Food safety tips for commercial kitchens from Texas A&M AgriLife extension

Food safety tips for commercial kitchens from Texas A&M AgriLife extension

by Sue Jones
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Here at Food Safety News, we often focus on what consumers can do in their homes to reduce the risk of food poisoning. But kitchen safety doesn’t start and end at home. In recent weeks we’ve seen a number of outbreaks stemming from restaurants and prepackaged ready-to-eat food.

Food outbreaks that start in restaurants or commercial kitchens are often more dangerous because of the number of people they can affect. In cases of severe pathogens or viruses, this can mean life and death situations. Just this past month, a third death was reported in a hepatitis A outbreak traced to an Italian restaurant in West Norriton, PA, with another  10 outbreak patients confirmed to have liver disease.

Foodborne outbreaks not only cost lives but can also mean the end of a business. Famous Anthony’s filed bankruptcy in January for two of their five Roanoke restaurant locations after a hepatitis A outbreak originating from one of their food service workers killed four people, hospitalized 36 and sickened 52, with one requiring a liver transplant.

Whether it’s hepatitis, E. coli, Salmonella, norovirus or any other harmful pathogen, it’s clear that it is in the interest of commercial kitchens and consumers to follow food safety guidelines.

Here are some tips from Kathy Smith, a Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent, on how to keep a commercial kitchen safe:

Promote hand washing
One of the most important food safety tips involves effective handwashing. This minimizes cross-contamination and means employees have clean hands before touching food. Even the smallest bit of bacteria can make someone sick. All food workers need to frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with hot water and soap.

Don’t let sick workers prepare food
People who prepare food while sick put customers and workers at risk of getting sick. Implement policies that ban sick workers from coming to work and send home any workers who are ill.

Use gloves correctly
Food workers should be wearing food safety grade gloves when preparing and handling food in a commercial kitchen. The same gloves cannot be used for everything. It is important to change gloves regularly if they have the potential to become contaminated.

Cook to the right temperatures
Make sure food is cooked to the right temperatures: poultry, stuffing, and leftovers to 165 degrees F; ground meats and eggs for holding to 155 degrees F for 17 seconds; steaks, roasts, fish, and eggs for immediate serving 145 degrees F for 15 seconds; all other cooked foods 135 degrees F.

Avoid cross-contamination
Many foodborne illnesses come from cross-contamination, when bacteria is spread from raw meat and produce to ready-to-eat foods. You should prepare raw meats separately from other foods. Use separate cutting boards, cleaning, and sanitizing after handling and preparing raw meats and produce and handling ready to eat foods. Clean and sanitize work surfaces. Require employees to wash their hands after handling money or using the restroom to prevent cross-contamination.

Store food correctly at the right temperature
Keep meat and poultry separate from other foods, including vegetables, sauces and anything that requires little preparation. Food should be cooled to 41 degrees F or below and should be cooled in a way that provides ventilation such as a shallow pan. You should also make sure raw meat doesn’t drip and contaminate other food. Cut fruits and vegetables should not be left out at room temperature. Never store food on the floor and have a thermometer in the refrigerator as well as the freezer.

Clean and sanitize preparation surfaces and equipment regularly
Use warm soapy water to clean and follow with a sanitizer solution to clean dishes, countertops, and equipment regularly.

Label food well by date. Practice FIFO with your food: First In, First Out. It is better to throw out food than put people at risk.

Train your staff
Ongoing informal and formal training is important. If you don’t have training for your staff, you are increasing the risk of unsafe food being served.

Know the danger zone and two-hour rule
The temperature danger zone is the range of temperature where bacteria will multiply rapidly. The danger zone is 41 degrees F to 135 degrees F. Food should not sit in the temperature danger zone for more than two hours. Checking temperatures, thawing foods properly and cooling food properly is important.

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