Have you ever gotten food poisoning after eating in a restaurant? Most of us have at some point. It makes us feel miserable, not to mention the time it takes to recover, which could be days or even weeks.
Sometimes we become dangerously ill from it and need to be hospitalized!
However, episodes of food-borne illness can be reduced considerably when restaurants and other food-handling establishments adhere to basic food hygiene rules. This is especially true when the controls operate throughout the supply chain.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), state agencies, non-profits, and businesses themselves have all published food hygiene information.
So, there is no lack of information on this topic. However, beyond simply having food hygiene guidelines, those who work with food must know, understand, and adhere to them. That’s where it becomes complicated and sometimes problematic.
In this article, we will discuss measures that must be taken to ensure the safest possible sourcing and handling of food in restaurants and other food-handling establishments.
Five Food Hygiene Rules
We’ll begin by discussing items from a basic yet comprehensive list: the World Health Organization’s Five Keys to Safer Food. These are some of the most basic and necessary food hygiene rules.
Employees must wash their hands thoroughly (with soap and water) and often while they are handling food. It is especially important that they wash their hands after using the toilet– something that not everyone does as well as necessary.
All surfaces also must be kept clean and disinfected regularly. The kitchen and surrounding areas must be kept free of insects and other pests, and employees need to be aware of signs of their presence.
Separate Raw and Cooked
Always keep raw meat and other uncooked foods in separate containers, and never re-use a knife, cutting board, or other utensils that have come in contact with raw meat without sanitizing it first.
Prevent cross-contamination between raw meat, poultry, and seafood by storing them on a separate shelf from prepared/cooked foods in the refrigerator. Be sure not to re-use marinades after cooking if they were also used to marinate raw food.
Foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood should always be cooked all the way through–until they have reached the appropriate internal temperature.
If you can’t use a meat thermometer (e.g., with shellfish or eggs when cooked by themselves), do a visual inspection to make sure it’s firm and not runny (eggs) or still has parts with its uncooked color (e.g., gray instead of orangish-pink for shrimp).
Soups and stews should be brought to a boil to ensure having reached the temperature needed to kill bacteria.
Keep Food at Safe Temperatures
Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for longer than two hours. And do not thaw frozen food at room temperature to hasten the process; do it in the refrigerator instead.
If food is thawed at room temperature, some parts will thaw faster than others, making it possible to draw bacteria. Also, cook any food thawed in the microwave promptly since that thawing process can be uneven.
Limit the amount of time you store raw or cooked food in the refrigerator or freezer. See the USDA guidelines for specifics.
Note that keeping foods below 5ºC (41ºF) or above 60ºC (140ºF) will slow or stop the growth of bacteria.
Use Safe Water and Raw Materials
Always wash raw vegetables and do not eat them after they have begun to rot or grow mold. Adhere to the expiration dates printed on food containers.
While most tap water in the U.S. is safe for drinking, make sure you also use clean water for kitchen surfaces and appliances. Use either disposable paper towels or clean cloths. Use hot, soapy water or a dishwasher to clean dishes and utensils.
How to Enforce Rules for Safety and Hygiene in the Kitchen
Rules are no good if they can’t be enforced. Here are some recommendations we’ve thought of toward that end.
The USDA, the WHO, and other organizations offer guidelines for training employees in protocols for safety when handling food. These should be gone over at the start of employment, with professional development refreshers and updates.
Develop and Enforce Standards for Personal Hygiene
Although these can be hard to enforce, standards for personal hygiene might include:
- No smoking on or near the premises: Signs should be posted and one area far from the food preparation designated a smoking area.
- Frequent and thorough hand-washing: Signs should be posted in washrooms and food preparation areas. Sinks stocked with soap and paper towels should be readily available.
- Measures to prevent food contamination from bodily fluids: Employees should not be around food when they have contagious illnesses, especially those with airborne pathogens.
- Employees should wear latex or synthetic gloves when preparing food.
- Food-handling businesses should have paid sick leave for employees.
The number of food safety violations due to illness and other reasons is alarming–as discovered in a study conducted by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net).
EHS-Net is a federally funded collaboration of federal, state, and local environmental health specialists and epidemiologists working to better understand the environmental causes of food-borne illness
Contract with a Third Party to Manage Supply-Chain Safety Protocols and Be Compliant with Regulations
A recent article in Harvard Business Review discusses the future of supply chain management as a time when employees engaged in monotonous, repetitive work presumably will be replaced by robots.
“For the future,” the article states, “a small number of people must be recruited or trained in new skills at the intersection of operations and technology…
Since the skills needed for these new roles are not readily available today, the biggest challenge for companies will be to create a supply chain vision for the future — and a strategy for filling those critical roles.”
For the near term, though, computerized systems are already playing a role in managing the supply chain–including some very comprehensive proprietary software. To read more about these plans, go to one company’s blog.
Between Now and the Future of Food Hygiene Rules
Does any of the food hygiene information presented here surprise you in any way? If you don’t think it does, you’re in the majority. Most of it involves food hygiene rules we practice in our own kitchens.
But the need for supply chain management arises when many food handlers are under-educated and underpaid. Some will take shortcuts, such as mishandling meat and other potential contaminants. Some of us will get sick because of this.
Perhaps we agree that robots will be more hygienic than the humans they replace. After all, they don’t smoke or get illnesses. But what will happen to human workers? Let’s hope they will be retrained and able to take some of the new jobs.
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