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Common Food-Borne Illnesses You Should Know & How to Prevent Them

Common Food-Borne Illnesses and How They Spread - Handling Raw Meat

While food safety is a round-the-clock task, this month is meant to raise awareness about why food safety is important. It also helps teach and refresh us on procedures to ensure food is being prepared, served and stored properly. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 people, or 48 million people per year, get sick in the U.S. from eating contaminated food. There are more than 250 pathogens and toxins that can cause foodborne illness, and most of those can also cause an outbreak.

It’s difficult to identify exactly what made a person sick unless an outbreak occurs, because unlike spoiled food which has notable changes in odor, foodborne illness doesn’t have a distinct smell or appearance. But there’s a lot you can do to keep customers safe from foodborne illness in your restaurant.

5 Common Food-Borne Illnesses & How They Spread

It’s important to know common illnesses caused by undercooked foods and how they can spread so you can avoid getting or giving one. Here are the most common food-borne illnesses you should be on the lookout for:

  • Norovirus - To avoid these germs, make sure to wash your hands, wash your fruits and veggies thoroughly, cook shellfish properly, and stay home for up to two days after symptoms stop should you get sick.
  • Salmonella - Salmonella can be found in a variety of foods as well as in live animals so it’s important to wash your hands and foods well before preparing it. You can also risk getting sick from salmonella if your foods aren’t properly refrigerated.
  • Clostridium perfringens - This is a bacteria that’s found on raw meats. If not prepared to the proper internal temperature, you risk this bacteria growing and spreading. Once the food is cooked, keep it warm until served.
  • Staphylococcal (Staph) - Staph is another bacteria that spreads from contact with dirty hands. Keep your hands clean and be sure to wash them before handling food.
  • Listeria - Listeria is found mainly in dairy. If you find a dairy product that doesn’t have the label reading “Made with pasteurized milk” then you’re more at risk for getting sick with Listeria.

Stay Out of the Danger Zone

Keeping food out of the temperature danger zone is important. The danger zone is between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The USDA says bacteria grows rapidly between these temperatures, doubling in as little as 20 minutes.

The USDA also mandates that food must be cooled to below the danger zone within six hours. Restaurants have two hours to cool food to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and an additional four hours to get food below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you have a blast chiller, this is a simple task. Otherwise, you have to take some other steps to cool items. Don’t put large amounts of hot food in your reach-in refrigerator. It’s fine to do this at home with home-sized meals, but fridges are meant to store food, not cool food. Using your walk-in cooler is okay, but follow these tips to help speed the cooling process.

  • Portion out food and cut meats into smaller portions
  • Place food in multiple, shallower pans
  • Don’t cover food until it cools down
  • Use an ice bath
  • Use an ice wand

Using a written cooling log will also help let other employees know that an item is being cooled so they can finish the process if cooling happens across shift changes.

Avoid Cross Contamination

Cross contamination is another leading cause of foodborne illness. By keeping raw meats wrapped well and storing them below cooked foods (not above), you can avoid problems in your fridge or walk-in.

Additionally, using color coded utensils and cutting boards are very useful in preventing cross contamination as it creates a visual aid for designating what surfaces are for certain types of food only. If you don’t have tools like these, it’s recommended that you prepare food at different times to avoid the possibility of cross-contaminating other food products.

Keep It Clean

Keeping your kitchen clean is married to preventing cross contamination; you must clean and sanitize all work surfaces after each task to help prevent foodborne illness. A proper hygiene program will also go a long way in preventing foodborne illness. Teaching employees proper hand-washing procedures isn’t enough anymore.

An emphasis on employee cleanliness, clean uniforms, hair restrictions and glove use is important. Also emphasize the importance of employee health. Employees must be healthy to come to work and must cover any wounds they have. Finally, consider utilizing the ServSafe Food Safety Training Program to ensure all points are covered.

Common Food Safety Mistakes

There a few mistakes that you can avoid making that will protect you, your staff and customers from a food-borne illness:

  • Washing raw meat - This causes the bacteria to spread to your sink and countertops.
  • Thawing or marinating food on the counter -  At room temperature, germs can grow faster.
  • Peeling fruits and veggies before washing them - If there are germs on the skins, you can easily transfer those when cutting into the fresh food.
  • Tasting or smelling food to see if it’s still good - Even a small taste with bacteria in it can make you sick.

When it comes to avoiding food poisoning, be sure to wash your hands, clean your fruits and vegetables and properly store your foods in the fridge or somewhere warm to keep the temperatures at safe levels.

Your customers are what drives your business to success. By keeping them happy and healthy, you can keep on succeeding. For more information on how to keep your customers and your staff safe, explore our Health Department checklist for more tips and insight.