When the heat is on, bakeries can be hazardous places. Australian Baking Business talks to three experts in the field to find out how bakery owners and operators can lower the risk of themselves, their staff and their customers running into trouble.
FLOUR DUST: CLEAR THE AIR
Occupational asthma is a condition of the lungs where the airways to the lungs narrow and cause coughing, chest tightness, wheezing and shortness of breath – and it can cause life-long health problems. Accordingly, it’s important to minimise flour dust in the air to reduce its potential as a workplace hazard.
Terry Gorman is employed by diversified technology company 3M specifically to help develop technology that reduces the risk of occupational hazards. As part of his work with the bakery industry, Terry has helped design customised respirators that filter out particle dusts from flour, nuts, additives, spices, condiments, coffee, sugar and egg proteins.
“Over-exposure to dust – particularly flour dust – can be very dangerous and can be a career killer for bakers and those involved in the industry,” says the senior occupational hygienist.
“In terms of who is at risk, well, everybody is different. Some people have a real potential to become allergic to flour dust when they are over-exposed and can experience asthma-type reactions, while others working in the same conditions won’t experience any negative health issues. Certainly I know of individuals who have had to leave the industry because they have developed an allergic sensitivity and they can’t go near wheat dust or flour dust because they have an attack – it’s game over.
“There is no way of looking at someone and seeing if they are likely to become allergic to flour dust, which is why it’s important to take the right steps to reduce the hazard in the workplace in the first place.”
Any respiratory-related response that continues across an extended period of time is a warning sign, for example, shortness of breath, a runny nose, or a persistent cough.
If you can see clouds of dust, you should be taking steps to protect yourself. If you can’t avoid the dust, a respirator is the best way to avoid breathing in harmful particles.
“Look for Australian/New Zealand Standards 1716 on the box to make sure it’s going to do the job – you wouldn’t buy the pack of 10 for a dollar from the hardware store,” Terry says.
“There is no mask that fits every face, so you also need to make sure it’s suitable for your face or the individual’s face. If you have a beard, it will lift the mask off your face and the contaminant will go around, so you get degraded protection.”
Of course, there are also many other ways bakers can reduce their risk of exposure, such as gently tipping and shaking bags; sprinkling flour instead of throwing it; and placing ingredients into the flour instead of dropping them. Bakers should also roll flour bags from the bottom when tipping to avoid having to fold them when disposing, which creates dust clouds.
“It can be as simple as the way you clean. Instead of creating a dust storm when you’re sweeping, use a vacuum,” Terry says.
“At the extreme end, you can look at extract ventilation over your mixing areas to pull the dust out as it’s made. You can go to any level if you want to spend a lot of money. But in many cases, it needs to be put in context, taking into consideration the size of the business.”
If you suspect you have systems of occupational asthma, talk to your employer, a safety and health representative, a union representative or a doctor.
TEMPERATURE: KEEP YOUR COOL
Rob Catalano, national sales manager of Complete Display Equipment – a Victorian company that designs and manufactures bakery and fresh food display cabinets – says it’s imperative bakery owners stick to a strict maintenance schedule to ensure heating and cooling equipment lives up to it expectations.
“When bakers are busy, seemingly small actions can really affect the temperature of food in display cabinets,” he says.
“All our cabinets are designed to stay within the required temperature zones, which ensures the food stays safe. However, they must be maintained correctly. We encourage our customers to clean their condensers, because quite often, they get a film of dust on them. This really helps keep cabinets at a cooler temperature, as the motor doesn’t need to work as hard.
“Honestly, if you do this every month, by the time you take the grill off, it’s only a 10 second job.”
By recommending bakers keep their cabinet doors fully shut may seem like Rob’s stating the obvious. However, he’s quick to point out one or two inches can mean the difference between safe food and an unhappy – and potentially litigious – customer.
“You might turn your back and a fridge or cabinet door may not close fully, or it will close and bounce back a few inches. In warm weather, this makes an exceptional difference to the food inside,” he says.
“And, because you’re essentially asking your cabinet to cool the entire building, your power bills will sky rocket”.
The NSW Food Authority has published a detailed 4-hour/2-hour guideline, which says food that has been in the temperature danger zone for less than two hours (preparation + storage + display) can be returned to the refrigerator at or below 5°C or heated to above 60°C and brought out again at a later time. However, it clearly states the total time in the temperature danger zone must not be longer than four hours.
Whatever system you choose to use, you must be able to demonstrate what you have done. If you use the 4-hour/2-hour rule, but are not able to satisfactorily demonstrate you are applying it correctly, you may be found to be in breach of Food Standards Code requirements.
FLOORING: STEADY DOES IT
The WA Department of Commerce has recommended several simple ways of minimising the risk of slips and falls in food service businesses:
• Environmental design: Install non-slip floor surfaces, especially in areas easily contaminated by flour and water, including non-slip tiles, floor treatments, non-slip mats and drainage in wet areas.
• Administrative controls: Cleaning floors, including effective scheduling and adequate frequency.
• Changes in floor levels: Small ramps may be an effective way of graduating the change in floor levels, as well as bright markings, warning signs and adequate lighting.
• Housekeeping: Make sure items such as flattened cardboard boxes are not used as floor mats, as they are a slip, trip and fall hazard; ensure walkways are kept clear of obstacles, especially during peak work times; and ensure waste/rubbish is removed regularly from work areas.
LEARN MORE: ABOUT SAFETY
Held in Sydney from August 26-28, 2014, the conference will kick off with Advancing Food Safety’s industry-renowned interactive workshops, followed by two days of educational talks and seminars from some of the industry’s most respected professionals.
Among the keynote speakers is Newton Risk-Stream Management managing director Steven Newton, who will forecast a global food pandemic and recommend actions to prevent it. Ros Harvey, founding director of Sense T, will discuss food traceability, safety and technology, drawing on her studies through the creation of the world’s first economy-wide intelligent sensor network. SAI Global USA director of training, improvement solutions and food safety, Gary Smith, will also discuss the risks associated with allergens along the supply chain.
An allergic reaction can be experienced in various ways, including a food allergy (occurs when the immune system reacts to a certain food protein); food intolerance (an adverse food-induced reaction that does not involve the immune system, such as lactose intolerance); eosinophilic esophagitis (an inflammatory allergic reaction of the esophagus, the tube that goes from the mouth to the stomach); oral allergy syndrome (normally affects people who are allergic to some type of pollen); and anaphylaxis (defined by a severe allergic reaction).
Dijana Green, founder and chief executive officer of food safety consulting company Elevating Food Safety says it’s important food handlers and manufacturers understand even trace amounts of food can cause a life-threatening reaction and know what they can do to prevent consumers suffering from an allergic reaction.
“To prevent allergic reactions occurring with consumers we need to be diligent and take every reasonable precaution to implement allergen controls and manage them to prevent cross contact of allergen raw materials, equipment, tools or finished product,” she says.
“Cross-contact occurs when an allergenic food touches another food or surface, conveyors, bins, bowls, hoists, pipes, fillers, tanks, shelves, tools, utensils, grills, blenders, food processors, trays, benches, countertop, tables, plates, or someone’s hand. It’s the primary vehicle of accidental exposure to food allergens.”
To avoid cross-contact, Dijana says food professionals need to apply controls and monitor food preparation, handling, manufacturing, packing, storage, distribution and serving methods.
“Working in manufacturing facilities you become aware of commercial reality and processes that need to be controlled and managed. As quality and food safety professionals it is our responsibility to ensure we implement and enforce safe food practices to prevent consumers being hurt, made ill or harmed in any way,” she says.
Corrective and preventive actions can be instigated to prove bakeries, patisseries and manufacturing facilities are in control, to ensure food quality and safety at all times. For example, Dijana says industry can reduce the risk of allergic reactions by establishing manufacturing or food preparation scheduling; labelling and colour coding.
“There are numerous diligent actions that can be taken to prevent consumer allergic reactions, including, but not limited to, risk assessments; training and raising awareness; documenting policies and procedures; separation and segregation; uniform management; spillage clean up policies and procedures; package labelling; product information form; use of vinyl disposable gloves rather than latex; vendor assurance and raw material management,” she says.
“At the end of the day the difficulties of living with an allergy may not be known by many people, however, we may be able to help make a difference in the lives of those who do. We hear about farm to fork, paddock to plate or soil to shelf. I think we need to spend more time focusing and thinking about tongue to trauma, contact to crisis or desire to disaster.”