In 9th August 2009, ten guests felt uncomfortable after having buffet dinner in Regal Kowloon Hotel. This was the second food poisoning outbreak related to hotel’s buffet in that week. Food poisoning in hotel’s buffet should not be new to you as it happens occasionally. But do you know why it is so common? And what safety practises can be done to reduce the potential harm on buffets’ customers? From the news, we know that both hotels suffered in food poisonings provided high-risk food such as oysters.
It is really important to ensure the food safety of these high-risk foods from the stage of purchasing to storing and serving. Otherwise, the guests will be in dangerous situation. Also, offering wide variety of food for the customers including ready-to-eat foods such as fried rice and uncooked food such as raw meat may result in cross-contaminatin. Cross-contamination can be occurred easily when cooked foods contaminated by the uncooked foods. Moreover, person to food product contamination may probably happen.
Buffet is a serving meal system, in which food is placed in public area and guests normally serve themselves. Guests can get the dishes through the sideboards or display boards. As everyone can get in touch with the food and food containers, there is a high risk of contamination of food by customers when they pick up their food. These are all possible reasons leading to the outbreak of food poisoning in Regal Kowloon Hotel. Based on the foregoing causes, some tactics can be used to eliminate or prevent the food poisoning outbreak in the future.
First of all, when the person in charge of purchasing of a restaurant is buying high-risk foods likes pre-prepared sushi, sashimi and oysters, he/she need to make sure the foods are supplied from licensed food factories or other approved sources. A reputable and reliable food supplier should have a supplier certificate which is required for inspection on demand by inspecting officers of Food and Environmental Hygiene Department in Hong Kong. Secondly, during the receiving process of food products from suppliers, the staff should ensure the food products are protected from contamination.
In addition, those potential hazardous foods should be kept at a temperature of 4oC or below; or 60oC or above. This is because most pathogenic bacteria grow and multiply rapidly at temperature between 4oC and 60oC. This temperature range is therefore called the temperature danger zone. The bacterial growth will slow down or stop at temperature lower than 4oC or higher than 60oC. Also, make sure the high-risk food is in frozen state if they are expected to be received frozen. Thirdly, staff should ensure the foods are stored properly.
Proper storage is important for preventing food from contamination. Ready-to-eat food should be stored separately from raw food, ideally in separate refrigerators. If they have to be stored in the same refrigerators, raw food should be put below ready-to-eat food in order to prevent cross-contamination. The high-potential hazardous food should be stored at or below 4oC or at or above 60oC to avoid the rapid growth of pathogen. Frozen food should be stored at -18oC or below so as to keep a frozen state.
Finally, it’s time to talk about what should be careful of when displaying food on the display boards. To avoid cross-contamination, raw and cooked foods should be displayed separately and handled with different utensils. The cold dishes should be displayed in the refrigerators or on ice (at 4oC or below) while the hot food should be displayed in heating trays (at 60oC or above) to minimize the pathogenic growth. Also, buffet food should be served fresh each time. If the fresh food is mixed with old batches, the fresh food will probably be infected and the pathogenic growth will be unable to expect.
In other words, we do not know when the food should be thrown away as the critical limit of displaying has changed. Furthermore, to avoid person to food products contamination, a staff can be arranged on purpose of monitoring the hygienic condition of buffet-serving areas. The staff is responsible for removing contaminated food and dirty utensils from the buffet-serving areas. Also, the staff shall supervise self-service food display by discouraging customers from mishandling or tampering with exposed food.