While there are no national food safety standards that can be imposed on restaurants and supermarkets serving food, Klein would like to see a mandatory nationwide adoption of the most recent FDA Food Code (2009).
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#1 Tip: Personal Hygiene
Most foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria or other microorganisms spread by people who handle food, according to a report called “Serving it Safe” from the National Food Service Management Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report also noted that every action in food service could potentially impact food safety during purchasing, storing, preparing, holding, serving, or cleaning.
Perhaps the most basic step toward safe food is teaching restaurant, supermarket, and other food-handling staff the importance of basic hygiene. That includes washing their hands and exposed arms frequently and at key times in food handling, such as when they switch from touching raw to cooked food. Covering cuts also is critical.
The FDA’s 2009 Food Code cleaning procedures recommend that food employees clean their hands and the exposed portions of their arms, including prosthetic devices, for at least 20 seconds using a cleaning compound in a hand washing sink. To avoid re-contaminating their hands or prosthetics after washing, employees should utilize disposable paper towels or similar clean barriers whenever touching surfaces such as faucet handles and restroom door handles.
Injuries on the hands or lower arms should be cleaned and treated immediately so they do not become infected and contaminate food and equipment, according to The Idaho Food Safety and Sanitation Manual. Rubber or plastic gloves should be worn until the injury is healed and to prevent a bandage from getting into food. In addition, do not wash hands in sinks designated for food preparation or equipment and utensil washing as that can contaminate food, equipment, and utensils.
“Training is important,” says consultant Kornacki. “Fast food has rapid employee turnover, so you need policies in place and training programs.”
#2 Tip: Clean Contact Surfaces
Proper cleaning and sanitizing of all contact surfaces and utensils is a must, according to food sanitation experts, as food can typically get trapped in places like counter cracks and in between fork tines.
Unsanitary facilities and equipment may spread harmful organisms to people or food, according to the “Serving it Safe” report. Also, cockroaches, flies, mice, and other disease-spreading pests seeking food could contaminate food, equipment, or service areas.
The report also warns against preparing raw meat and raw fruits or vegetables on the same surface at the same time to prevent cross contamination and microbial transfer. This means avoiding cleaning or cutting raw chicken on the same surface as lettuce.
#3 Tip: Sanitizing Equipment
Food equipment such as slicers and fillers can be difficult to clean, especially the internal parts where a piece of meat could get stuck and become a hotbed for bacterial growth.
“There are going to be pieces of equipment that need to effectively be taken apart to a certain degree to clean them,” says Kornacki. “Equipment sometimes isn’t designed to be cleaned and sanitized efficiently.” He notes that he has spent more than six hours merely taking a slicer apart.
With high-moisture foods, there are still pieces of equipment that are hard to sanitize such as slicers and fillers, says Kornacki. Dry foods such as walnuts also can be problematic. He says the current challenges may lead to better equipment design going forward.
“Ideally, you’d break down the equipment every day,” Kornacki adds. “But you need to balance what is practical with what is effective.”
#4 Tip: Good Housekeeping
It’s important to apply good basic housekeeping and maintenance to food preparation areas of a store or restaurant. The “Serving it Safe” report notes that food service establishments use various chemicals to clean and sanitize and for pest control, but if not handled correctly they could contaminate food and make people sick, and even injure the employee.