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A Scientific mind with a purpose



The difficulties to implement the Food Act 1998 abound everyday in the news. A new delay of up to the 15th of May has been given for the full application of this act, which came into force on the 1st January 2000. There was a real need for such legislation because foodborne illness of microbial origin can be a serious food safety problem. In the United States, annual reports attribute enteric diseases outbreak to microbial or chemical contamination of food or water.

For each year from 1983 through 1992, the most commonly reported food preparation practice that contributed to foodborne disease concerned improper holding or storage temperatures 1. The second most common practice was poor personal hygiene of the food handlers. These days in Mauritius, cases of food poisoning from unsafe sources are more and more frequently reported to the sanitary services and it is now time to examine food handling and food services and determine how to reverse the trend.

According to a report to congressional committee in the U.S, experts believe that foodborne illness is increasing. The food supply is changing in ways that can promote foodborne illness and there are no comprehensive data to explain at what point pathogens are introduced into food. Further, because of demographic changes, more people are at a risk of contracting a foodborne illness.

This is why, they have recommended the implementation of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) systems . Hazard analysis has been defined as the identification of sensitive ingredients, critical processing points, and human factors that affect product safety. Critical control points have been described as processing determinants whose loss of control would result in an unacceptable food-safety risk. It is agreed that the consumer is a complex and critical point in the HACCP system.

Most people would agree that the most serious food-safety problem is foodborne illness of microbial origin. Foodborne pathogens include a wide array of microorganisms, which have various physiological effects on people, ranging from mild to severe, and are associated with a wide array of foods as shown in the table below:



Campylobacter jejuni

Poultry,raw milk, untreated water

Salmonella (non- typhoid)

Eggs,poultry,meat,fresh produce other raw foods

Escherichia coli O157:H7

Ground beef,raw milk,lettuce,untreatedwater,unpasteurised cider/apple juice

Listeria monocytogenes

Ready-to-eat foods (e.g soft cheese, deli foods,paté)

Vibrio species

Seafood(e.g molluscan, crustacean shellfish), raw,undercooked,cross-contaminated.


In addition to acute gastroenteritis, many emerging foodborne diseases may cause chronic sequelae or disability 2. Listeriosis may cause miscarriages or result in meningitis in patients with chronic diseases. Escherichia coli O 157:H7 infection is a leading cause of haemolytic uremic syndrome in some countries. Salmonellosis can cause invasive disease or reactive arthritis, and campylobacteriosis can lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome, one of the commonest form of flaccid paralysis.

The factors contributing to the emergence of foodborne diseases are changes in human demographics and behaviour, technology and industry, international travel and commerce; microbial adaptation, economic development and land use and the breakdown of public health measures.

We should point out that food service outside the home is big business. This is why multinational food companies want to implant in Mauritius. Nowadays on one hand, consumers are time-pressed and they want to get food in a take-out location and go home to eat. On the other hand, fresh fruits and vegetables consumption has increased over the years. Fresh produce is susceptible to contamination during growth, harvest and distribution. The surface of plants and fruits can be contaminated by human or animal faeces.

Industry consolidation and mass distribution of foods may lead to large outbreaks of foodborne diseases. Also international travel has increased and pathogens may be carried home to infect nontravelers.

However, proper preparation and sanitation methods are key to preventing foodborne illness in the home as well as in other areas of food

handling. The table below shows the pathogen control in foods to reduce food intoxication.


Control mechanism


Heat foods ≥ 60 C

Proper handling


Rapid chilling < 4 C

Hot storage > 60 C

Cooking > 74 C

Escherichia coli O157:H7

Heat foods > 68 C

Avoid cross-contamination

Staphylococcus aureus

Rapid cooling < 4 C

Personal hygiene

Clostridium perfringens

Refrigerate < 4 C

Proper handling

Clostridium botulinum

Boil food 10-15 mins


Pasteurisation of milk

Adequate cooling

The prevention, therefore lies in close surveillance of foodborne illness outbreaks. Also educating all those involved in food preparation will lead to the use of safe practices. And educating people about steps they must take to prevent and control foodborne illness is a vital link in the food preparation chain. The approach to education, which includes data from surveillance and inspections, should provide the foundation for changes in consumer behaviour as well. Education about food hygiene should begin at an early age. Convenience, taste and variety are welcome qualities in foods that we enjoy; safety in foods is critical to the public health and safety of consumers.

Rehana Jauhangeer

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