Saturday, September 27, 2014

Don't put Cleaning Chemicals in Food Containers!

It's happened again! According to Doug Powell's Barfblog Daily, a woman was poisoned and nearly died after drinking iced tea containing cleaning chemicals at a suburban Salt Lake City restaurant.

Apparently, a worker at the restaurant put cleaning lye (probably sodium hydroxide) into a sugar bag. A second worker put the material into an iced tea dispenser. The restaurant chain claims that this is the first time in 73 years that this has happened.

Indeed, if the restaurant chain is using any kind of food safety programme, this should never have happened, and as Doug says, "It has never happened before" is no defence. One of the basic principles of Good Catering Practice and HACCP is not to put non-food materials into food containers, and to store cleaning chemicals away from food.

There are many incidences of accidental poisoning occurring because of mis-identification of chemicals. All could have been avoided by using proper containers and labelling them clearly with the contents.

Of course, this principle doesn't just apply to restaurants - it is just as important at home. Ayesha tells me that the kitchen is her preserve, and she knows what is in the glass jars in the pantry. On some occasions when I have had to fend for myself, deciding on the identity of the white powders in the identical unlabelled glass jars has taxed my scientific abilities! Icing sugar and cornflower are subtly different, and custard powder is slightly yellow with a vanilla odour. Salt and castor sugar look the same but taste different. These are trivial examples, but in the high pressure of a restaurant kitchen, unlabelled materials, or worse, mislabelled materials are unlikely to be identified and will find their way into foods, sometimes with serious consequences.