An important area of daily life on small workboats that is often neglected is food handling and preparation safety.
Generally, it’s taken for granted that our food production system produces a safe product. However, the facts say otherwise. Food comes from all over the world and it’s impossible to safeguard all of it as thoroughly as we’d like. As it happens, there’s a roster of pathogenic bacteria that can make you sick, sometimes very sick. Occasionally, these bacteria can also kill.
E. coli, salmonella, listeria, campylobacter, clostridium, shigella, staphylococcus and other bacteria should not to be messed with and should be guarded against at all times. And the only way to do this is to know the enemy. However, crews on small vessels are often untrained and uneducated. The reasons are complex, but many of these foodborne pathogens frequently turn up on fruits and vegetables. Anything that is not thoroughly cleaned, uncooked, or not cooked enough, should be considered suspect. Also, cross-contamination during the preparation process can occur through contaminated surfaces and utensils.
Several good primers can be downloaded from the Food Safety Education section of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service website (http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education). There are also fact sheets available on everything from safe food handling to meat and poultry preparation. But keep in mind that these safety standards are applied to living, constantly evolving organisms, so there are no guarantees. I’ve read articles that suggest that some of these bacteria are becoming more resistant to heat, so cooking to higher temperatures than currently suggested may be wise.
Outbreaks of food poisoning are unexpected and are never convenient. Vessel operators who simply shrug off all of this should consider that an outbreak of any of these bacteria illnesses on a tug or supply boat can bring about a rapid and complete shutdown of operations due to crew incapacitation.
A boat that isn’t working is a boat that makes no money.