Reality Alert: A childcare center was forced to close for a period of time after five children from the center were sickened with E. coli, an often foodborne illness that can be fatal in children. After an investigation, it was determined the source of the illness was raw milk from local farm animals that some of the children drank.
Many organizations are involved in food preparation, from camps, to childcare facilities, to senior centers. It’s important to take food safety seriously, as foodborne illnesses can be very serious and even deadly. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 48 million Americans become sick every year from foodborne illnesses.
Sources of Contamination
There are many different sources of contamination when preparing large amounts of food. Some of these include:
- Cross-contamination with another food product
- Hands of the food handler or a work surface
- Failing to wash vegetables thoroughly
- Improper cooking; failing to cook meats to the correct temperature
- Failing to quickly refrigerate leftover food
Basics of Food Safety
There are a few basics for handling food safely that everyone involved in food preparation should be aware of and follow.
- Cleanliness: Keeping kitchens clean and disinfected is key. Hand washing, particularly after handling raw meat/poultry, is also very important.
- Separate: Keep food prep areas for meat and poultry separate from other food areas. Meat should also be kept in separate areas in refrigerators.
- Proper cooking: Meat and poultry must be cooked to the proper temperature. Using a meat thermometer can help ensure a safe temperature is reached.
- Prompt refrigeration: Leftover food must be stored properly and promptly in refrigerators. Leaving food sitting out for too long can cause bacteria growth and foodborne illnesses.
So how can organizations ensure their food prep staff are handling food safely? By developing a food safety plan and providing training for staff. A food safety plan should include rules to ensure all safety steps are followed consistently. Provide ongoing training for staff and develop a culture where food safety is prioritized. It’s important that organizations not assume their food safety plan is being executed properly. By periodically walking through the kitchen during busy times, managers can ensure that food safety rules are being followed. Check out www.foodsafety.gov for more in-depth food safety information.