Understanding How to Handle Food Safely
Food Safety and Food Handling
Although the United State's food supply is one of the safest in the world, the CDC estimates that each year roughly 48 million people, or roughly 1 in 6 Americans, get sick as a result of foodborne diseases. Of these infected persons, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 will die. These illnesses and deaths are especially tragic because they are largely the fault of preventable food handling mistakes.
Everyone who comes in contact with food directly (cooking, serving, or packaging food) or indirectly (storing, delivering, or transporting food) is a food handler. Additionally, workers who come into contact with preparation surfaces including cutlery, cutting boards, or kitchen utensils are considered food handlers and must adhere to the same strict food safety principles as workers who directly handle food.
Safe food handling is an essential part of food safety compliance. All food industry professionals must practice and enforce proper food handling techniques to ensure their products are safe for consumption. Consequences of failing to safely handle food range from the proliferation of potentially deadly foodborne diseases to forced business closure.
Understanding Foodborne Illness
Foodborne illness, also called food poisoning, is caused when a person becomes ill as a result of consuming foods containing harmful bacteria, parasites, or viruses. Germs can also grow on food that is handled improperly before consumption. Most of these harmful germs are found in perishable food like raw meat and poultry, fish, and eggs. However, these germs can cross-contaminate any type of food.
The number of harmful bacteria a person ingests directly correlates with their potential of becoming ill. Ingesting a small number of disease-causing bacteria may create mild or no food poisoning. However, the majority of these same bacteria can cause very severe or fatal illness. If food is not handled properly, harmful bacteria reproduce rapidly, greatly increasing the risk of foodborne disease.
One example of foodborne illness is staphylococcus aureus, transmitted through employee hands or particles produced by sneezing. 30-50% of adults carry Staphylococcus aureus in their nose and 20-35% in their skin. Simple remedies to combat Staphylococcus aureus include covering and controlling sneezing, in addition, to properly and consistently wash your hands.
Remember, anytime a human hand touches something there is a risk of contamination. The best defense for food handlers to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria is ensuring hands are washed, clean, and protected whenever handling food.
For optimal food safety, wash your hands properly and frequently, using the following six steps-
- Wet hands - Use warm-hot water, at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit, to wet hands. Remove any visible dirt or contaminants
- Apply soap - Make sure to generously apply liquid soap to hands. Avoid bar soaps as they may harbor bacteria. If you must use bar soap, store in a container that allows for self drainage, and clean the container regularly
- Scrub and lather - For a minimum of 20 seconds, rub hands together with the soap. Thoroughly and carefully clean entire hand, including palms, back of hands, between each finger and under fingernails
- Rinse - Rinse the soap off hands using warm-hot running water for at least 20 seconds. Make sure to point fingers downwards while rinsing hands
- Turn off the tap - Turn the tap off with a paper towel. Taps may harbor bacteria from previously being turned on with dirty hands
- Dry hands - Dry hands thoroughly using a hand dryer or paper towels, keep in mind that wet hands can carry up to 1000x more germs than dry hands. Do not use a tea towel or your apron as this will recontaminate your hands
- Before starting work
- After each absence from the work area
- After visiting the restrooms
- After sneezing or coughing
- After eating, drinking, smoking, chewing gum or chewing tobacco
- Any other times when hands are potentially soiled or contaminated
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Food Handling Basics
The following safe food handling techniques should be utilized by all food handlers to prevent foodborne illness from spreading-
- Wash your hands often and properly with hot soapy water before touching food.
- Keep knives, cutting boards, and surfaces clean by washing them with hot soapy water
- Put items in the dishwasher and use a disinfectant on counters
- Wash all fresh produce, including fruits and vegetables
- Avoid bacteria from raw meat cross-contaminating other foods
- Put cooked meat on a new, clean platter. Do not place cooked meat back on the same platter that originally held raw meat
- Ensure sure that meat, chicken, fish, and eggs are fully cooked
- Check for safe minimum internal temperatures with a food thermometer
- Refrigerate foods that are leftover immediately
- Avoid the danger zone whenever possible
- Do not leave cut produce, including fruits and vegetables, at room temperature for prolonged periods of time
- Never serve or eat food that may be contaminated or unsafe for consumption
- If food spent too much time in the danger zone, throw it out
- If you are not positive a food is safe, dispose of it
- Safe food handling ensures a safe working environment and helps prevent food poisoning
- Although the United State's food supply is one of the safest in the world, the CDC estimates that each year roughly 48 million people, or roughly 1 in 6 Americans, get sick as a result of foodborne diseases
- Anytime a human hand touches something it can cause food to become contaminated
- The best defense for food handlers to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria is ensuring hands are washed, clean, and protected whenever handling food
- Sanitize and wash your hands thoroughly with hot soapy water in a hand-washing facility any times they have been potentially soiled or contaminated
- Avoid food safety compliance violations by implementing and maintaining strict safe food handling protocols