Illness is awful. Whether it’s a seasonal allergy or a stomach virus going around your work or home, it is tough to be sick. Unfortunately, those kinds of sicknesses are most often unavoidable, no matter how careful you may be. There are, however, many preventable illnesses, especially when dealing with food. According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 1 in 6 Americans get sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. There are many foodborne illnesses, but a lot of the sickness has to deal with cross-contamination, which is the transfer of microorganisms from one food or surface to another.
In a recent study, the CDC discovered that in nearly 62% of restaurants where workers used bare hands to handle raw beef, workers did not wash their hands after handling the meat. Also 40% of managers said they do not designate specific cutting boards for use with raw chicken. These are alarming statistics, especially considering the effect they may have on contaminating foods and making customers seriously ill. Reducing cross-contamination will take some additional time effort but it is well worth it in the overall success of your restaurant. Here are some tips on how to implement practices that will help keep your employees and customers safe.
Train Your Staff
- Develop standard operating procedures for preventing cross-contamination and train your staff on all the components. Regularly monitor that procedures are being followed and take corrective action when violations occur.
- Hang posters or signs throughout the kitchen and storage areas to help remind staff of proper procedures. Posters that are multilingual or utilize images to convey messages may be most useful for quick reference.
Pay Attention to Personal Hygiene
- Proper hand washing techniques are vital. Hands must be washed after touching any potential contaminant (using the restroom, prepping raw meats, receiving food shipments, handling currency). Single-use paper towels should also be readily available for hand drying; there should be absolutely no drying of hands on clothes or aprons.
- Correct use of disposable gloves is also critical in preventing cross contamination. Glove use is not a replacement for proper hand washing.
- Maintain clean work attire. Change dirty aprons frequently and wash all clothing in hot wash cycle.
- Report illness, accidents and keep wounds clean and covered.
Clean & Sanitize
- Clean and sanitize all preparation areas and equipment immediately after use and in between the prepping of different food types.
- Replace cracked, warped or grooved cutting boards; damaged areas can harbor bacteria.
- Sanitize thermometer probes between uses.
- Ensure the final rinse on your warewashing equipment is at the proper temperature to provide adequate sanitation.
- Clean and sanitize refrigerator, freezer and walk-in handles regularly.
- Use each sink in your kitchen only for its specific intended purpose.
Use Separate Equipment
- The ideal food preparation procedure for avoiding cross contamination utilizes separate utensils, surfaces and equipment for each product type. Color coded cutting boards, cutlery and utensils help to clearly define the intended application for different kitchen items.
- If color coded or separate food preparation tools are not a viable option then different food types should be prepped at different times. Prep surfaces and equipment must be cleaned and sanitized between food types and immediately after use.
- Using separate prep zones for different product types can also help eliminate cross contamination.
Be Careful with Food Preparation
- When defrosting meats make sure the item is fully thawed before cooking to ensure it cooks completely. Make sure thawing takes place in the proper area and that the product moves through the temperature danger zones in a safe time frame. Beware of any juices that may leak onto other foods. To avoid contamination from meat juices, use a tray or bowl under the thawing container to catch spills.
- Marinating meats should be done in the refrigerator and should also utilize a tray or bowl under the marinating container to prevent spills from leaking onto other foods. Do not reuse the marinade or use it for cooking unless it is boiled first.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables with clean running water to remove dirt and pesticides. Keep cut fruit and vegetables refrigerated to inhibit the growth of bacteria and prevent spoilage.
Organize and Maintain Storage Areas
- Organize walk-in coolers and refrigerators properly in the following order to keep foods from contaminating each other.
- Top Shelf
-- Cooked/ready-to-serve foods
-- Whole Fish – 145 degree internal cook temperature
-- Whole Meats – 145 degree internal cook temperature
-- Ground Beef – 155 degree internal cook temperature
- Bottom Shelf
-- Poultry – 165 degree internal cook temperature
- Make sure foods are at the proper temperature when they are delivered and transfer them to the correct storage areas immediately. Inspect shipments for damaged or spoiled foods.
- Regularly check cooler and freezer temperatures to ensure they are operating properly.
- Cover and label all foods when putting them into storage.
- Keep food at least 6” off the floor.
- Do not set cardboard food boxes on countertops.
Practice Sanitary Serving
- Always use clean serving dishes. Never serve food on plates that have been used for cutting or have come in contact with raw meats. Store serving plates in a clean area that is away from possible contaminants.
- Always use dedicated cloths and sanitizer for cleaning dining tables and change sanitizing solution regularly.
Though it does take concerted effort, taking a proactive standpoint on food safety is imperative because cross-contamination is a serious threat at any stage. These efforts should be enforced throughout the workplace because there is a risk of jeopardizing the health of not only the public, but the staff as well. Great word of mouth and employee safety are essential to the foodservice industry. Having a customer or staff member become sick could be detrimental to business. If everyone cooperates to take the necessary precautions, reducing the risk of illness can be a success.