Those who never worked in the food industry may not know just how much goes into handling food. Consumers only see the front-of-restaurant operations where the only food handling that happens is the final product to your hands. However, there are many intricacies of food handling that everyone should know about, from temperature to common hazards.
1. Time and Temperature Control
You may not know it, but time and temperature control when food handling can make the difference between getting a customer sick and having them be repeat business.
Knowing how to handle food at the right temperatures reduces the type of pathogenic bacteria that could be potentially harmful to humans. We say potentially harmful because ingesting food that wasn’t regulated at the correct temperature may not cause any major issues. However, the more the food is held at the wrong temperatures, the greater the risk that the pathogenic bacteria has spread, putting the food at a higher risk of causing illness to your patrons.
We all know how trigger happy people can be over demanding free food or, even worse, seeking out a lawyer if they find you were negligible with the temperature aspect of food storage and handling.
What will happen if I don’t cook raw meat thoroughly?
You may be familiar with the most common pathogenic bacteria, salmonella, that isn’t really fatal to relatively healthy individuals but can still cause uncomfortable symptoms.
Salmonella can be found in beef, poultry, or even the eggs from poultry. It’s advised to cook raw poultry at 165 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds to ensure the food is safe to eat. Keep in mind, that temperature isn’t the only variable you need to look out for when handling food.
Milk (and other dairies), poultry, fish, etc all fall under the food handler’s label of TCS foods. TCS, also known as Time and Temperature Control foods are the foods most susceptible to bacteria growth and need time and temperature controls in order to determine the food’s safety.
How Should I Thaw Meat?
The last point you need to worry about with regard to food’s temperature is that heat is not the only side of the temperature scale you need to worry about.
You should receive and store refrigerated TCS foods at 41 degrees Fahrenheit, and frozen TCS foods at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
When thawing meat or poultry to prepare for cooking, the safest method is refrigerator thawing ahead of time, but remember when food is thawed then it should be cooked immediately risk throwing it out due to safety concerns.
What Other Food Handling Hazards Are There?
Time and temperature are not the only two variables you need to worry about when it comes to food safety.
While it’s important to know the temperatures to receive, store, cook, and serve food at, you also need to worry about small things like hand hygiene, the cleanliness of appliances, and even how to clean the food itself to prevent cross-contamination and other health risks.
2. Appliance Cleanliness
Believe it or not, the appliances you use to prepare and cook food need to be cleaned thoroughly from the inside and out before using them. Even the refrigerator used to store food needs to be cleaned at least once a week to prevent bacterial growth on leftovers and perishable foods. Even the containers that hold the basics have to be covered and stored properly.
Cutting boards used to cut raw meat should not be used to hold cooked meat. That’s just asking for a food-caused illness. It’s important to keep the two cutting boards separated.
Make sure to also wipe down buttons and dials of appliances that you touch as that is an often overlooked part of appliance cleanliness despite it being the area you touch the most.
3. Personal Hygiene
It shouldn’t need to be said, but you wouldn’t believe how such a simple variable point can be overlooked by food handlers. Practicing safe food handling also means you need to practice personal hygiene tips as well.
Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
When drying your hand, use a disposable paper towel and not a cloth that multiple people in the kitchen use to dry their hands. That’s just asking to share bacteria.
The best way to dry hands would be a touchless air dryer for optimum safety.
If you’re feeling a little under the weather (you shouldn’t go to work in the first place, but sometimes that can’t be avoided) then wear a mask to avoid coughing or sneezing on food. That should be common sense, but again, it happens.
Another common sense tip for personal hygiene when handling food is to not use artificial nails or nail polish and keep your fingernails short and easy to clean. So much dirt and bacteria can get caught under the fingernails and it is not an area think of cleaning if they don’t do a thorough job.
4. Cleaning Fruits and Vegetables
While keeping meat and other perishables at certain temperatures is important; it is also important to know to keep fruits and vegetables washed thoroughly before they are safe to prepare and consume.
E. coli isn’t just a bacteria found in contaminated meat, but can also be found in vegetables.
It’s important to thoroughly wash vegetables to remove the soil. Most of the bacteria found in vegetables and fruits are found in the soil itself. Soil isn’t the only contaminant you’re washing off.
You could also be washing off irrigated water or even the feces of animals or birds that came into contact with your fruits or vegetables.
Who Should You Talk To For Additional Training?
It’s important to learn who in your establishment is responsible for training employees on safe food handling procedures. Law for holding a food handler’s card depends on the city, state, or employer requirements.
Some states require you to take licensed training before you can even step foot in the backroom of a restaurant. There are a number of different programs you can take like ServSafe to earn certification.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the person in charge of the establishment’s owner to make sure you are trained in safe food handling procedures. If you ever have any questions on safe food handling procedures, it’s best to speak to your supervisor or manager.
Your role in the kitchen isn’t just to cook and prepare the food but to practice safe food handling.
One small mistake can cause another human to fall ill or even worse. If you follow safe food handling procedures then you can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and keep your business running smoothly.