If the “what’s going to be popular this year” speculators are correct there will be a rise in the demand for vegetarian and vegan foods during 2017. This will inevitably lead to a review of menus and subsequent service provision, however, whether it will lead to a review of food safety thinking associated with these types of food is another matter.
At a recent event when speaking with a group of quasi-foodies, the question was asked about what is a high risk food and the eponymous answer raw meat was the first to come out (from the uninitiated), quickly followed by chicken. Surprised looks were quickly followed by sage nods when the correct answers were explained.
This experience made me think a little specifically with regards to the general misinformed view that if the food doesn’t contain meat it is low risk, therefore could it be that vegetarian/vegan food preparation is being completed without the greatest food safety controls in place?
One of the common problems with food hygiene training is that there is a real focus on organisms such as Campylobacter and Salmonella and the fact that most are associated with meat. It is easy to forget that some of the largest food poisoning outbreaks in recent years have actually been traced to non-meat products such as sprouting fenugreek (approximately 4,000 E.coli cases including 53 deaths in northern Germany), cantaloupe melons (147 cases of Listeria and 33 deaths in the USA) and raspberries (900 cases of norovirus in Finland). It is therefore essential to remember that the basics of food safety need to be applied equally to non-meat foods.
Sourcing – are you buying your foods from reputable and certified suppliers? This is a standard area of food safety management systems which is often studiously avoided. We have an approved supplier list, yes that’s great but how do you approve your suppliers and how do you make sure that they remain approved?
Cleaning – it’s important to maintain your kitchen and equipment in a clean condition of course, but what about fruit and vegetables -are you washing them all or just some? If you buy pre-bagged products, such as salad items or sprouting seeds, make sure you read the label to check if they are pre-washed or need to be cooked before use (this is more common than you might expect in the case of sprouting seeds!).
Handwashing – whilst many vegetarian and vegan products are cooked, many others are not so it’s essential to wash hands between handling raw / unwashed fruit and veg and handling ready to eat products.
Claims – be very careful when making claims that a product is indeed vegan or vegetarian. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing you have prepared a vegetarian/vegan product but forgetting that you have already used the cooking oil to fry breaded meat products.
2017 may well be the year that sees the popularity of vegetarian and vegan food rise and rise, let’s not make it the year customer sickness complaints also rise and rise!
By Mike Williams