January Cartoon: How to Keep Ready-to-Eat Food Safe

Cartoon about how cleaning and sanitizing protects ready-to-eat food

In 2013 and 2014, the FDA collected data on behaviors in restaurants that often lead to food safety problems.

Investigators found that about 40% of all fast-food restaurants were not cleaning and sanitizing properly. And just over 60% of full-service restaurants also had problems with cleaning and sanitizing. That means about half of all restaurants that were observed had problems with cleaning and sanitizing!

Why cleaning and sanitizing is a big deal

When you don’t clean and sanitize utensils and equipment properly, you can cross-contaminate the food you work with. Cross-contamination from contaminated equipment is one of the main causes of foodborne illness and should not be taken lightly. People have gotten severely sick and even died from eating food that was cross-contaminated.

Preventing cross-contamination is especially important when you’re working with ready-to-eat foods. Ready-to-eat foods are food items that don’t require cooking before they can be eaten. Sliced fruits and veggies are typical examples.

Since ready-to-eat food isn’t cooked before it’s served, any pathogens that may be on the food won’t be killed. Instead, the pathogens will have free reign to multiply as fast as possible before the customer eats the food. Depending on how long that is, it can be very likely the customer will get sick.

The best way you can keep ready-to-eat food safe is to prevent cross-contamination as much as possible. Knowing how to properly clean and sanitize will help you in that goal.

What is cross contamination?

Raw foods, especially animal products like pork or eggs, carry thousands of bacteria and viruses. If you ate a raw piece of chicken, you would most likely get sick. This is why there are so many requirements about how to cook foods before serving them to customers.

Cross-contamination occurs when pathogens move from one food to another, like if a cooked steak touches a raw steak. There are many different sources of cross-contamination, but there are two main ways it happens:

  1. Direct. First is direct cross-contamination. This is when one food directly touches another food and the pathogens directly transfer between the foods. You wouldn’t want to eat a salad that had raw pork on it, right? Even if you remove the pork from the salad, the pathogens have already moved in and the salad is not safe to eat.
  2. Indirect. The other way is indirect cross-contamination. This one is a little harder to notice and prevent. In indirect cross-contamination, pathogens are transferred between foods by a “vehicle.” In other words, something gives pathogens a ride from one food to another. For example, think of a cutting board and knife. If you use these to cut raw animal foods and then use the same tools to prepare a ready-to-eat food, like a sandwich, the pathogens are easily transferred onto the sandwich. Other common vehicles include food thermometers, countertops, cooking utensils, and even your gloves.

How to clean and sanitize

There are many reasons why cleaning and sanitizing works. In essence, cleaning removes pathogens and sanitizing kills pathogens. When you do them both together, you lower the amount of pathogens to a safe number where the food you serve won’t make people sick.

How do you do it? It depends on what you’re cleaning and sanitizing.

Gloves

Unfortunately, single-use gloves can’t fully be cleaned and sanitized. They are meant to be thrown away once they become contaminated.

After you work with raw foods, you should throw away your gloves, wash your hands, and put on new ones. You should also do this anytime you think your gloves are contaminated. This could be after you touch your face, after taking out the trash, after touching your cell phone, after handling dirty dishes, after handling a customer’s cash or credit card, and many other examples.

When in doubt, wash your hands and change your gloves. You can always ask your manager for more ideas of when to change your gloves.

Utensils

Utensils is a broad category of things you use in your workplace. They can include spatulas, pots, pans, serving spoons, knives, cutting boards, etc. Basically, a utensil is anything that touches food and is small enough to pick up and move around.

These types of items should be cleaned in a three-compartment sink or a dishwasher. If you use a three-compartment sink, follow these instructions:

  1.     Scrape as much food as possible off the utensil. You may need to soak the utensil as well.
  2.     Wash the utensil in the first compartment, which should have a soap or detergent mixed with water.
  3.     Rinse in the second compartment.
  4.     Sanitize the utensil in the third compartment. Sanitizing solutions must be at the right concentration and ask your manager for more instructions to check the concentration.
  5.     Allow to air-dry. Usually three-compartment sinks have a drying rack or a space where you can place the utensils to air-dry.

If you use a dishwasher, follow all instructions from your manager and from the manufacturer. Make sure the machine has all the right soaps and sanitizers it needs. And most importantly, don’t overload the dishwasher! Your utensils will end up still dirty at the end and you’ll have to wash them again.

Food-contact surfaces

There are so many surfaces in your workplace that get used on a regular basis. Tables and countertops need to be cleaned often to prevent cross-contamination. When they’re in constant use, clean them at least every four hours.

You can’t pick up a table and wash it in a three-compartment sink, but the basic steps are the same:

  1.     Wipe the surface off and remove any leftover food pieces.
  2.     Wash the surface with a soap or detergent.
  3.     Rinse the surface with water.
  4.     Sanitize it with a properly mixed sanitizing solution.
  5.     Allow the surface to air-dry before using it again.

Surfaces must be cleaned anytime they are contaminated, like after preparing raw foods.

How to clean in place

Some equipment can’t be moved to be cleaned, like a meat slicer or a large mixer. But these types of equipment still come in contact with food and must be cleaned regularly.

How do you do it? Follow these general steps to clean and sanitize them properly. But always check with your manager or read the instructions from the manufacturer too:

  1.     Turn the equipment off and unplug it.
  2.     Pre-clean the machine and remove any food pieces.
  3.     Remove small parts, like mixer bowls or blades. Clean and sanitize these like normal.
  4.     Wash the equipment with soap or a detergent. Make sure to wash under and around it too.
  5.     Rinse the surface with clean water.
  6.     Wipe or spray sanitizing solution on the equipment.
  7.     Let everything air-dry, then put everything back together.

Review the steps for properly cleaning and sanitizing often! Keeping your work area and equipment clean and sanitized will help prevent cross-contamination and keep your customers safe. In some cases, it could be what keeps someone out of the hospital.

Don’t forget to keep your food handlers card up to date, too!

— Kylie Molen

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Updated: 11/05/2020 — 8:54 pm
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