Food Safety & Hygiene: An Overview


Foodborne illnesses may not be a ‘new’ problem, but they remain an important global challenge – including right here in the Middle East.


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Food Hygiene
February 21, 2019
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Food Safety & Hygiene: An Overview
Typically caused by bacteria and viruses, non-fatal foodborne illnesses can still leave damaging effects in their wake, with individuals sometimes suffering from subsequent kidney failure, chronic arthritis, or even brain and nerve damage. The World Health Organization published research showing that 1 in 10 people fall ill from eating contaminated food. Around 420,000 people die each year as a result of food contamination! Change in lifestyle choices and more millennials in the workforce has resulted in more people eating out or depending on ready-to-eat meals, and the trend is on the rise. 
Moving away from human impact, foodborne illnesses also pose a severe risk to businesses. Outlets serving contaminated food, or brands selling disease-carrying bacteria can suffer in areas such as damaged reputation, lost revenues and hefty fines from municipalities and food safety watchdogs. In this environment, it is important that F&B providers understand how these diseases arise and how best to protect their customers and their business. The key to this is the understanding of food safety and hygiene, both in processing and in food handling and service. Three key companies in the Middle East region continue to be proponents of food safety and hygiene and talk to Clean Middle East about the most important measures to be taken.

At your fingertips

“Without hygiene, the food industry cannot and should not be operating; hygiene is the key element for ensuring the health and safety of consumers since many diseases and illnesses occur from bad hygiene practices,” says Rita Abou Obeid, Managing Partner, Specifico & Co. According to Dr. Ruth Petran Ph.D., CFS Vice President, Food Safety and Public Health, Ecolab, whether it is in factories that process raw and cooked food or at restauarants where food is prepared and served, it is essential to have safe and effective cleaning practices. If the proper procedures aren’t followed, there can be a high chance of issues such as foodborne illnesses occurring.

At Specifico & Co., the motto is ‘Nothing But Food Safety’ and as a result, the company’s entire range is developed with food safety and hygiene in mind, from colour-coded tools for kitchens, to temperature monitoring equipment including wireless systems, to labeling solutions for maintaining good stock rotation, food service First Aid kits, allergens management solutions, etc. All of these tools give any food handling personnel the best weapons to fight food safety. In addition to this, the role of cleaning & hygiene and its absolute knowledge is paramount. For instance, global cleaning & hygiene organisation Kimberly- Clark Professional™ works with all major food processing industries and food service chains. Isha Sagar, Marketing Manager – Middle East, Kimberly-Clark Professional™ says, “Our strength is to leverage our relationships with our customers globally to understand their challenges and constantly innovate our portfolio to meet the needs of our customers. Our solutions have been designed to promote a food safety culture based on product, processes and people.”

The company’s food hygiene range has been designed to support specific needs of the different areas in restaurants and food processing units. For example, the high performance WYPALL® X colourcoded cleaning system is designed to improve hygiene and efficiency and reduce cross contamination in the commercial. Moreover, Kimberly-Clark Professional™ has a range of industrial cloths designed for the heavy food processing industry to help drive hygiene and efficiency during critical processes like product changeovers.

Global cleaning & hygiene solutions giant, Ecolab also helps customers reduce or eliminate foodborne illnesses through effective cleaning and sanitizing and is committed to ensuring safe food by providing effective products, programmes and services that protect people and businesses from the risks of illnesscausing pathogens. Ecolab’s Ecosure business provides onsite food safety assessments, coaching and training to help food service customers of all sizes and across industries—from restaurants, to lodging and long-term care—minimise food safety risks and deliver safe food and healthy environments. Ecolab helps to ensure the quality and safety of more than a quarter (27%) of the world’s processed food at 5,000 food and beverage plants around the world every year; supports kitchens serving 45 billion restaurant meals; and helps clean 31 billion hands per year with its hand hygiene solutions.

Important measures

While most food establishments understand the key elements of maintaining a clean, hygienic and safe environment, it doesn’t hurt to reiterate some of the key measures that are essential. Abou Obeid says, “Increasing monitoring procedures in terms of frequency of inspections - first internally by the Persons In Charge, then by upper management during internal audits and finally by the local authorities or third parties – will go a long way. Moreover, it is important to increase the involvement of the decision makers of the food establishments in the local rules and regulations, while also increasing the accountability of establishments not following regulations.

According to Isha, every facility and customer has different needs; as a result, processes need to be customised accordingly. However, she strongly believes that an immediate impact from standardising processes and products that support the needs of those particular processes are a key measure. “This eliminates the risk of human error and straightaway improves the overall hygiene of the facility,” she says. She adds that operational efficiency is derived by segregating tasks in all the important areas of a food service or food processing facility and using the right equipment suited to those tasks to avoid contamination or inefficiency.

Some examples of these quick fix solutions may include the use of hygienic dispensers suited to high capacity usage to avoid product run out in kitchens and washrooms. Another key concern in food safety is avoiding cross-contamination, use of colour-coded wipes supported by visual management tools to allow segregation of tasks and reduce the risk of cross contamination. Ecolab’s mantra is precaution. “We believe this is key to combatting curable, yet potentially permanently damaging, foodborne diseases,” says Dr. Petran. She offers some highly recommended tips in the box. 


Without training, no task can ever be efficient. Abou Obeid recommends general food safety awareness training at least once a year and when there is a need, especially if the results of internal audits and third party audits are poor. She adds that sometimes, training in specific cleaning procedures as per the equipment/area cleaned and the chemicals used needs to be repeated quite often especially in case where cleaners have either language barriers or low understanding capacity.

As part of its training programme, Ecolab offers a broad spectrum of food safety programs that can help strengthen food processors' safety and quality approaches. These address the building blocks for food safety and implement internationally recognised food safety management systems. Globally, Ecolab offers classroom training, e-learning modules and specialised training for clients in the F&B sector. Some of its courses include sanitation program training; preventive controls; HACCP processes to food manufacturing; internal auditing and food safety workshops. Typically, re-training is done as needed, but many F&B companies elect to re-train their personnel annually.

Food is one of the most crucial aspects of a person’s life. As a result, even one small slip up in ensuring cleaning and hygiene and safety can have a rippling effect on several factors. It is important that food processing, handling and service establishments continue to be cognizant of the latest technologies, methods and best practices available to them.



We speak with HerlufThun-Rasmussen, Chief Innovation and Quality Assurance Officer, Nabil Foods, about the best cleaning practices in their production unit along with their food safety measures.

Established in 1945, Nabil Foods is a Jordanian market leader specialising in 100 per cent halal frozen and chilled food products. Its diverse range includes Middle Eastern as well as international dishes. Distributing to over 28 countries in the Middle East and around the world, Nabil Foods has positioned itself as a strategic partner to major fast food chains and food retailers. It is not looking at entering the UAE market in a big way.

Why is maintaining hygiene in the food processing industry so important?

As a responsible food manufacturer, our objective is to manufacture products that comply with food safety, legality and quality requirements. The safety of our products enjoyed by so many consumers is paramount to us. Our food safety and HACCP teams are especially considering those vulnerable consumer groups for which good hygiene practices and SSOP implementation is considered a pre-requisite to our daily operation.

What are the best cleaning and hygiene practices and the eco-friendly practices adhered to while maintaining/ cleaning your food processing unit?

We follow best practices for every area or equipment, whether cleaned manually, by CIP, mobile foaming units or pressure washers. We restrict the use of chemicals and have included specific ones targeted to the equipment or surface cleaning. The chemical and materials usage is carefully controlled, measured and monitored to avoid over usage and causing unnecessary environmental burdens. We have introduced more eco-friendly products; for instance, we are using an award-winning lactic acid-based material that conserves water and is also operator friendly.

What are the measures suggested by Nabil Foods in terms of improving food safety and operational efficiency?

A well-planned and defined programme of cleaning and hygiene activities that is practical and suited to the operations is key. Where there are time limitations, we have found ways of speeding up the cleaning process to avoid downtime. A system of continual monitoring and reporting is in place to avoid any scope of contamination. ATP swabs are a good guide and complement traditional microbiological testing. We have invested in VIDAS technology, and this year we will include DNA testing so we can pin point any pathogen quickly and accurately. Our cleaning matrix is based on operational risk assessment, to provide the best production capacity while maintaining the sanitation and required safety.

Tell us about the various kinds of products and equipment used to maintain cleanliness and hygiene in a food processing industry?

We have a very complex operation with multiple technologies and equipment used for manufacturing. Mobile and fixedfoam sanitation machines are used, as well as special colour-coded cleaning tools, all to enhance machine cleanliness and sanitizing efficiency and at the same time avoiding any cross contamination. In addition, hand cleaning stations and hand sanitizing dispensers are distributed all over the factory to ensure the continuity of good hand hygiene and clean work surfaces.

Does Nabil Foods have an in-house FM and cleaning team or it does outsource the cleaning and maintenance services? What are the daily processes involved?

We use a highly skilled internal hygiene team, trained and specialised in cleaning and sanitation of our complex food processing equipment. We use hygiene contractors, well trained and supervised, responsible for non-production facilities and warehouse cleaning. The internal maintenance department is responsible for cooling and utilities, projects and mechanical purposes. Nabil’s highly qualified and well-trained maintenance team covers preventive and corrective maintenance activities. For specialist jobs, we have a contract with our equipment manufacturers.

What are the strategies suggested to improve hygiene in sensitive areas?

Special cleaning equipment is used for sensitive areas. The separation of such equipment/tools is maintained by implementation of a colour-coding system making it noticeable and easy to understand. Production areas are separated as per the type of products produced; Low Risk as frozen raw products and High Risk as (RTE) Ready To Eat frozen and chilled products. Movement of people, equipment, materials and waste is carefully controlled via special entry and exit points, one-way cookers and hygiene ‘sluices’.

What kind of training programme have you put in practice for cleaning professionals in food processing units?

A systematic training programme is in place to ensure all our employees are given relevant training to do their jobs safely and hygienically. This is done as part of their induction, and later we extend this to more specific on-thejob training, as well as refresher training on an annual basis. For cleaning professionals, additionally, we provide training in GMP, cleaning and sanitation and tool box sessions, all provided by a qualified internal trainer.