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Today, we are going to look at several areas you can address to prevent food borne illness in your restaurant. Earlier this week we talked about building an effective HACCP program and critical control points. The items listed below may all be potential critical control points in your restaurant that you need to address to prevent potential hazards.

Cutting Boards

The first thing to address is cutting boards. Be sure that cutting boards are switched out between ingredients, especially ones with high food borne illness potential, such as chicken or eggs. Not changing out a cutting board is one of the most common areas for cross contamination.

Try to avoid using wood or otherwise porous cutting boards. If your cutting board has deep scratches or grooves, it needs to be replaced. These are key areas where bacteria can build and spread.

It’s also a good idea to get different colored cutting boards that are only used for specific items. Cream colored is for chicken, green is for vegetables, red is for red meats, and blue is for fish. In this way, you can further eliminate cross contamination issues and highly reduce the chance of spreading salmonella to vegetables if the board wasn’t fully sanitized. It’s also easy to spot when someone forgot to change out their cutting board as well because they will be cutting on the wrong color.

Work Surfaces

Sanitize your work surfaces whenever switching tasks or whenever visibly dirty, whichever is more frequent. Bacteria can reside on surfaces that can then transfer to food.

Commonly, this transfer can occur when resting a rare or medium rare steak before plating. Then, when plating this surface is wiped with a dry towel to remove the blood and then other food is prepped in this area. A dry towel removes the blood or debris but is not a sanitizer. The bacteria can still remain. If the steak was not up to a 165 degree internal temp, it could be potentially hazardous. This hazard is added to all of the other foods prepared in that area. Be sure surfaces are properly sanitized with a proper bleach or industrial sanitizer concentration.

Separate Utensils

In the same way, you should be sure to not use the same utensils on both raw and cooked foods. If you put a raw chicken breast on the grill, cook it to the proper temp and then remove the chicken breast from the grill with the same tongs, you just contaminated that chicken.

Have separate utensils for raw and cooked items.

Cook Temps

Speaking of proper temps, here are the safe minimum internal temps recommended by the USDA to reduce the chance of food borne illness. (All temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit.)

Beef, Pork, Veal, Ham, and Lamb: 145

Fish: 145

Ground Meats: 160

Chicken, Turkey, and other poultry: 165

Eggs: 160

Casseroles: 160

Any Reheated Foods: 165

Washing Hands

One of the simplest, yet one of the most underutilized ways to prevent food borne illness is washing hands. Most restaurant staff do not wash their hands nearly enough and it’s causing undue illnesses in customers. Not washing hands after bussing a table is disgusting; not washing hands after handling raw meat is potentially life-threatening.

Be vigilant about hand washing. Push it to the point of being annoying. Anytime you see an employee touch their face; handle raw meat, fish, or eggs; handle dirty dishes; or otherwise dirty their hands, stop the employee and remind them to wash their hands. This is one of the easiest ways to stop contamination.

Order of Food in Freezer

The order of the food you place in your cooler or freezer can also help to prevent food borne illness. Meat boxes or bags can potentially drip or leak. Keeping these items in the order of their minimum cook times helps to ensure that if a food product gets contaminated it will be cooked to a temperature that eliminates the bacteria contamination. Vegetables, cheeses, and products that aren’t cooked, should always remain above meat and fish. Here is the order you should place your food in your cooler from top to bottom.

Vegetables

Cheese

Pork, Veal, Ham, and Lamb

Fish

Beef, Eggs, Casserole

Ground Meats

Now, you may not have six-high shelves, that’s fine, just make sure you don’t put a product lower on the list above a product higher on the list. When in doubt, look for the minimum safe cooking temperature and make sure the highest minimum cook times are on the lowest shelves.

Also, ensure that no products sit directly on the floor of the cooler. Aside from get a health code violation from your health inspector, products sitting on the floor will absorb extra moisture which will create a breeding ground for bacteria. Further, anything leaking out of any of the boxes will settle down on the floor which can get absorbed into any boxes or product sitting on the floor. This is obviously a serious hazard and just plain gross.

Cover Everything

Finally, when organizing in the cooler make sure nothing is loose in the cooler. All products should be in covered containers or bags. This will help protect your foods from cross contamination and keep harmful bacteria on the outsides of boxes and bags instead of on your food. This is also the reason you should always wash all fruits and vegetables.

While there are many more ways in which you could have potentially hazardous situations, this article should give you some key areas to target to reduce food borne illness. While the thought of contamination can be frightening, with some simple steps and persistent monitoring, the majority of threats can be reduced or eliminated.