When preventing contamination from pests and bacteria while protecting employees, the food and beverage industry has many occupational health and safety (OHS) factors to consider.

Every South African is impacted by the health and safety practices of the food and beverage industry. This was especially clear with the 2018 listeriosis outbreak that had a widespread effect as hundreds of people fell ill or died and products were pulled from the shelves.

It is important for the food and beverage industry to prevent the contamination of food, but also to protect its employees from harm.

According to the Department of Labour (DoL), the most common injuries in the food and beverage industry include musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), occupational dermatitis (from washing hands with hard chemicals), occupational asthma and rhinitis caused by irritants such as flour or spices, and hearing loss caused by loud machinery.

Most of these illnesses and injuries are preventable with the use of the correct personal protective equipment (PPE), including hearing and respiratory protection. Commonly, food and beverage manufacturing companies use disposable PPE rather than trying to clean and decontaminate reusable equipment.

When using disposable PPE, it is important for companies to ensure that only clean items are worn. Even if the employee leaves the site for only a few minutes the protective items should be changed. There are various organisations that provide disposable PPE and are able to give advice on the best way for its use in the food and beverage industry.

In order to avoid MSDs, the industry can invest in anti-fatigue mats that are designed to relieve pressure off the lower backs of employees who are required to remain standing in a predominantly stationary position in the workplace.

Another potential hazard (not mentioned by the DoL) is that of slipping and falling. It is estimated that the majority of falls (around 66 percent) occur on a level surface. An individual might slip on a wet surface or trip over an object. For the food and beverage industry, employees are most likely to slip on a wet surface. Anti-slip mats are a potential solution.

“Slip and fall accidents can cause minor injuries like scrapes and bruises, or major injuries like fractures, broken bones, paralysis or death. For an organisation, it could result in loss of earnings, downtime and even lawsuits,” explains non-slip specialist at Supersafe Systems, Bret Johnson.

He adds: “The most common causes for slip and fall accidents are areas that have large wet patches. Besides water, these can be caused by greases, oils, dust, fats and wet sterilising agents.”

Supersafe Systems offers a wide range of products specifically designed and tested to prevent slip and falls in most conditions. Johnson says: “We have a team of well-trained anti-slip specialists, who are able to give accurate assessments of the products required.”

While anti-slip mats are a good start, there are other small changes companies can make to prevent falls. Johnson notes: “Ensure that the correct anti-slip products are in place and that there are clearly marked signs for slippery and wet areas. Spills should be cleaned up immediately. Employees should be provided with the correct footwear, and basic safety rules, like the three-point contact rule, should be implemented.”

Companies can also invest in equipment to dry the floor like the Hurricone cordless floor dryer from Deftoscan, which combines a safety cone with a dryer.

One of the biggest challenges for the food and beverage industry is that of pests. A pest infestation (such as rats, flies or other insects) can cost a company dearly and harm consumers. For example, in 2017, a consumer found a dead moth in a packet of Lay’s crisps (Issue 2 of SHEQ MANAGEMENT 2017). The moth had laid eggs on the chips.

Food facilities need to comply with hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) regulations and are audited accordingly. Auditors YUM! and the American Institute of Baking (AIB) use the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards.

“GFSI requirements are very stringent compared to local standards. They are also very specific in terms of quantities used in pest-control devices, visit frequencies and infestation management. While every precaution is taken and the HACCP system helps to identify any potential risk to food safety, it is only a risk-management tool and is not fail-safe,” explains Nathalie Leblond, marketing communication manager at Rentokil Initial South Africa.

Even with stringent standards and controls, food facilities are still at risk of “intruders”. Leblond speculates that the moth found in the packet of Lay’s crisps could have been an isolated incident.

“The moth may have been unknowingly imported into the sterile environment on a piece of machinery, or on a worker’s clothing,” she says. Companies in the food and beverage sector should therefore continuously update their technology and consult with reputable pest-control companies on new ways to prevent pests from entering the facility.

Another danger to the food and beverage industry is bacteria that can contaminate food. Tiger Brands, owner of the Enterprise brand, which was identified as a key source in the listeriosis outbreak, lost R377 million in product recalls and R435 million in legal claims.

It is important for companies to clean the workplace often and ensure the worktops and surrounding areas are sterilised to prevent contamination from bacteria or viruses. There are a number of companies that provide sophisticated cleaning services to ensure that bacteria are eliminated.

Molapo Stanford Sewela, lab analyst at EcoLab, says: “Micro-organisms adapt. Listeriosis can adapt and become immune to cleaning products. For this reason, companies need to change their cleaning products frequently.” Companies like EcoLab are continuously innovating their products and services to ensure that the workplace is effectively sterilised.

By complying with OHS standards and practices, and with help from pest-control and cleaning specialists, the food and beverage industry can provide safe, delicious products to feed the nation.

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