The Underlying Causes of Poor Food Hygiene

An Assessment of Food Hygiene

Food hygiene in any restaurant is assessed based on compliance in the following three areas-

1) Food Handling

  • The personal hygiene of staff should be up to standard. The should be wearing clean over clothing (like an apron) and washing their hands regularly before handling the food.
  • The staff and management should take appropriate steps to prevent cross-contamination like using color-coded cutting boards and using separate areas to handle cooked and raw foods.
  • The food should always be stored at the correct and appropriate temperatures.
  • The food should always be checked visually for thorough cooking.
2) Conditions of the Premises
  • The restaurant's structure should be clean and in good working condition.
  • There should be adequate natural and artificial lighting throughout the premises.
  • The HVAC system should be in working order, and there should be no signs of wear or tears anywhere.
3) Management and Documentation of Food Safety
  • The restaurant staff and management should identify and understand all the food safety hazards (chemical, physical, and microbiological).
  • The administration should document all the evidence of measures they take to control these hazards.
  • The food handlers should be supervised properly to make sure they are practicing good food hygiene.

The Most Common Foodborne Illnesses

The following are some of the most common foodborne diseases and their causes-

Campylobacteriosis is usually caused by undercooked meats, cross-contamination, contaminated water, and raw milk. Campylobacter causes severe diarrhea and stomach cramps.

According to the CDC, the most commonly identified sources for campylobacter outbreaks are poultry and dairy businesses.

Salmonellosis is caused by Salmonella bacteria found in undercooked poultry and meat, raw/ undercooked eggs, and untreated milk. Its symptoms are fever, diarrhea, stomach pain, and vomiting.

In 2014, Tyson Foods had to recall a mechanically separated chicken product on a large scale because it was believed to be contaminated with Salmonella.

E. Coli 0157
E. Coli Bacteria is usually found in undercooked beef, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated meats. E. Coli causes severe bloody diarrhea and can also lead to serious kidney damage.

Dairy businesses are the most commonly identified source of this infection. In 2010, Bravo Farms recalled their farm cheese because it caused an E.coli outbreak in six states infecting 38 people.

Staphylococcus Aureus
This infection is caused by the most dangerous staphylococcal bacteria, "staphylococcus aureus."

This bacterium causes vomiting and extreme stomach pains. It is usually found on humans (in the throat, skin, nose, and ears) and is transferred to food due to poor handling practices.

It is caused by listeria and can lead to miscarriage and stillbirth or meningitis in the new-born. This infection usually affects vulnerable groups like pregnant women, immunodeficient people, and children.

It is generally found in unpasteurized soft cheeses like Camembert and Brie, and poorly refrigerated food.

In March 2020, Korean authorities published a report that identified Listeriosis in Unaki mushrooms that affected 36 people in the United States and killing 4 people.

Top 5 Risk Factors for Foodborne Illness

top 5 risk factors for foodborne illness 1591983307 1072

1. Improper storing temperatures of potentially hazardous foods
The purpose of storing potentially hazardous foods at appropriate temperatures is to decrease the growth of any pathogenic bacteria present. If a potentially hazardous food needs to be held at cold temperatures, it must be held at 41F or less. It can be done with prep coolers, walk-in coolers, and refrigerators.

On the other hand, if the food needs to be held at hot temperatures, it must be held at 135F or above. It can be done by using a variety of methods, including steam tables, heat lamps, and double boilers.

The temperature range of 41F-135F is called the danger zone because, in this range, pathogenic bacteria grow exponentially. So, staff should take every appropriate step to ensure that the food doesn't spend much time in this range.

2. Improper cooking temperatures
Raw meats naturally have pathogenic bacteria on them. Cooking food to proper temperatures kill the maximum bacteria that may be present in the food. Moreover, the temperature of the food should be measured by an accurate probe thermometer.

Here are the proper minimum cooking temperatures of some foods-
Raw Poultry (chicken, turkey, and duck) = 165F
Raw ground meats (sausage and ground beef) = 155F
Raw pork, eggs, lamb, and fish = 145F
Fruits and Vegetables = 135F

3. Contaminated equipment and utensils
The bacteria on contaminated equipment and utensils can easily transfer to food and cause foodborne illnesses. Moreover, the residual bacteria at room temperature can multiply rapidly. Therefore, it is pertinent that all the food equipment and utensils are washed and sanitized at least once every four hours.

4. Poor self-hygiene
If the food workers have poor self-hygiene, the food being served is more likely to be exposed to harmful bacteria, which can lead to an instance of food poisoning. Additionally, if any worker has an acute gastrointestinal illness, or is sick with vomiting or diarrhea, they increase the risk of spreading disease when handling food.

The food workers should wear gloves and proper over-clothing at all times. Additionally, any cuts or burns should be properly treated, bandaged, and covered before the worker is allowed to handle the food.

5. Unsafe sources of food
Restaurant owners should also pay close attention to that the food they receive from their vendors is safe and meets the minimum standards set by regulatory agencies. In addition, it is prudent of restaurant operators to see first hand how their vendors handle the food they are providing to ensure their process does not expose food to harmful disease-causing bacteria.


So, here's what we discussed-

Food hygiene is assessed based on three essential perimeters- Food handling, the condition of the structure of the premises, and how food safety is being managed and documented in the restaurant.

Campylobacteriosis, Salmonellosis, E. Coli infection, Staphylococcus infection, and Listeriosis are among the most common foodborne illnesses. All these illnesses cause severe problems like vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pains. The root of these illnesses is often found in unhygienic practices related to food handling, storage, and cooking.
The top 5 risk factors for foodborne illnesses include improper holding temperatures of potentially hazardous foods, not cooking food to appropriate temperatures, the use of dirty and contaminated utensils, poor self-hygiene practices of staff, and receiving food from unsafe sources.

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