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.
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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.
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.
Officials are investigating an outbreak of Hepatitis A https://www.fda.gov/food/foodborne-pathogens/bad-bug-book-second-edition
in Sweden related to dates from Iran that are suspected to be the source of the infections.
The Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten), https://www.folkhalsomyndigheten.se/the-public-health-agency-of-sweden/
and National Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket), https://www.livsmedelsverket.se/en
the relevant infectious disease units and municipalities are investigating to identify the source of infections.
Officials from Folkhälsomyndigheten and Livsmedelsverket told Food Safety News https://www.foodsafetynews.com
that hepatitis A cases are reported to the national database. At that point the suspected source of infection is often unknown.
“We observed an increase of domestically acquired hepatitis A virus infections with genotype IIIA strains, a genotype which we usually associate with travel-related cases in Sweden,” they said.
Since the end of February, nine cases of the viral infection have been linked to the outbreak, with the last one reported on April 16. Eight of the patients are confirmed and have the same type of hepatitis A infections from the genotype IIIA, which is also known as 3A. The ninth patient’s infection is suspected to be the same.
Patients are between the ages of 28 and 73. Five are men and four are women. They are from seven counties: Örebro, Stockholm, Uppsala, Skåne, Södermanland, Kalmar, and Halland.
The investigation has not yet identified one brand of dates or a joint producer.
“The cases (patients) reported consumption of dates https://www.foodsafetynews.com/tag/hepatitis-a-outbreak/
of different brands from different suppliers on the Swedish market but all dates are from Iran. Cases have bought dates from different supermarkets. The regional departments of communicable disease control are interviewing the cases. The dates have a long shelf life so it´s still too early to say that the outbreak is over.”
Outbreak in Denmark last year
In eight confirmed outbreak patients in 2018, four different strains from genotype IIIA were detected. Two of the Swedish patients have similar virus strains to those found in an outbreak in Denmark in 2018 linked to dates from Iran.
In the Danish outbreak, 27 people fell ill from December 2017 to February 2018, with 22 admitted to hospitals. Dates from Iran were imported by RM Import A/S and sold in Rema1000. Norway also reported one case as part of the outbreak.
In the 2018 outbreak, several variants of genotype IIIA strains were detected in patients. One of the outbreak strains was also detected in dates.
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Folkhälsomyndigheten and Livsmedelsverket reported there are no ISO methods for detection of Hepatitis A on dates.
“The National Food Agency has used a similar method as Denmark used last year when they were able to detect hepatitis A virus in dates. After steps of elution with wash buffer and concentration of the virus, molecular analyses with PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is used to detect the virus. So far no viruses have been found in the different samples of dates but further analyses are ongoing,” according to agency officials.
Representatives from the agencies confirmed they had shared information on the outbreak strains with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, but no other countries had seen them so far this year.
Additional consumer information on hepatitis A https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/outbreaks/hepatitisaoutbreaks.htm
Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that can cause mild to severe illness, including liver failure. It can take up to 50 days for symptoms to appear. Some infected people don’t develop symptoms at all, but they are contagious and can easily contaminate foods and beverages they prepare or otherwise handle.
The hepatitis A virus (HAV) can also be transmitted through direct contact with an infectious person.
The incubation period is usually 14 to 28 days. Symptoms include fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-colored urine, and jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Recovery following infection may be slow and take several weeks or months. For more contact food handlers permit process.