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Keep Cross-Contamination at Bay With Simple Guidelines

Anyone who has run a foodservice establishment knows the fear of a restaurant inspector coming to give your place a rating and finding violations that can prove costly.

Those violations don’t have to be anything as dramatic (or disgusting) as evidence of vermin or leaving the mayonnaise sitting at room temperature for 8 hours. There are many potential dangers lurking in kitchens around the world, and one that isn’t always obvious is cross-contamination.

As anyone in the foodservice business knows, it’s what happens when bacteria or other microorganisms are unintentionally transferred from one object to another. The most common example is the transfer of bacteria between raw and cooked food.

The CDC identifies cross-contamination as one of the top 5 causes of foodborne illnesses—so prevention is key. For example, if you’re preparing raw chicken, bacteria can spread to your chopping board, knife, and hands—and potentially lead to food poisoning.

Bacterial cross-contamination is most likely to happen when raw food touches or drips onto ready-to-eat food, utensils, or surfaces. A few suggestions for avoiding it that involve preparing food hygienically:

  • Rule No. 1, always: Wash hands first. Make it last at least 20 seconds each time. Use soap and warm water. Rinse and dry on a paper towel. Be careful drying your hands on hand towels, too, as you may just re-contaminate them. Do this every time you start a new task—no exceptions.
  • Make sure any surfaces you are using for food prep are clean.
  • Use different utensils, plates, and cutting boards for raw and cooked food. Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood, and a separate cutting board for produce, bread, and other foods that won’t be cooked.
  • Wash utensils, plates, and cutting boards thoroughly between tasks.
  • In 2005, the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans came out with a perplexing guideline—don’t rinse meat or poultry before cooking it. The USDA found that rinsing causes water to splash over countertops or anything nearby.
  • Do rinse produce: Even pre-washed fruit and vegetables should be thoroughly rinsed before serving.
  • Wash your hands—we just can’t mention it enough.

Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the “Danger Zone” between 40°F and 140°F. Improperly stored foods are a magnet for bacteria. They are also a magnet for those restaurant inspectors, who will nail you for non-compliance, every time.

  • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from other foods.
  • Store raw meat, poultry, and seafood in sealed containers or wrap them securely so the juices don’t leak onto other foods.
  • Keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below and your freezer at 0°F or below, and know when to throw food out before it spoils.
  • Package warm or hot food into several clean, shallow containers and then refrigerate. It is OK to put small portions of hot food in the refrigerator since they will chill faster.
  • Refrigerate perishable food (meat, seafood, dairy, cut fruit, and some vegetables within 2 hours.
  • Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw food on the counter because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.

Of course, overall kitchen cleanliness is among the most important guidelines to observe. Washing all countertops and sinks with hot, soapy water is the bare minimum. Sanitizing utensils and cutting boards and disinfecting food prep surfaces can also help avoid spreading bacteria.

Ensuring that kitchen staff wear disposable gloves is another policy worth implementing and enforcing. Gloves are by no means a substitute for thorough handwashing, but should be used in conjunction with best practices for cleanliness.

Vinyl gloves have for years been a popular choice in foodservice because they are cheaper, but lightweight nitrile gloves are actually a better investment. They provide improved barrier protection against bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses, they are more form-fitting and comfortable than loose-fitting vinyl, and they resist punctures, rips, and tears to a much greater degree.

While much of this sounds like common-sense advice, it can be easy to see diligent safety precautions go by the wayside in busy foodservice establishments. Don’t take chances with the health of your workers (or, of even greater concern, your customers).

Get everyone to follow simple but essential food safety guidelines, and cross-contamination will be one less thing to worry about.

Content courtesy of AMMEX