Food poisoning and food borne
illnesses account for millions of deaths world-wide each year.
Even in the developed world millions suffer each year from very serious illnesses brought about from eating contaminated food. In the USA alone it is estimated that up to 33 million people get food borne illnesses resulting in 9,000* deaths each year.
*Council for Agricultural Science & Technology Report 1994
The symptoms of food poisoning and food illnesses are very unpleasant,
however, in most cases, a full recovery can be expected, but serious illness
resulting in death, particularly in the very young and very old can often
Campylobacter are both bacteria found in a wide range of animals and foods of animal origin,
especially poultry and meats.
In New Zealand the number of cases of both these illnesses are on the rise.
The NZ Food Safety Authority says
incidence of food borne illness in New Zealand has reached alarming levels. An
estimated 200,000 or more cases of food borne illness occur each year. Rates of
Campylobacter and Salmonella infection reached record highs in 1998. The number
of cases of Campylobacter infection notified to public health authorities was
11,580 in 1998. The New Zealand rate is three times that of Australia and twice
that of the United Kingdom"
*Click on thumbnail to see histogram of the increase in number of cases of food illnesses caused by Campylobacter in New Zealand from 1980-1998
If you have concerns regarding any food safety issue in New Zealand you can report it to the NZ Food Safety Authority
For more information look at this pamphlet on common food bugs and how to keep yourself safe - Meet the Bugs
How the SafeFoodHandler Programme was Developed
Askew made his first return to New Zealand after a punishing but rewarding
6-month mission working in the large Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire. In 1995 he
took on a short term contract for food hygiene inspection services with Nelson
City in New Zealand and in the course of this contract became aware that the great proportion
of food workers were not very motivated to attend the variety of the excellent
food safety courses that were available at the time.
enquiry he found that this was not a situation unique to Nelson. Some other
Councils being aware of this apathy had legislated to make sure people attended
courses. Nelson however wanted something that would be voluntary.
the food and hospitality industry workers were asked why they wouldn’t attend
the courses that were available and this is how they responded:
get the time off work”
only doing the job part time for a few months
so why bother? ”
think I could pass”
is too long / too complicated”
friend did the course and she doesn’t do anything better than me”
a fact that a number of workers in the food industry are young, many are school
leavers, some have few academic skills and/or qualifications, some have low
self-esteem and many are transitory workers.
They are also usually not the highest paid workers and therefore do not
have much disposable income. This
financial constraint also applies to many food business managers.
decided that for a food safety programme to be successful it had to address all
of the above issues. Not only that
it had to have some component that would generate a sense of ‘ownership’ so
that food workers would not only know what to do, they would actually do it!
The ‘SafeFoodHandler.com’ programme includes a set of easy learn notes that give the reader the important basics of food safety but without the complicated microbiology bits.
programme is written at a level that everyone can understand and has been reviewed by a
teacher who takes English for new immigrants into New Zealand.
The notes include some humour ad has lots of helpful advice and
explanations to help the student. The notes have just 38 easy-read pages and will take an
average reader just a few hours to complete.
The learning is done in the student’s own time without the need for tutors or practical work. To make sure the reader has understood the information in the notes there is a check sheet with 50 questions, which have a true/false answer. The check sheet is not a memory test or intelligence test, but it does provide an excellent way for students to think and learn and remember. The check sheets are done at the student’s leisure at home or wherever! It is not possible to ‘cheat’; working through the check sheet with others is actually encouraged. The student must get 45 out of the 50 questions correct to proceed to the next stage.
programme could have finished at that point with a certificate of achievement
like other food safety courses, but the goal was to get ‘ownership’ of the
newly learned skills so that the student would put them into practice.
was achieved through a simple, but extremely powerful mechanism.
The student’s, once they have passed the check sheet stage are required
to sign an agreement which commits them to “always observe the best food
safety practices, so customers can be confident of receiving safe quality
food”. These agreements are
frequently put in pride of place on the wall for customers to see and acknowledges and endorses
the food worker's commitment to safe food handling.
This simple process of the signed agreement has proven to be highly successful.
with some modification, it has been put on the web
as a global food safety initiative. A
number of countries and organizations have already invested in the
encourage students to undertake more
advanced food safety courses and, with this newfound confidence after success
with this programme, many have done just that.
The ‘SafeFoodHandler.com” programme is also
open to those who already have achieved academic skills in food safety and is a
useful ‘refresher course’.
The programme is not limited to just food handlers.
A major New Zealand bakery company even put their drivers through the
programme and the results were that the retailers got the message about bad food
storage from the drivers who were ‘fired up’ to make sure their safe quality
food was not abused once it left their care!
programme does work. It works
The programme is achievable, affordable and available anywhere in the world on-line.
have been employed as an Environmental Health Officer for over 40 years and have
specialised in food safety issues.
My expertise has ranged from being a specialist Food Safety Officer for a Major European City (Leeds UK) to having worked in Central Africa (Rwanda, Zaire and Uganda) for the International Red Cross, Oxfam and the UN as Water and Sanitation Engineer for refugees during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
I am currently Senior Environmental Health Officer with Nelson City Council, New Zealand.
My local community works has included:
Chairperson of Environmental and Occupational Health Service Development Group
Elected member to Nelson Marlborough Area Health Board
Chairperson of Central Region Medical Ethics Committee
Nelson Tasman Region Disaster Recovery Manager
Zealand Red Cross Regional Board Member
The 'Safe Food Handler' programme which I have developed in New Zealand has won
major awards for innovation and customer service and is now being used with
success by thousands of people in New Zealand and world-wide.