In 2017, a foodborne illness outbreak in California sent 10 people to the hospital with botulism poisoning. Botulism is a potentially deadly foodborne illness caused by toxins from clostridium botulinum, a bacteria that thrives in environments with low oxygen. The outbreak was traced back to a nacho cheese dispenser in a gas station. It resulted in serious health damage for the botulism victims and legal action against the gas station.
A foodborne illness outbreak can hurt a restaurant’s reputation and can even force them to close. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks. Follow these safe food practices in your establishment to keep food poisoning off the menu.
1. Practice Good Hygiene
Good hygiene is essential to food safety. Food handlers who don’t practice good personal hygiene can contaminate food without even realizing it. The key is learning why each hygiene practice is important and how to do it correctly.
The most important hygiene practice is handwashing. Safe handwashing can prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses like Norovirus and Shigella, diseases that are commonly spread by food workers who don’t practice safe handwashing after using the bathroom. Handwashing helps prevent cross-contamination from anything you touch throughout the day, such as cleaning chemicals and food that should be kept separate (like raw foods and common food allergens).
Other hygiene practices include showering or bathing before work, wearing a clean uniform, using gloves, and keeping personal items like cell phones out of the kitchen and away from food. Personal hygiene practices like these are small steps that make a big difference.
2. Keep Food at Safe Temperatures
The Temperature Danger Zone is the temperature range between 41°F–135°F. In this range, bacteria in food multiply rapidly and can cause foodborne illness if they are consumed. Keeping food at a safe temperature means taking steps to keep perishable foods out of the Temperature Danger Zone while they are being prepared and stored.
The same goes for food that is being hot held or cold held for service. Keep hot food at or above 135°F by using heat lamps or steam tables. Keep cold food at or below 41°F by using refrigeration or food-grade ice.
Some food handlers mistakenly think the rules of temperature control don’t apply to raw foods if they will be cooked to safe temperatures later. This isn’t the case! All perishable foods need temperature control, and here’s why: Some bacteria, such as Clostridium perfrignes, create spores when they multiply. The bacteria die when food is cooked, but the spores can survive the cooking process and release toxins into food that weren’t removed with cooking. If you serve food with toxins, you’re setting up your customers for foodborne illness.
3. Stay Home When You Are Sick
Sick food workers are a major source of foodborne illness. When you’re sick, you spread bacteria and viruses to any surfaces and foods that you touch.
If you only have a mild cold, you may work if you are assigned tasks away from food. But if you have certain symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, or a sore throat with a fever, you must stay home from work. These symptoms are classic signs of the big five foodborne illnesses (Hepatitis A, Norovirus, Shigella, Salmonella, and E. coli) and they are highly contagious. Managers, if any of your food workers exhibit these symptoms, they should not be allowed at work.
Follow these tips to help keep foodborne illness out of your customers’ futures.
— Suzie Sandridge