In any kitchen, particularly one that serves hundreds of people, cleanliness and safety are absolutely paramount. Anything less than the highest safety standards can lead to food poisoning, illness, or worse. On ships, where every crew member has a vital role to play in keeping a ship safely functioning, an outbreak of foodborne illness could prove catastrophic, and yet this actually happens frequently. A recent report found statistically significant levels of foodborne disease, citing that over two-fifths of the 100 surveyed shipboard outbreaks were due to contaminated food, though it was noted that the number could be even higher. Most of these outbreaks were due to bacteria such as Salmonella spp., Shigella spp. and Vibrio spp. Because of the danger from these bacteria and the difficulty containing them, galley hygiene is so important that any vessel calling at an international port is required by the WHO’s 2005 International Health Regulations to be inspected and marked with a Ship Sanitation Certificate.
There are several factors that go into preventing food-related problems, including the food itself along with where and how it is prepared. As a first step, it is essential to source quality food and water from a trusted, verifiable source. Clean and well-maintained galley spaces are the next step since food will be stored, prepared, and served here. Equipment must be in good condition, cleaned and sterilized frequently. All kitchens must have a set of best practices when it comes to cleanliness for both the galley space and the workers themselves. For example, raw and cooked food must always be separated, so it’s vital to keep hands washed in order to prevent any cross-contamination. The final step is proper preparation, with raw meat cooked to a safe temperature and raw vegetables properly washed.
An Ethos of Cleanliness
Food safety can be ensured through a combination of safe practices and the right equipment. These practices aren’t just for cooks; crew should have an ethos of general cleanliness and quality. Floors, pantries, and prep surfaces should all be regularly cleaned and sterilized, along with any equipment that might come into contact with food. Food storage areas like the refrigerators and freezers must be kept spotlessly clean and within the correct temperature parameters. Too warm and the food could spoil; too cold, and the food could suffer from freezer burn. The temperature could even be affected by simply opening the door, so the crew must take the logistics of food prep into consideration.
The Supply Chain
Just as important as preparation and storage, is the food itself. It’s crucial to bring aboard supplies from a trusted source, particularly when the vessel is in a foreign or unfamiliar port. This helps to prevent bringing tainted food onto the ship. The supply chain also includes what happens to food after it’s onboard like if a crew member or passenger saves a food item for later consumption. This is once again where an ethos of cleanliness comes in, helping to protect crew and passengers from spoiled food.
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