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According to the CDC, foodborne illnesses affect 1 in 6 people in the United States annually. While many cases are mild, some are severe enough to require hospitalization, and approximately 3,000 people die from these illnesses each year. If your restaurant is responsible for causing a foodborne illness, the consequences can be significant and far-reaching.

Initially, a guest might not report their illness and instead choose not to return to your establishment, leading to lost business. Additionally, it’s very common for affected guests to leave negative reviews, which can tarnish your restaurant’s reputation and further reduce your customer base. Worse still, if a guest decides to file a complaint with the health department, your business could even face closure.

This is a daunting possibility, but there are measures you and your staff can take to prevent foodborne illnesses. By adhering to proper food handling and preparation safety practices, you can protect both your customers and your business.

Keep reading to find out the best practices for preventing foodborne illness in your facility.

Foodborne illnesses, often referred to as food poisoning, are infections or intoxications caused by consuming contaminated food or beverages. These illnesses are typically caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances that make their way into food.

Some pathogens are more common than others. In fact, there are more than 2,300 different types of salmonella bacteria, but Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium make up half of all human infections. Some of the most common pathogens, known as the Big 6 in food safety circles, that cause foodborne illnesses are:

  • Norovirus
  • Salmonella typhi
  •  Non-typhoidal salmonella
  •  E. coli
  •   Shigella
  •  Hepatitis A

Symptoms of foodborne illnesses can range from mild to severe and often include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and fatigue. In severe cases, these illnesses can lead to long-term health problems or even death, particularly in vulnerable populations such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and individuals with weakened immune systems.

For the most part, pathogens do not affect the taste, smell, or appearance of food that has been contaminated. For example, foods contaminated by E. coli will have no noticeable difference from foods that are not contaminated.  

Foodborne illnesses can affect anyone, unlike allergens which are specific to individuals with the allergy.

Pro Tip: Allergens can also be dangerous but are not foodborne illnesses.

Allergens, or substances that cause allergic reactions, can also harm your restaurant patrons. There are nine common allergens: milk, wheat, peanuts, soy, fish, tree nuts, eggs, crustacean shellfish, and sesame.  

It’s important for your staff to understand which menu items contain these allergens to help ensure that they are not served to customers with allergies. However, by following the same food safety practices to prevent foodborne illnesses, your kitchen can prevent allergen contamination.  

Because there are so many pathogens, it’s important to keep food safety practices at the forefront of everything your restaurant does. This article will walk you through the 6 most important preventative food safety practices to prevent foodborne illness in your restaurant.  

  1. Purchasing and Receiving Food from Reputable Suppliers
  2. Safely Storing Food 
  3. Practicing Proper Personal Hygiene 
  4. Creating and Maintaining a Clean Workspace
  5. Preventing Cross-Contamination and Cross-Contact 
  6. Regulating Food Temperatures

It’s important to follow each of these food safety practices as different pathogens can be removed in different ways. Some may be killed by cooking foods to certain temperatures while others are heat resistant and the best preventative practice is washing your hands and equipment properly.   

Food safety practices start when you purchase food for your restaurant. 

You should always select a reputable supplier when buying. Reputable suppliers meet all local, state, and federal requirements for their food and should be able to provide you with inspection reports.  

Still, when you receive food, it’s important to inspect it. If anything looks suspicious, it’s always safer to reject it than bring it into your facility and risk foodborne illnesses.  

For example, check for ice crystals or water stains when receiving frozen foods. These can be indications that the food thawed during transit  

If you’re receiving canned goods, you should always check for damages to the cans.  Damaged or swollen cans have the potential to carry clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism.  

You should also stay up to date on food recalls that are issued by your food suppliers and by the health department. 

After you’ve inspected your food, you need to make sure that it is stored properly to prevent foodborne illness. You should have thermometers in your refrigerators and freezers to ensure that they maintain safe storage temperatures at all times. Refrigerated foods should always be kept below 40°F (4° C) and frozen foods should be kept between 0° F (-18° C) and -20°F (-29°C). 

How you store the food is another part of proper food safety practices. Some food packages may drip liquid during storage, and you want to prevent cross contaminations as much as possible. 

The best way to store your food on shelves safely is: ready-to-eat foods on top, followed by seafood, whole cuts of beef and pork, ground meat, and ending with all of your poultry on the bottom shelf.  

First In, First Out (FIFO) is another important storage practice to ensure that food is used in the order it is received. This means that the first food in the kitchen should be the first food used in the kitchen. New items should be placed at the back of the shelf so that older food is used first to prevent it from spoiling and causing foodborne illnesses. 

Practicing proper personal hygiene is also necessary to prevent foodborne illness. Hands should be washed regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  

There are also instances where you should wash your hands immediately before or after a task or incident takes place: 

  • Before eating 
  • After touching garbage 
  • After wiping counters or cleaning other surfaces with chemicals 
  • After touching pets, pet food, or pet treats 
  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose 
  • After handling uncooked meat, poultry, seafood, flour, or eggs 
  • Before and after using gloves 

Rinsing your hands with water can help remove visible soils, but you need to use soap to remove any bacteria or viral pathogens. 

You should also remove any jewelry, such as rings and earrings, before handling food. It is possible for the jewelry to carry germs that can spread, and you also risk having the jewelry fall into the food as well.  

The clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE) food handlers wear should also always be clean to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. Soiled clothing can spread germs easily, so always wear clean uniforms and aprons.  

If you prepare food while wearing gloves, never reuse gloves. You should also wear a new pair of gloves when moving between preparing different foods. For example, if you are preparing raw chicken, get a new pair of gloves to start preparing vegetables. Remember to wash your hands before and after wearing gloves.  

Hair and beard restraints help reduce the risk of contaminating food with hair and should be worn by all food handlers.  

Ensuring workspace and equipment cleanliness is just as important as personal cleanliness to prevent foodborne illness. The 5 steps of effective cleaning and sanitizing are as follows:

  1. Pre-clean and soak where possible
  2. Wash with warm water (>110° F)
  3. Rinse 
  4. Sanitize with an approved no rinse sanitizer following the manufacturer’s instructions
  5. Allow to air dry

Workspace surfaces include countertops and stovetops. Your equipment includes knives, cutting boards, mixers, and any other item used in food preparation. Check the sanitizer solution concentration frequently using the appropriate test kit.

Prior to use, both workspaces and equipment should be properly sanitized

Pro Tip: Can you use disinfectant in the kitchen?

It’s important to make sure you are using food safe sanitizer, as most disinfectants leave behind unsafe residue and can put your business out of compliance with regulations. Sanitizers that are safe for food contact should have a notation on the label indicating them as such. 

A study led by the CDC indicated that restaurants that lacked training and certifications in food safety practices had more frequent cross contamination actions. 

Pro Tip: What is cross-contamination? 

Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria or other pathogens are transferred from one surface, object, or substance to another. Generally, this has a negative implication, such as spreading pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses. 

When raw foods, such as uncooked chicken or contaminated foods, come into contact with preparation surfaces or equipment, they can leave behind pathogens that will contaminate other foods, increasing the risk of foodborne illnesses. 

To prevent cross-contamination between different foods, many restaurants use color-coded cutting boards to keep specific food groups separate. There are standard colors used throughout the industry in the US: 

  • Red: Raw beef, pork, lamb, and other raw meats 
  • Yellow: Raw poultry such as chicken, turkey, and duck 
  • Blue: Raw fish, shellfish, and other seafoods 
  • White: Dairy and baked goods 
  • Green: Fruits, vegetables, and salads 
  • Brown: Cooked meat 

It can also be helpful to color code your knives to match the cutting boards appropriately.  

Use separate plates and utensils to prevent cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods.  

Preventing cross-contamination is essential to preventing foodborne illness in your restaurant, and educating your staff can help reduce the potential for foodborne illnesses.  

If your team needs training, our cleaning institute can offer classes to help educate your team in food safety practices and cross contamination prevention with proper cleaning procedures.  

Pro Tip: What is the difference between cross-contamination and cross-contact? 

Cross-contamination is the term used in regards to preventing pathogens from transferring, but cross-contact is the term used when referring to allergens transferring from one surface or food to another

As we’ve already discussed, there are certain temperatures needed for safe food storage for refrigerated and frozen food. However, temperature regulation is an important part of all food safety practices.

Cooking food to the proper minimum internal temperature helps prevent foodborne illness. Different foods have different minimum required internal temperatures. Beef steaks only need to reach 145°F (62.8 °C) before they are safe to eat, while chicken breasts need to be cooked to at least 165°F (74°C) before consumption.  

It’s important to follow your local regulations on safe internal food temperatures. While the United States and Canada generally have the same temperature regulations, there are some differences. For example, the USDA lists the internal food temperature of fish and shellfish as 145 °F (62.8 °C). In Canada, fish should be cooked to a minimum of 158°F (70°C) while shellfish should be cooked to 165°F (74°C).  

Food should be kept out of the danger zone of 41°F – 135°F (5°C – 57°C). In this temperature range, bacteria growth is quite rapid. In fact, the number of bacteria can double in as little as 20 minutes in this range. This significantly increases the risk of foodborne illnesses. 

Cold food can be placed on ice to keep it below the 40°F (4°C) threshold. Chafing fuel or warming trays can be used to keep food above the 140°F (60°C) threshold.  

However, even with these measures, it’s important not to leave food out of refrigeration for too long. The general rule of thumb is 2 hours, but when the temperature is over 90 °F (32°C), food should not be left out for more than 1 hour.  

Final Thoughts  

Food safety practices are necessary for running any kitchen, but they can feel overwhelming. Having the right training and tools available is important in preventing foodborne illnesses, and our team is here to help. 

Whether you need food safe sanitizer or an assessment of your current practices, our team has the knowledge and the tools to support your food service facility. 

If you have questions about food safety practices, reach out to the experts at Imperial Dade. Our team of food service experts can help provide training and recommendations for food safe products. 

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