Foodborne illnesses pose a serious threat to the health of diners throughout the country as well as the overall success of a restaurant. Many people think that food safety is as simple as maintaining clean cooking utensils and proper hand washing routines. However, complete prevention of foodborne illnesses requires more than just these basic precautions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) estimates that 76 million people get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 Americans die each year from foodborne illnesses. The cost to individuals and restaurant owners, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is $35 billion each year.
With American restaurants serving more than 50 billion meals every year, the risks of foodborne illness outbreaks are very real, but can easily be prevented if proper procedures are implemented. Restaurants should focus on several key areas to help ensure that they are foodborne-illness free, including cross-contamination prevention, zone isolation and time-temperature control. Combining these procedures will help prevent potential illnesses, deaths and unnecessary restaurant expenses.
Preventing Cross- Contamination
Using contaminated knives, cutting boards or utensils causes cross-contamination, one of the leading causes of foodborne illnesses. If restaurants do not use safe procedures, food prep areas can easily become contaminated, spreading bacteria and illnesses to restaurant customers and employees.
Certain foods carry specific risks of contamination. Salmonella is usually found on poultry, while E. Coli is typically linked to beef. Slicing chicken and beef on the same cutting board or with the same knife without sanitizing first can easily lead to cross-contamination.
Luckily, cross-contamination is a problem that is as easy to prevent as it is to spread. Employing a standard color-coding system, dedicating equipment for specific tasks based on the color of the equipment and the type of food being prepared, is a simple solution.
“If you’re working with chicken on one cutting board, you don’t want to turn around and slice fruit on the same board,” says Megan Bradley, technical advisor and certified food safety professional for Daydots, a manufacturer and distributor of food safety solutions. “Even with diligent clean-up, there is always the chance that food can be contaminated if you use the same equipment and utensils for different tasks.”
In October 2002, The Daydots Foundation for Food Safety commissioned a study by the Purdue University Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management and the Arthur Avery Foodservice Research Laboratory on food safety practices in U.S. restaurant chains. This study found that only 50 percent of the restaurants surveyed recommended/required the use of color-coded cutting boards.
Of the half using color-coded cutting boards, only two operators took it to the next level by recommending the use of matching color-coded utensils.
In addition to using color-coded cutting boards and utensils, restaurant employees must exercise proper hand-washing and glove procedures to prevent cross-contamination. Foodborne illnesses can be spread by working with one type of food and then another, without washing hands and changing gloves in between. The proper procedure is to remove gloves, wash hands and put on new, clean gloves when working with a variety of foods.
By consistently abiding by the color-coding standard on everything from cutting boards, knives and tongs to spoons, scrub brushes and storage containers, and by using proper hand washing and glove procedures, food service operations can drastically reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
If precautionary steps only are taken during the food preparation and storage processes, the spread of dangerous contaminants will not be prevented. Though many food service operators believe they are running safe and sanitary kitchens, some very simple practices often are overlooked that could prevent the spreading of contaminants throughout the building and into the food being served.