There are strict rules relating to the preparation of food. The purpose of the rules is to ensure a high level of consumer protection with regard to food safety. The rules are contained in Regulation 852/2004 of the European Parliament and Council on the hygiene of foodstuffs.
What do the rules say?
The rules say that where a person is suffering from, or carrying a disease which is likely to be transmitted through food or where a person is afflicted, for example, with infected wounds, skin infections, sores or diarrhoea, that person is prohibited from handling food or entering into any food-handling area in any capacity if there is any likelihood of direct or indirect contamination.
The rules also say that where a person employed in a food business and is likely to come into contact with food is so affected that they are required to report immediately the illness or symptoms, and if possible their causes, to the food business operator.
Do the rules apply to all food businesses?
The rules relate to all food businesses other than those engaged in primary production and associated operations, for example farmers and growers.
Who do the rules apply to?
The rules apply to anyone who handles or touches food or who touches surfaces in rooms when food is handled for a food business other than those businesses who are engaged in primary production and associated operations. This will include employees of a food business and agency workers. Such persons are commonly known as “food handlers”. However, the rules also apply to managers, cleaners, and any contractors and inspectors who enter into a room where food is kept or being prepared or processed.
Administrative or office staff employed by or who work for a food business will not be covered by the rules as long as they don’t enter the rooms in which food is handled or stored. However, they may be required, under their contract of employment, to report such diseases and afflictions as contamination can occur where such persons come in contact with food handlers, for example in toilets and canteens.
The rules set out specific examples of diseases and afflictions which must be reported. Are these the only diseases that need to be reported?
The rules simply provide some examples of the types of diseases and afflictions which must be reported. However, the reporting requirement extends to any disease which is likely to be transmitted through food and any affliction which is likely to result in the direct or indirect contamination of food.
The most common symptoms of a disease which is likely to be transmitted through food are diarrhoea and vomiting. However, these are not the only symptoms. An infected person may display other symptoms such as a fever, nausea, stomach cramps, stomach pain, sneezing or coughing.
Certain bacteria and certain viruses can be transmitted through food as can some types of parasitic worms, such as threadworms. Diseases which may be transmitted through food include certain types of Salmonella, certain types of Vibrio, Yersinia, Bacillus, Staphylococcus Aureus, Clostridium Perfringens, certain types of Protozoa for example Cryptosporidium, Shigella sonnei, E. coli, Norovirus and Hepatitis A. This is not, however, an exhaustive list.
A person may be carrying a disease without knowing it because the symptoms of a disease are not always displayed straight away and, therefore, where members of a food handler’s household are displaying the symptoms of a disease which can be transmitted through food, the food-handler may be subject to the reporting requirements.
Medical conditions that could lead to an illness that is likely to be passed on through food should also be reported.
What if I am unsure whether I am suffering from a disease or affliction which I am required to report?
As a matter of good practice it is sensible for food handlers to report any concerns to their employer or business they are working for. In some circumstances a food handler may wish to consult with their doctor first. However, as the requirement is to report the illness or symptoms immediately this may not always be practical.