Food apart from clothing and housing is one of the basic human needs. Our bodies need food to function properly. The food provides nutrients to the body to grow, develop, and survive. Food preparation involves procuring food in its natural & native form and cooking it to enhance its flavors. It is very important to prepare food in the right way as food can become a feeding ground or, as some say, a playing ground for microbes to grow and spoil it when handled incorrectly. If the right measures are not taken, when handling preparing, cooking, or storing the food, it can lead to food spoilage or poisoning, and most of the time, the spoilage is not visible to the naked eye. This food, when consumed, can be harmful to the body, causing food-borne illness and diseases.
With various lifestyle factors, eating out has become an eternal part of everyone’s life. Most customers would visit a restaurant by trusting the food prepared, and as a responsible food business owner, it is essential that the food served to customers is prepared properly. Food business practice owners and operators must follow best food production and hygiene practices to prevent food-borne illnesses. The spoilage can occur at any stage, right from the point of procurement to the point it is served to the customer.
General rules for pre – Food Preparation
During food procurement, the different ingredients are handled by many people, right from vendors selling the raw food items to the one at the commercial kitchen who cooks the food. This makes the raw material subject to many germs that can cause allergies and stomach issues to those who are consuming it. This is why it’s important to scrutinize the received food item. If found in rot or spoiled form, visibly discolored, the receiving department should not accept them. Common indicators of food spoilage would be:
- Vegetables not feeling firm
- Cheese showing different color hue
- Meat product having a strong off smell and odors.
Washing Foods and Hand
Once food products reach the kitchen for preparation, food handlers must ensure that they wash their hands before touching the food. Washing and drying hands thoroughly is an essential food preparation protocol to get rid of germs and invisible viruses that are unsafe for health. It is also important to wash the hands after touching the raw materials. Additionally, kitchen surfaces, chopping boards, knives, and any other cooking equipment or clothes that may come in contact with the food directly or indirectly are also clean. Both personal hygiene and kitchen hygiene are of utmost importance for the proper preparation of the food.
Ensure food products are cleaned and washed well to remove dust, bacteria, pesticide remains, and chemicals. To prevent any kind of cross-contamination, wash and store poultry products separately. Meats, seafood, and dairy products, all fruits and veggies are prone to contamination due to viruses and toxins, which can cause food-borne allergies.
Again as a basic rule, never store fresh produce with farm produce or seafood. Use separate utensils and other kitchen equipment to prevent cross-contamination.
Cooking Temperatures & Storage
It is essential to keep meat products, dairy, seafood, and vegetables all in separate storage sections to prevent cross-contamination. Cold storage and deep freezers, walk-in chillers should have the right temperature. Cooking should be carried in the right temperatures with hot food to be served hot and cold food to be served cold.
Also, storage temperatures should be kept in mind while storing the food items. Food items should have appropriate labels clearly showing the receipt date and must be stored in temperature-controlled environments. The requisite staff must have complete knowledge. This will prevent the growth and spread of harmful bacteria which cause food poisoning. When food is not stored at the correct temperature, it leads to the growth and spread of bacteria which in turn cause stomach infections and food poisonings. To lower the risks of food poisoning and food allergies. It is important that food is prepared and stored according to their respective temperatures.
Cross-contamination occurs when the bacteria or germs pass from one food onto another. Cross-contamination mainly occurs when the raw foods are not separated properly. To prevent cross-contamination, separate chopping boards, slicers, knives, and cooking utensils should be in place for the different food types. Never mix raw and uncooked food with cooked or ready-to-eat food. Also, all the packaging materials should be thrown right after the meat or fish products are taken out. As a standard rule, no packaging material should be reused as this can cause cross-contamination and cause food spoilage.
Avoid Food-Borne Illness
If the food is not properly prepared, it leads to cross-contamination and food-borne illnesses. To prevent food-borne illness, it is imperative that the chef and the assisting team members use sterilized utensils or those cleaned using correct cleaning solutions. Sanitization of utensils with boiled water or a chlorine-based solution should be a regular practice in cooking areas. A proper cleaning routine should be carried out to keep the crawling and flying insects at bay to prevent food contamination.
It is imperative that at every stage of food preparation, hygiene rules are followed to eliminate cross-contamination. Right from the stage of procurement, ensure that each food type is placed separately, stored in separate walk-in freezers. Or refrigerators based on their temperatures and prepared in different utensils. These basic principles will ensure that the food is prepared correctly and served well to the clients. Also, you can join the Utah food certification course Where you get to learn every stage of food preparation.
The human body is a very complex system, and a foreign pathogen can wreak havoc in it. The most common way for the pathogens to enter is through contaminated food. Even though they are present everywhere, when the food is handled correctly, the pathogens have no way to enter (or survive) in the food and remain fit for consumption.
Hence, in the restaurant and hospitality industry, your business’s success depends heavily on the food handlers you have in your team. Clients trust their food with the food handlers and assume that they are being prepared and handled with care. To maintain the level of trust, it is essential to hire people with appropriate knowledge and credentials. this is why it is mandatory to have a ‘Food Handlers Permit’ before working in a restaurant or offering professional food handling services. Establishments have been fined or even closed under the pretext of improper food handling practices and lack of the correct documentation.
What is a Food Handlers Permit?
Different states and municipalities call it by different names. Still, if a restaurant asks for any of the following documents, they are looking for a document that confirms that they are skilled and knowledgeable in food handling.:
- Food Handlers Card
- Food Handlers Certificate
- Food Handlers Permit
In a nutshell, a Food Handlers Permit denotes that the holder has undertaken training in food handling and it is aware of the different precautions to take while working with food. To get your food handlers to permit, you need to take a course and pass an exam based on it. The certification can be availed from private training academies or public bodies.
Who should get a Food Handler Permit?
Ideally, every staff, working in a restaurant needs to get their food handler permits. Food regulation laws in most U.S. states require at least one certified staff member present on-site at all times, whereas, in Utah, it is important for all the staff to need to have a permit. People coming in direct or indirect contact with the food at any stage of its preparation cycle should have a food handlers permit.
How would attending a Food Handler Course help me take the test?
From the production stage, i.e., procurement of raw ingredients to processing, packaging, transportation, cooking, and serving it on the customer’s table, food can undergo chemical changes that allow pathogens to enter the food and multiply rapidly. A Food handler course offers online training, additional resources that explains in detail about:
- An overview of food safety
- Various hygiene-related practices
- Brief about the ‘Danger Zone’ & the Importance of food temperature
- A breakdown of different illnesses and the pathogens causing them
- A list of different allergens triggered by certain ingredients
Most food handler courses are 90-120 mins long, and the exam is about 45 questions long. You need to score at least 75% to be certified. Different states have different criteria related to the time period after employment to become certified. Check with your local authorities to understand the time period in your state.
Once you have been certified, Congratulations! You are a professional who has acquired enough knowledge about contact with food and food handling in general. Another point to remember when it comes to getting your food handler permit is that the certification has a time validity of 3-5 years, after which you need to renew by giving the exam again.
Why choose Easy Food Handlers for Getting your Food Handler Permit?
Easy Food Handlers, LLC is a Utah-based company with innumerous years of experience in the field of food safety and food handling. Our food handling course is a 75-minute long video divided into four sections with a quiz after each section. We included examples from real-life incidents in a restaurant. Get 75% or above in our 40 questions quiz at the end of the video viewing to become a certified Food handler. You get two tries to pass the exam within a week of taking the test if you fail in your first attempt.
Your temporary permit is ready to download while we submit your information to the local health department. Within 30 days of your test, you shall receive your Food Handler Permit via US Mail that is valid for three years.
In a nutshell,
- 75-minute video divided into 4 section
- A quiz after each section
- 40 question quiz at the end of the session
- Total three tries for passing the exam
As you may have learned by now, the food handler permit you receive is recognized by the state authorities to indicate that you have received training and are now capable enough to handle food professionally. As long as you periodically renew your certification, you can lay assured that you will not worry about serving contaminated food to your customers.
For someone in the catering or the restaurant business, making the customers’ food is only half the battle won. Handling the food without contamination and maintaining the internal temperature to be above 165oF to keep the food out of the “danger zone” is quite a challenge. Mismanagement can result in a risk of foodborne illnesses and tarnish your reputation. If you are curious to understand what ‘Danger Zone’ is and what happens if food is kept at the wrong temperatures, this is the article for you.
What is “Danger Zone”?
“Danger Zone” is the term coined for the temperature range from 41°F and 135°F. Most disease-causing pathogens and microbes thrive in this temperature range only. In this temperature range, these microbes can grow rapidly and double every twenty minutes. Keeping your food at temperatures below 41°F or above 135°F makes them an unsuitable environment for the pathogens to survive.
What risks do these pathogens possess?
Pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, C. perfringens are the main cause of stomach-related ailments that affect approximately 48 million Americans every year. When these pathogens thrive in the food you made, they gain easy access to your customers’ bodies, where they can cause food poisoning. Symptoms range from fever, abdominal cramps, severe diarrhea, and vomiting with severe effects on immunocompromised people. Pregnant women, young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are easy targets for these pathogens.
How do these pathogens gain entry into our food?
These pathogens are all around us, but Improper food handling or lapse in maintaining employee hygiene is the only way these pathogens can enter your food. Not washing the vegetables and meat, not having a clean kitchen surface, or not washing hands before and after cooking food transfers the pathogen from the hands of the cook or food handlers to the food. Similarly, when the food is kept out of refrigeration over 2 hours, the pathogens can enter and multiply as your food is well within the danger zone temperature range.
Recommended: 1,300 hit by food poisoning in Mexico
How to keep food out of the danger zone?
Certain disease-causing pathogens can only survive within the temperature range of 41°F and 135°F. So, other than practicing safe employee hygiene and washing the vegetables and meat properly. You need to make sure the food is either refrigerated or its internal temperature is above the ‘danger zone.’ Here is how you can keep the food at the right temperature at different stages.
Contamination from raw meat and poultry are the common ways for pathogen infection. So always cook them to a safe internal temperature. Always use a meat thermometer to be assured that the meat has reached the internal temperature while cooking. Always provide a resting time of two or three minutes after removing the meat from the heat source before serving.
Certain pathogens are resistant to high heat, so they are not destroyed even when you cook meat infected by them. You need to make sure that the raw meat is not left outside long enough to be infected. Hence, even when cooked well, there is a chance for the meat to be infected if you are not careful while handling it.
Even when cooked well, your food stands a chance to be infected when you keep the leftover out to cool. The downside of infection in leftover food is that when the food is refrigerated, the cold only shows the bacteria. Once brought to room temperature, they become active and reproduce quickly. So, one way to handle leftover food is by placing them in shallow containers to cool quicker and refrigerate within 2 hours. It is advised to keep the leftover covered with a cling foil or cooler with plenty of ice, frozen gel packs while transporting them.
When reheating leftover food, always ensure that you reheat it until it is hot and steaming. When outside, use a hot campfire or a portable stove to make sure the food is heated to a safe internal temperature. While heating in a microwave, cover the food, make sure it is heated evenly. Remember that you should allow the food some resting time. Before serving it to make sure the food is heated enough. Treat your reheated food as perishable and throw away any leftover remains from the reheated food as they can spoil faster.
When you practice safe food handling practices, you are putting up a good defense against foodborne illnesses. Once you are aware of what temperature you need to keep your food to prevent any pathogen infection, you protect yourself and your customers from falling sick due to food poisoning.
Anyone working in the restaurant and hospitality industry knows that preparing, serving, or handling food is one of the most challenging tasks. You work with food that needs to be served at a specific temperature to maintain the taste and give a unique palette-teasing experience without making the customer wait for long. Additionally, you need to take special precautions while handling food, such as
- Keeping the surrounding clean and sanitize
- Using clean utensils
- Using fresh ingredients
- Avoid contaminations
Food poisoning is one of the most common ailments caused by improper food handling, and food-related ailments affect approximately 48 million Americans every year. While many pathogens cause different forms of food-related disorders, there are five common foodborne illnesses caused by improper food handling (and steps to avoid the infection) that we shall cover in this informative article.
What causes food poisoning?
The overall cause for foodborne illnesses can be divided into two major categories:
- Biological Contamination
- Chemical Contamination
Biological contamination occurs when pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites enter the food and begin multiplying. The contamination may be present from the beginning (animal carrying virus at the time of death) or introduced during food handling (a food handler transferring it from unwashed hands)
Chemical contamination occurs when the food is left out for long periods where it undergoes chemical changes or toxins are introduced into the food from poor food handling practices. Moreover, the allergens’ presence is also chemical contamination, i.e., when the food is prepared without considering the allergen sensitivity of the customer. Chemical contamination is generally seen in seafood or food prepared using preservatives.
Common Pathogens and Foodborne illnesses from them
One of the most lethal pathogens, Salmonella causes 1.2 million illnesses and close to 450 deaths each year (Source). This bacteria can easily contaminate any food and generally spreads from drippings from raw meat or poultry that remain on the kitchen surface if not cleaned properly. Salmonella quickly spreads among animals from contact, and unwashed/ unclean hands can spread it inside the kitchen.
Symptoms from Salmonella poisoning start within 12 to 72 hours of infection and vary from fever, abdominal cramps, severe diarrhea, and vomiting that lasts for four to seven days. The symptoms can become severe in children, older adults, and need serious treatment or even hospitalization. Treatment generally involves taking antibiotics and fluids to counter dehydration.
Methods of Prevention
- Always ensure the meat is well cooked or pasteurized. Use a meat thermometer to check the meat temperature.
- Use separate cutting boards for meats and produce
- Wash hands before and after handling or preparing meats
- Keep raw meat, eggs in a separate air-tight container, and refrigerate.
- Keep your food chilled while transporting.
- Thoroughly clean utensils used for storing raw meat or poultry products
The common cause of Stomach flu is the presence of norovirus in your food. Generally found in oysters and other shellfish, the chances of contamination are very high for norovirus. It can be spread from infected people to other people or from cross-contamination of food or drinks. What makes Norovirus a dangerous pathogen is that it is resistant to freezing and hot temperatures and most disinfectants with chlorine or alcohol.
Symptoms show up 12 to 48 hours and include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea with symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches in the lower level. Norovirus infection lasts up to 3 days.
Methods of Prevention
- Wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, especially before preparing food
- Used bleach-based cleaner to clean and disinfect utensils and cutlery
- Cook clams and other shellfish preparation thoroughly.
- Machine wash any clothing in bleach and dry.
Recommended: FOOD SAFETY ALERT
Eating undercooked poultry is a sure shot way to have Campylobacter enter your systems. It is bacteria responsible for causing Guillian-Barre syndrome, a potentially devastating neurologic disorder in one out of 1000 cases. This can easily spread from raw or undercooked poultry as well as from unpasteurized milk. Symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain, fever, and diarrhea (bloody sometimes) can last up to two to five days after infection.
Any food that comes in contact with the bacteria is also infected. It cannot survive in temperatures exceeding 165oF, so always use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the poultry is >165oF.
Methods of Prevention
- Keep separate cutting boards for meats/poultry and vegetables.
- Wash all utensils with hot water, preferably
- Cook all the meat to a minimum internal temperature of 165oF
- Don’t serve unpasteurized milk products.
- Always use water after boiling it.
A harmless strain of this virus is present in the intestines of humans and animals, but when E. coli infects any food, you are in a painful experience with a risk of kidney failure. Out of the different strains of E. coli, the Shiga Toxin producing E. coli is spread from undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized milk products, and fruits or vegetables infected with it.
Symptoms of E. coli infection can be stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting, with a chance of kidney failure in extreme cases. Recovery from E. coli infection can take up to eight days.
Methods of Prevention
- Keep utensils for vegetable and meat separate for preventing cross-contamination
- Wash your hands with soapy water before preparing food
- Keep cooked food in air-tight containers before refrigerating.
- Thoroughly wash vegetables in warm water and food-grade disinfectant.
With almost 1 million cases in the U.S yearly, Clostridium perfringens bacteria is the most common food poisoning pathogen. They thrive in the temperature range of 40 to 140oF, so they can be easily spread when food is prepared in large quantities and kept warm for long periods before serving. Hence, people eating at buffets and catered events are prone to this infection if the food is not handled correctly.
Symptoms can surface within eight to 12 hours after infection, can include Diarrhea and abdominal cramps leading to dehydration, and last less than 24 hours.
Methods of Prevention
- Serve meat dishes within 2 hours after cooking
- Reheat food to the internal temperature of 165oF
- Not allow food to cool on the counter. Refrigerate leftovers immediately.
- Use a food thermometer to monitor the internal temperature in the buffet table regularly.
Food handling Best Practices
Food handling is the utmost important factor in the catering business. Hence most tend to follow the below mentioned best practices when it comes to food handling:
- Mandate food safety training
- Maintain clean environment
- Maintain good employee hygiene
- Have Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) regarding testing, prevention, and infection control plans
- Buy products from trusted vendors and cross-test the quality
More than 1,300 people have suffered suspected food poisoning in the Mexican state of Veracruz https://www.oecd.org/education/imhe/46827070.pdf after eating cake.
The Veracruz government reported that 1,358 people were treated in eight hospitals and clinics. People ate the cake, described as being in “poor condition” as part of a celebration of Children’s Day, https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/mexico/children-day which is marked every April 30 in Mexico.
The Ministry of Health of Veracruz https://www.devex.com/organizations/ministry-of-health-mexico-52587 posted a statement on Facebook confirming medical attention was given to intoxicated adults, infants and three pregnant women.
According to a health agency in Veracruz (SESVER), ingestion of contaminated food happened during an event organized by a non-governmental organization that distributed tamales, cake and beverages. A tamale https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamale is made with ground meat packed in dough, wrapped in corn husks, and steamed.
The non-governmental organization World Vision Mexico https://worldvisionmexico.org.mx/ issued a statement saying food for the event was provided by different organizations and it was working with authorities to determine the cause of the illnesses.
Between two and four hours after the event, infants had abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Initial evaluations did not find severe cases or deaths but emergency care continues and more patients are expected due to any incubation period.
In Tehuipango, Tlaquilpa, Zongolica and Río Blanco additional clinics were set up and children have been treated at the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/progdesc/ssptw/2016-2017/americas/mexico.html.
Tests on food samples are being conducted by another agency to find the origin of the poisoning and results are expected in the next few days.
Another food poisoning in Guerrero
Meanwhile in another incident, about 200 people, mostly children, suffered food poisoning in the Mexican state of Guerrero https://www.britannica.com/place/Guerrero.
The source is suspected to be pozole https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pozole – a type of stew or soup – which was consumed in celebration of Children’s Day. The incident happened in Mezcalcingo, a town in Chilapa.
Of those sick, 60 were initially reported as seriously ill but the secretary of health, Carlos de la Peña Pintos, later reported that infants who ate food in poor condition were out of danger and stable.
A total of 108 people were taken to Hueycantenango, a city in José Joaquín de Herrera for treatment. The governor, Hector Astudillo Flores, said the navy https://www.navy.mil/, Red Cross https://www.redcross.org/, and emergency response teams were involved.