food safety measures have probably never been as important as they are today. In order to ensure that the necessary measures are enforced both consistently and effectively, this will involve conducting an audit, and thus having access to a detailed checklist that is applicable to each given product is certain to prove invaluable. In the restaurants where meals are prepared and offered directly for consumption to the public, such quality and hygiene checks are every bit as important.

While requirements and documentation differ from one country to the next, most will have some kind of agency that is tasked with the responsibility of overseeing both the practices of those involved in the business of feeding the nation’s diners and the condition of the premises on which they do so. In South Africa, the Department of Health, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and the Restaurant Association of South Africa (RASA) each contribute to the definition of the nation’s food safety regulations, while the monitoring is shared by various approved private inspection agencies, of which some may focus on certain specified areas, such as plant products intended for export.

To prepare for a food safety audit, the restaurateur needs to be prepared and his or her checklist should begin with scrutinising the preparation areas. It is here that contaminants are most likely to come into contact with edibles and where the need for stringent hygiene measures is, therefore, vital. Surface contamination may be biological or chemical in nature, and the presence of bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter, clostridium, listeria or the norovirus could lead to widespread illness, hospitalisation and even deaths among patrons, if not remedied. At one time, isolating and identifying a microbial contaminant would have taken 24 hours or more. Today, advanced new techniques have made detection possible within minutes and identification in just a few hours.

Part of a restaurant’s food safety audit should also include an examination of the kitchen staff who, although not visibly affected by illness, may still act as carriers much like Mary Mallon, the legendary cook of the late 1800s who was later christened “Typhoid Mary”, and who was believed to have infected more than 50 diners of whom 3 actually died before she was eventually identified and forced into isolation by the US public health authorities.

Although of potential risk to no more than 10% of diners, allergens are also a source of danger and where these are known to be present in a dish, the menu needs to make this clear. Accidental contamination of the workplace may pose a greater risk and, once again, this calls for strict rules of hygiene, backed up by frequent testing.

To simplify the process of monitoring food safety in restaurant kitchens and similar preparation areas, there are now some reliable and easy-to-use test kits available from us at IEPSA. Consisting of the means to collect surface samples, reagents to respond to the presence of bacteria or allergens, and instruments to measure their concentration, we provide peace of mind.

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