Foodborne illness can have devastating consequences not only on a patron’s health, but on a restaurant’s bottom line. The CDC estimates that one in six Americans will contract a foodborne illness each year, which can result in hospitalization and, in severe cases, death. In addition to posing health risks for patrons, a foodborne illness outbreak can destroy a restaurant.
Of more than 2,200 American adults surveyed for the Tork Report: Healthy People, Healthy Planet™, 78 percent indicated they are at least somewhat concerned about contracting or spreading foodborne illness. As foodborne illness continues to be a serious public health issue, it’s increasingly important for restaurants to pay close attention to how their employees handle and prepare food.
Cross-contamination and improper food storage often contribute to outbreaks, both of which can be prevented by establishing and enforcing effective protocols. In addition to other precautionary measures toward food safety, surface and hand hygiene remain critical preventative measures in maintaining an environment free of harmful bacteria. Restaurant managers and owners must play an active role in enforcing precautionary measures to avoid foodborne illness-related crises and the possible demise of a restaurant.
Following are some important food safety considerations:
Prioritize good hand hygiene. Certain viruses that cause foodborne illness continue to live outside the body for as long as a few hours to several days. As a result, hand hygiene is one of the most simple and effective steps for prevention. Ensure employees are washing with soap and warm water and using a paper towel to thoroughly dry hands, especially after using the bathroom or handling meat.
Implement a surface hygiene plan. Restaurants need a strong surface hygiene plan to protect their food from cross-contamination. One way to do this is to use color-coded disposable wipers. By using designated colors for certain areas of the restaurant, whether they are front or back-of-house, the risk of cross-contamination can be significantly reduced. Be sure that the inside of the refrigerator is consistently cleaned as well.
Wash fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables can be contaminated before arriving at a foodservice establishment, making it important to carefully rinse fresh fruits and vegetables to remove visible dirt and grime. Because bacteria can grow well on the cut surface of fruit or vegetables, avoid leaving cut produce at room temperature for an extended period of time.
Handle meat carefully. Implement a meat handling protocol that includes having employees wash their hands, utensils and surface areas after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry and prior to coming into contact with another food. It is also important to have employees separate cooked meat from raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.
Cook food appropriately. Make sure that employees are instructed to cook meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly. Prior to serving cooked meat, use a thermometer to take its internal temperature and ensure it is cooked sufficiently to kill bacteria. To keep this top of mind for employees, place signs in the kitchen with adequate cooking times and temperatures. It is also important these foods are not washed, as washing them may contribute to the spread of salmonella.
Refrigerate leftovers. Because bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature, it is important to refrigerate leftover food and ingredients, especially if they are not going to be eaten within four hours. Be sure to check expiration dates on a regular basis, as it is easy for food items to get lost in the refrigerator and reach a point where they are no longer safe to consume. If in doubt about the expiration, just throw it out.
For more information of food safety, visit the dedicated CDC page at http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/cdc-and-food-safety.html.
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