Elizabeth Hoek's
Food Safety Home Page

The Panhandler:




Here are some excerpts from previous issues of the Panhandler.

Food Allergies and the Role of the Food Industry

Pushing Germs Around (An article on wiping cloths).

Complaints 95 (15 food-related complaints received in 1995)



Other Links to Food Safety Pages

Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors- New Brunswick Branch

James Flynn's Food Hygienge and Safety Page

The Food Service Connection



For suggestions or information.....please contact the Editor, Elizabeth Hoek




The Articles


Food Allergies and the Role of the Food Industry


What is Food Allergy?

A food allergy is the immune system's reaction to a certain food which it perceives as an invader. The body then creates antibodies to the food. When these antibodies react with the food, histamine and other chemicals (called mediators) are released from various cells within the body. These mediators cause allergic reaction symptoms.

Symptoms usually focus around the digestive system. They may include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and swelling. Respiratory symptoms could include coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, difficult breathing, or a runny or stuffy nose. Skin reactions could show up as eczema or hives. Some people can have all these symptoms at once - which is called anaphylaxis.


What is Food-Induced Anaphlyaxis?

It is a sudden, severe, life threatening, allergic reaction. It often starts mildly with itching around the mouth or eyes, widespread hives, cough, or a slight feeling of anxiety or discomfort. Then quickly, there is a feeling of chest constriction, dizziness, wheezing, weakness, difficulty breathing, confusion and a terrible sense of impending disaster. Blood pressure falls, followed by unconsiousness, coma and death. Anaphlyaxis can intensify so rapidly from initial symptoms to potentially fatal shock (10-15 minutes) that there is little time to seek medical help. Without rapid medical attention, death can occur quickly.

The Canadian Medical Association estimates that one death a week is caused by anaphylaxis. It can be caused by food, insect stings, medication or exercise. As little as 1/5 of a teaspoon of an offending food has caused death.


Which Foods?

Any food can cause anaphlyaxis but over 90% of reactions are caused by only a few foods. Peanuts (65%), nuts and seeds, shellfish, fish and sulphites. Eggs and milk mostly affect children. Reactions can occur simply by breathing the aroma of roasted nuts, by sharing a straw, by using the same knife to cut a ham and cheese sandwich that was used to spread peanut butter, or by frying french fries in the same oil used to fry fish. It only takes trace amounts of a food or ingredient to cause a reaction. They may appear in foods as ingredients or under natural flavours.


Food Labels

The ingredient list is vital to allergy control. If cross-contamination or manufacturing defects have occurred then the label no longer matches the list of ingredients and allergic reactions could develop. Trace amounts of food, not normally in the ingredients, may be enough to trigger anaphylaxis.


The Role of the Food Industry

Ask yourself..............



For more information, contact your Public Health Inspector.



Pushing Germs Around

The wiping cloths you use can harbor germs capable of causing a variety or illnesses. Proper sanitizing prevents these cloths from being one of the most germ-laden items in the kitchen. Simply touching a surface with an non-sanitized cloth can transfer bacteria to it. The cloth may transfer this bacteria from other parts of the kitchen, equipment or hands to the food-contact surface you think you are cleaning and sanitizing.

Ideally you should have two containers, one for clean sanitized cloths and the other for dirty ones. Food contact surfaces such as countertops should be washed and rinsed first, then sanitized with a cloth that has been soaking and ensure you have enough cloths for the day's work.

An approved sanitizer should be used for soaking the cloths, at the correct concentration. If sodium hypochlorite is used (Javex), a concentration of 200 ppm in should be achieved. This is approximately two ounces of Javex for every gallon of water in your container. The temperature of the solution should be between 24°C and 49°C (75°F and 112°F).

Use caution when preparing sanitizing solutions and follow the manufacture's direction. Don't use utensils and measuring cups, used to prepare food, to measure and mix chemicals. Any container or equipment used for handling chemicals should be used for that purpose only and stored with the chemicals. Mark the container holding the clean cloths with the name of the sanitizer being used and its concentration. For example ... mark it "Sanitizing Cloths, Javex, 200 ppm". Mark the container holding the dirty cloths as "Soiled Cloths". This way there will never be confusion. Soiled clothes should be washed in a washing machine in a detergent and sanitizer.

Ensure you have a Material Safety Data Sheet for the sanitizer so that everyone knows how to use it safely. Post emergency phone numbers such as the Police, Fire and Health Departments and the Poison Control Centre near the telephone.

Don't just spread those germs throughout your kitchen. Reduce them and eliminate them by using properly cleaned and sanitized wiping cloths!




I n 1995, the Algoma Health Unit handled a large number of complaints involving restaurants. In fact 78% of all food complaints involved restaurants and grocery stores.

Listed are 15 examples of actual complaints we handled involving restaurants: 

  1. Four customers complained of being ill from eating clubhouse sandwiches.
  2. Mold was found on the cheese and fruit on a lunch plate.
  3. Moldy bread was used take make a sandwich.
  4. Hamburgers were left overnight at room temperature.
  5. Customer was treated rudely when requesting ingredient information because of food allergies.
  6. Insects were found in a salad.
  7. Hair was found in the pizza crust.
  8. Employee did not wash their hands before cutting deli meat, after they handled money.
  9. Worms were discovered in a meat slicing machine.
  10. The water in the dishwasher was ice cold.
  11. A restaurant operated 8 days without water.
  12. Rats and seagulls were discovered in the garbage bins as the bins had no lid.
  13. Mice were found running around inside a food store.
  14. Excessive number of cockroaches in a restaurant kitchen.
  15. Washrooms were dirty.

Hopefully your restaurant or store was not involved in any of these complaints. This was only a small sample of the complaints we received last year. Complaints are received and recorded on a "Complaint Form". The complainant is requested to provide information which will help us investigate their complaint. The inspector investigates each complaint received and responds to the complainant . I f a problem is found with the food premises that the complaint is about, the inspector takes the necessary steps to resolve it.

This newsletter, or any excerpt from it, maybe reproduced provided credit is given to the source 



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