A crash course in food safety

Recent outbreaks of salmonella in the food supply have brought the restaurant and foodservice industry into the media spotlight. News of illness and recalls associated with spinach, tomatoes and jalapenos has been a serious cause for concern to those who make their livelihood in the foodservice industry. Yet, however widespread it appears to be, according to the National Restaurant Association, the U.S. food supply is the safest in the world.

While recent events have proven it is often difficult to know you’re purchasing food products from safe sources, operators can lessen the risk of receiving contaminated food products by washing hands frequently and thoroughly, not allowing employees to work when ill, segregating fresh produce from other refrigerated foods and washing fresh produce in running water before serving.

The Big Three

In addition to purchasing food from safe sources, other factors that contribute to food-borne illness in foodservice include time-temperature abuse; cross-contamination; and poor personal hygiene. The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) refers to these as the “Big Three” of unsafe food handling:

  1. Time-temperature abuse occurs when cooked or raw foods are not held or stored at required temperatures; when food is not cooked or reheated to temperatures that kill microorganisms; and when foods are improperly cooled.
  2. Cross contamination occurs when bacteria is transferred among different surfaces and food items. For example, using a cutting board to cut raw meat, and then using it to slice fresh vegetables is a great way to transfer microorganisms.
  3. Last, your staff can transmit diseases through poor hygiene; for example, improper hand-washing, coughing or sneezing around food, handling food after touching open sores or scratches or coming to work when they are sick.
Foods most likely to cause problems

The FDA identifies several groups of foods that, by their nature, are more likely to become contaminated because of the way they are typically processed and handled during distribution:

  • Milk and milk products
  • Red meat and poultry
  • Fish, shellfish and crustaceans
  • Untreated raw eggs
  • Baked or boiled potatoes
  • Cooked rice and beans
  • Tofu or other soy-protein foods
  • Synthetic ingredients such as textured soy protein in meat alternatives
  • Garlic and oil mixtures
  • Sprouts and sprout seeds
  • Sliced melons

It is important that these food products are properly handled, stored and prepared. According to NAFEM, most foods outside these categories are more “forgiving” when it comes to handling abuse and the potential for foodborne illness. In the next section, we’ll go over some important HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) guidelines for safely handling these types of foods. The NRAEF (National Restaurant Association Education Foundation) is also a helpful tool for food safety guidance and training. The ServSafe program provides training and certification to foodservice professionals.

The 7 Principles of HACCP

HACCP is a systematic approach to the identification, evaluation and control of food safety hazards based on the following seven principles:

  1. Conduct a hazard analysis
  2. Determine the critical control points (CCPs)
  3. Establish critical limits
  4. Establish monitoring procedures
  5. Establish corrective actions
  6. Establish verification procedures
  7. Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures
For more information about HACCP guidelines and procedures, please visit

Essential E&S

According to NAFEM, equipment manufacturers are driven more than ever before by a demand from the foodservice industry marketplace to design equipment and supplies that address these critical food safety and sanitation concerns. Here a just a few common items that promote sanitation and food safety:

  • Color-coded cutting boards. As mentioned, using the same cutting board for raw meat and fresh vegetables could result in a foodservice nightmare. Using a set of color-coded boards helps prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen. You should use a different cutting board for fish, cooked foods, fruits and vegetables, poultry, and red meat.
  • Blast Chillers. Blast chillers are designed to rapidly chill cooked food through the temperature danger zone (135°F to 40°F) to assure food safety. Most models of blast chillers come equipped with probes for critical temperature monitoring and many even have on-board computers and printers for HACCP record-keeping.
  • No-touch faucet handles. Many faucets come with an option for wrist handles, which don’t require users to touch the faucet after washing their hands. More manufacturers are designing sinks and faucets that promote proper hand washing techniques.
  • Antimicrobial technology. A wide variety of equipment and supplies now come coated with antimicrobial protection to ward off bacteria. Everything from youth seating, mop handles, carts, slicers, shelving, dish dollies, thermometers, knives, gloves and floor mats are now available with Microban.
  • No-touch waste containers. Many manufacturers sell “no-touch” models of trash cans and other waste receptacles that don’t required users to make contact with the container. Lids are available in a variety of styles that promote cleanliness.
  • Sneeze Guards. Because the last thing you want is someone sneezing on your salad.
  • Safety Ice Scoop System. Another restaurant item that often gets negative media attention is ice, but using an ice scoop holder will remind staff not to leave the ice scoop in the bin, and most models prevent hands from touching the surface of the scoop.
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  • Great post. Amazing how many establishments will overlook 'basic' food handling skills. In my neck of the woods, the health dept. cannot shut anyone down (except open sewage or no refrigeration). As such, the news stations police the health quality -- and a poorly managed restaurant is likely to go out of business once they are aired on the 9:00 news.

    In addition to your list, there are a number of high-tech solutions around to simplify HACCP worksheets and reduce the amount of time it takes to record time-temperature values. [We are releasing a wireless temperature product later this year.]
  • I have 2 pet peeves about sanitation and food safety in restaurants.

    #1.....I swear I never ever ever see bartenders washing their hands properly or frequently enough. Handling cash, then squeezing a lemon into a drink, the putting a couple olives on a toothpick, some more cash, then touching the business end of a straw...drives me nuts!

    #2...Using latex (or other type) gloves gives food workers a false sense of security. In too many cases, it also results in less frequent hand washing. Nothing is a replacement for frequent and thorough hand washing.

    The reality is too many restaurant managers think they don't have enough time to babysit the staff and make sure personal hygiene the highest priority. I've never understood this because all it takes is one bad deal and you're out of business.
  • Hi Marie...

    Below is the link to the Multnomah County (Oregon) Health Department's the mandatory certification required for all food handlers in the state. The link is for taking the test but it also includes the PDF manual in seven languages!

    I note that “The Big Three” in you piece involve sanitation practices originating with employees. While the material above might not pass muster for every government certification, the information is general enough to support practical and safe food handling.

    Review the on-line Food Handler Manual in seven languages.

  • Hi marie,

    This is an excellent topic. Not only for the restaurants and hotels, but home as well.
    I'm glad you have brought this up as a discussion topic.
    Part of the problem, as I see it, is people are in a real hurry, and don't take the time for
    the safety, therefore, avoiding serious injury or illness.
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