Food contamination and prevention

If you have been reading the news in Mauritius this past week, you must surely have come across the several cases of food poisoning. From the food poisoning cases at the End of Year Party organized by the University of Mauritius (link 1, link 2, link 3) to the several cases of non-conforming food being sold during this festive season, it really makes us think why is this problem becoming more serious with time? According to an article published in L’Express of Friday 23rd December 2011, the Ministry of Health has put into place additional 144 officers to control food hygiene practices over the island and their main target would be chicken kebab and barbecue sellers in the capital city (Port-Louis). The food handlers who do not abide the laws according to the Food Act 1998, will have to pay for a fine of Rs 2000. But is  this action enough? Lives of people are valuable and the laws regarding food safety should become more strict in the country.

How is food contaminated?
Food can be contaminated from the following sources:
1) From green plants and fruits
On their inner and outer surfaces, there are several micro-organisms which are present (bacteria and other microbes). Given the favourable conditions, these micro-organisms can cause food spoilage.
Green fruits and vegetables from Mauritius
2) From animals
Contaminants are present on the surface of the animal (hides, hooves, hair, feather, feet, skin etc. contain contaminants from soil, feed, water and manure), in their respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.
Broilers at the University of Mauritius Farm
3) From Sewage
The use of domestic sewage converted into compost to fertilise crops can be a source of contamination. In addition, natural water that has been contaminated with sewage can contaminate fish and other aquatic animals.

4) From soil
Among all the other sources of contamination, the soil contains the greatest amount of micro-organisms. Hence, all food that has been in touch with soil needs to be washed thoroughly before consumption or cooking.

5) From water
Water contains a number of natural bacteria and consumers must ensure that the water is not contaminated before consuming it.

6) From air
The air contains many disease organisms which can affect human beings and therefore food is contaminated.

7) During storage
If a food is not stored properly (improper temperature for example), the micro-organisms present in the food will contaminate it and the consumer will suffer from food poisoning.

8) During transportation
During transportation, it must be ensured that the food is safe from any contaminant and is kept at the required temperature

9) During handling and processing
Additional contamination may also come from equipments used during processing, which are in contact with the food, packaging material and from the personnel as well.

Food spoilage may occur by one or more of the following:
  • Insects
  • Action of enzymes
  • Purely chemical reaction
  • physical changes
  • Environmental factors
  • Growth and activity of micro-organisms
Food poisoning related to poultry meat consumption
The most common food poisoning cases that are reported in the press in Mauritius comes from the consumption of poultry meat (chicken kebabs or other chicken products). But how is poultry meat contaminated?

Presence of salmonella
One very common example of contamination in chicken is the presence of salmonella in it. Salmonella is a significant pathogen for food producing animals and these animals are the primary source of a disease called salmonellosis. Salmonellosis is the most common food-borne bacterial disease in the world. When a food containing salmonella is eaten, the symptoms starts to show after 12 hours to 36 hours after ingestion. The symptoms include diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain, mild fever and chills. Vomiting, prostration, anorexia, headache and malaise may also occur. This may happen from 2-7 days.

How to prevent contamination by salmonella and other micro-organisms?
For animal production (the poultry industry for example), the possible points of contamination are classified as the:
  • pre-harvest phase – Breeder farms and the broiler farms
  • harvest phase – catching/transport
  • post-harvest phase – slaughterhouse, retail, consumer, kitchen/restaurants/fast-food outlets
In order to prevent salmonella contamination, prevention measures must be taken throughout the food chain (from farm to fork). In Mauritius there exists several food safety standards namely the ISO 9000, ISO 9001: 2000/2008, ISO 9004, ISO 22000/2005 and the HACCP (Hazard Analysis  Critical Control Point). These effective food safety and quality management systems are needed to:
1) control food safety hazards
2) prevent food-borne diseases
3) protect consumer health and life

The video below gives an idea about how the HACCP is implemented in the food chain:

To prevent food contamination and food poisoning, all stakeholders involved in the food chain (farmer, processor, retailer, consumer) must collaborate and follow food safety regulations. It is the responsibility of each and everyone of us and the government has a really important role in encouraging this practice.

About Nawsheen Hosenally

Nawsheen Hosenally, a national of the Republic of Mauritius, has over 6 years of experience in the agricultural sector, specifically focusing on the engagement of youth in agriculture through the use of ICTs. Currently, Nawsheen is the co-Founder of Agribusiness TV, a web TV that features success stories of young agricultural entrepreneurs in Africa. Nawsheen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Extension from the University of Mauritius, and a Master’s degree in Management and Information Systems from the University of Manchester.

2 comments on “Food contamination and prevention

  1. Thanks for your post. The number of cases in Mauritius has become alarming. Obviously somewhere along the chain norms are not being respected. Work ethics in this country need to be brought up-to-date as well as food processing. Probably the only way to wake people up is that victims file court cases.

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