Managing the Risk of Foodborne Illness
Public entities may be provide foodservice in staff cafeterias and break rooms, schools, prisons, half-way houses, daycare facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, zoos, recreational facilities, and restaurants open to the public.
Food often plays a supporting role to the fellowship of activities, such as health or job fairs, and interdepartmental meetings, but can soon upstage the event if not handled properly. No entity is exempt from this risk. The most severe cases of foodborne illnesses occur in people who are very old and the very young, immunosuppressed, and healthy but exposed to a very high dose of an organism. Whether serving potluck contributions transported from home or dishes prepared in the entity’s kitchen, take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of employees. The first step is to accept that food illnesses do happen. The second step is to review policies and procedures that keep food safe with food preparers and servers.
The Four Cs of Safe Food Preparation
Bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses are controlled by four methods:
- Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.
Compartmentalize: Don’t Cross Contaminate.
- Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and onto cutting boards, knives, sponges, counter tops and food.
- Employees must wash hands with hot, soapy water for 20 seconds or use a commercial hand sanitizer.
- Workers must wash hands after handling raw meat, poultry or fish, eating, drinking, smoking, using the restroom, sneezing or mopping the floor and when in doubt.
- Cutting boards, knives, utensils and countertops must be washed in hot soapy water (rinse thoroughly) after preparing each food item and before going on to the next.
- Equipment, including can openers, must be cleaned according to manufacturers’ instructions.
Cook: Heat to proper temperature.
- Employees must understand that bacteria can spread from one food to another. Cross contamination is especially true with raw meat, poultry and fish.
- Workers must separate raw meats, poultry and seafood and their juices from prepared food.
- Staff must never place cooked food on a plate or other surface that has held raw meats, poultry or seafood.
- By using one cutting board for raw meats, poultry or seafood; another for slicing fresh fruits and vegetables; a third for prepared foods, such as baked goods, cross-contamination is kept to a minimum. Color-coded cutting boards further enforce the rule.
Chill: Refrigerate promptly.
- A combination of temperature and time is required to kill harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses.
- Employees must not eat or serve meat, poultry, fish or eggs that are raw or only partly cooked.
- Chefs should use a meat thermometer to ensure that meat and poultry are cooked through:
- Red meat—145º F
- Ground beef—160º F
- Poultry—180º F.
- Fish until it is opaque and flakes with a fork.
- Eggs until the yolks and whites are firm.
- Cold temperatures keep most harmful foodborne bacteria from growing and multiplying.
- The refrigerator should be set at 40° F and the freezer at 0° F.
- Perishables, prepared food and leftovers should be refrigerated or frozen within 2 hours.
- Frozen food should always be defrosted either in the refrigerator, or under cold running water, or in the microwave. Food should never be defrosted by leaving it out on the counter; food should only be marinated in the refrigerator, up to 24 hours and all marinade should be discarded.
- Large amounts of leftovers may be quick-chilled by dividing leftovers between small, shallow containers.
- Employees should remove leftover stuffing from cooked poultry or meat and refrigerate in a separate container.
- The refrigerator should not be packed; cool air must circulate to maintain proper temperature.
- An employee should be assigned to check temperature with appliance thermometer.
Provide oversight of kitchen and serving staff. Select a long-term volunteer or an employee with training or expertise in quantity food preparation and service.
- Bring sauces, soups and gravies to a rolling boil.
- Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 165° F.
- Cover, stir and rotate foods in a microwave to ensure an even temperature of 165° F throughout.
- Keep hot food hot (140°or higher) and cold foods cold (40° or lower).
- Don’t let foods sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Use tongs, forks and spoons, deli paper, disposable gloves, waxed paper, napkins, or spatulas, not bare hands, to serve food.
- Supply each self-serve dish on a buffet line with the appropriate utensil.
Hiring a Caterer
A licensed caterer hired to prepare and serve food at the entity or entity-sponsored event assumes the responsibility of safe food preparation.
It is imperative that food preparation be conducted in accordance with local sanitary codes and proper food preparation practices. These may include:
- Do not let people work around food if they have any cuts, skin infections, or contagious ailment, e.g., flu, conjunctivitis, hepatitis, etc.
- Ensure that food preparers keep fingernails trimmed and hands frequently washed.
- Clean clothing should be worn and long hair kept under a hat or hairnet.
- Latex (or a similar non-allergenic material) gloves should be worn while preparing and serving food.
- Smoking and eating should be done only in designated areas.
- Inspect food for freshness before use or storage.
- During storage, ensure that all food containers are closed and labeled.
- Store food at 40° F or colder, or as otherwise indicated on the label.
- Frozen food must be kept at 0° F or below.
- Ensure that dishware and utensils are properly cleaned and sanitized.
- Wash raw food thoroughly.
- Wash and sanitize utensils and cutting boards between uses.
- Thaw frozen foods properly.
- Cook foods thoroughly.
- Reheat leftover foods rapidly to at least 165°E
- When serving, keep hot foods hot, cold foods cold.
- Don’t reuse unwrapped food.
- Prepare food as close to serving time as possible.
- Clean mixers, fryers, ovens, and other such equipment regularly and thoroughly, according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Keep floors and walls properly clean and sanitary.
Food Preparation & Sanitation
- Food should be handled, cooked, served and stored to prevent contamination.
- Food service workers should wash hands thoroughly before work, after using the toilet, after handling garbage or dirty dishes, after touching hair or face, and after using the telephone.
Consumer Information, Food Safety Project, Iowa State University
Fact Sheets, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA
Fight Bac!, Partnership for Food Safety Education
Foodborne Illness Education Information Center, USDA, FDA
Foodborne Illnesses FAQ, CDC
Food Safety, FoodSafety.com
Gateway to Government Food Safety Information
School Food Service Safety, National Coalition for Food Safe Schools
State Health Agencies