Legislation designed to promote and maintain high food standards and the hygienic handling and manufacture of food must recognise the existence of two problems. First, how to prevent deliberate adulteration, and, second, how to persuade the people concerned in its handling and manufacture that ignorance and carelessness, or a combination of both, can and do result in the contamination of the product, rendering it as dangerous for human consumption as any substance on the poisons register. In bygone days the adulteration of food proved a remunerative pastime. Millers and bakers were particularly unscrupulous, adding alum and other matter to their flour. Grocers, not to be outdone, mixed lime with sugar and starch with cocoa. A commission set up by the editor of the Lancet in 1851 revealed that tea had been treated with blacklead, indigo and mica, while every sample of milk was diluted with water and every loaf sophisticated with alum! Fortunately, measures taken to prevent this knavery and to protect the consumer in other ways, such as the Food and Drugs Adulteration Act of 1928 (now replaced by the Food and Drugs Act, 1938) have proved largely successful; but the problem of how to ensure clean and uncontaminated supplies of food still remains, and, in recent years, has engaged the attention of the experts to an ever increasing degree. Recent widespread cases of food poisoning in various forms, some of them fatal, have rightly caused general public concern, but the real danger seldom lay in the food itself. The evidence in these cases seems to indicate that in the first place the food was perfectly wholesome but that infection had been transmitted to it by human contact. In June, 1948, over ninety people suffered agonies from food poisoning attributed to eating cream buns at a party in Lambeth. It was found that the substance used for filling these buns had been infected by a person who had prepared them, a “carrier” of the germ which caused the poisoning. In another case, 171 people were taken ill after four separate wedding parties catered for by the same restaurant proprietor. Their illness was traced to one of the girls who prepared the trifle for each party. There have, of course, been a few cases in which the outbreak has been due to the activities of unscrupulous traders who have used ingredients unfit for human consumption in the manufacture of cooked meats, meat pies, etc. Nevertheless, in any attempt to eliminate the dangers of food poisoning, emphasis must be laid on personal hygiene and the cleanliness of the premises and utensils rather than on the condition of the food itself.
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