How Can a Food Handler Identify Pathogens?
Foodborne illness is something all food handlers and food consumers should be concerned about. After all, there are 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses every year, which is the equivalent of about one in six Americans. Of these 48 million cases, 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. It’s clear that foodborne illness is nothing to make light of. Food handlers have a responsibility to serve safe food to their customers that’s free of pathogens and illness-causing bacteria.
How do food handlers know the food is safe to serve?
Unfortunately, there is no quick way to determine if a food is contaminated with illness-causing bacteria; it won’t look, taste, or smell any differently.
How can a food handler identify food that has been contaminated with pathogens?
The best way to ensure food is pathogen-free is to follow safe food handler's practices. If you’re not following the guidelines below, there is a chance that your food could be tainted.
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How to Prevent Pathogenic Bacteria in Food
Common Foodborne Pathogens
First things first, it’s important as a food handler that you’re familiar with the most common foodborne pathogens and where they’re often found. They are:
- Salmonella: Largely found in undercooked meat, eggs, and poultry, you can also find Salmonella in unpasteurized dairy products.
- E. coli: While most E. coli are harmless, the O157: H7 strain can cause severe sickness. This strain of E. coli can be found in packaged greens and undercooked ground meat.
- Norovirus: Foods can carry the Norovirus after being prepared by someone who is sick with the illness. To prevent the spread of Norovirus, don’t work with food when sick.
Before you even prepare your food, it needs to be properly stored to prevent the spread of pathogens. You should store perishable foods in a refrigerator or freezer within one hour of receiving the food. The temperature of your fridge should be at 40℉, while your freezer temperature should be at least 0℉. Red meat, poultry, and fish all need to be securely wrapped to prevent meat juices from leaking in the refrigerator and contaminating other food. Even with secure wrapping, you should store raw meat separately from fruits, vegetables, and cooked meat just to be safe. Once you've opened the meats' packaging, the meat needs to be consumed fairly quickly, and you should wrap it securely between uses.
Kitchen and Staff Prepping
Now that we’ve covered safe food storage, it’s time to touch on kitchen and staff preparation. First things first, all employees need to regularly wash their hands and wrists, especially before touching food and after touching raw meat. You need to use soap and warm water, and vigorously scrub your hands to ensure a thorough clean-rinsing your hands does not suffice! You should also wear hairnets, beard nets, aprons, and gloves, but keep in mind that gloves are not a total replacement of hand washing. If uniforms are required, you should wash yours before each shift or request multiple uniforms to cut back on laundry. Employees aren’t the only ones that need to be clean! You should regularly clean kitchen surfaces, including cutting boards, with a commercial, kitchen-safe cleaning solution.
Once all food handlers have dressed appropriately and washed their hands, the food preparation can finally begin! Safe food preparation starts with food thawing. The easiest way to thaw meat is in the refrigerator, but ensure you wrap the meat tightly to prevent any leakage. You can also use cold water or the microwave to thaw meat, just make sure to cook the food right after it’s thawed. If you plan on marinating meat, this should be done in a covered dish within the refrigerator, not on the counter in an open pan. Prevent cross-contamination throughout the cooking process by keeping raw meat away from cooked food or fresh food that you won't cook. Use separate knives and cutting boards and wash your hands when switching from working with raw meat to cooked or fresh food.
When cooking, the most important thing to keep in mind to prevent foodborne illness is safe cooking temperatures. You need to cook raw beef, pork, lamb, and roasts to an internal temperature of 145℉ and you should confirm the temperature with a food thermometer. Cook all ground meats to at least 160℉ and cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165℉ so there is no pink left in the center. To safely serve hot food, it should be kept at 140℉ or warmer, while cold food should remain at 40℉ or cooler. Any food left out for longer than two hours should be thrown away and not saved for reuse. Even properly stored leftovers should be consumed within three days!
Learn Safe Food Handler's Practices Today
Now that you have a better understanding of how to prevent the spread of foodborne illness, are you ready to take your knowledge to the next level? Sign up for our Food Handlers or Food Managers certification for the most up-to-date and thorough food safety information.