Who knew there was so much information to be learned before you could handle food legally? If you think about it, you are the person responsible for handling things that people put into their body, so it makes sense that there would be such strict guidelines. Before you can get a job in the food industry, you’ll need to pass a food safety certification exam to prove that you have the knowledge needed to handle food properly. While there’s a lot of information to remember, a lot of it will seem like common sense once you read through it all. Plus, you’ve probably been practicing most of these guidelines while preparing your own food without even realizing it! Whether you’re an owner, a manager or an employee of a food establishment, you’ll need to know the food safety guidelines like the back of your hand. Ready to learn?
Working When Ill
If you’re at home sick with the stomach flu, are you going to be the one to prepare a large dinner for 20 guests that night? Probably not. Common sense tells you that when you are sick with a contagious illness, you should stay far away from others in order to avoid spreading your germs around. The same is true for working around food. If you are exhibiting symptoms of a contagious illness, call out of work! Trust me, your boss will thank you. You shouldn’t go back into work and handle food until it has been 24 hours since your last contagious symptom has disappeared.
If you have an infected cut, burn or other wound on your hand or wrist, cover it up! Make sure it is properly washed (more on proper washing later), and cover it with both a band-aid and a food handling glove.
Washing Your Hands
Think you can run your hands under the sink for a couple of seconds and call it a day? Nope, not in the food industry. Hand washing is strictly enforced, since hands can carry tons of germs that can be passed onto the food you are preparing. Proper hand washing consists of running hands under warm water and scrubbing with soap for at least 20 seconds. When you dry your hands, you should do so with a single use towel, paper towel or an air dryer. Never dry your hands with a towel or paper towel that someone has used before you.
You should always wash your hands:
- Before you begin working for the day
- After handling garbage
- After handling dirty dishes
- After using the restroom
- After handling raw food
- After cleaning or using any sort of chemicals
- Blowing your nose, sneezing or touching your hair or face
- After smoking
- After eating or drinking
- Before putting on gloves
Remember: wearing gloves is not a substitution for washing your hands!
When you should change your gloves:
- As soon as they get torn or become dirty
- Right after handling any raw meat
- Before starting a new task – regardless of how insignificant. If you’ve been tossing a salad with peanuts in it and then use the same gloves to serve someone’s pasta, those with severe peanut allergies can be negatively affected!
The Causes of Foodborne Illness
If the employees of a food establishment don’t follow the food safety guidelines properly and their customers get sick, the establishment can get in a lot of trouble. It’s important to know what can cause foodborne illness and what you can do to prevent it from happening.
- Inadequate handwashing. When in doubt, wash your hands. Did you wash your hands two minutes ago but you’re just putting gloves on now? Wash them again.
- Employees working while they’re sick. They cough > their germs get on the food > the customers get sick.
- Cross contamination of foods. If you’re using a fork to cook raw meet, forget about it, and then use that same fork to toss a salad, people can get violently ill.
- Inadequate cooking temperatures. Though we’ll cover proper temperatures later, many foods (especially meats) need to be cooked to a hot enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria that may be residing in it.
- Inadequate temperature control. Allowing food to sit out for too long can allow harmful bacteria to begin growing.
- Wash your hands!! This will never stop being stressed.
- Don’t work when ill. If you think you’re contagious, don’t take any risks.
- Don’t allow food to contaminate each other. Store meats and vegetables separately, and always properly wash utensils after they have come in contact with raw meat.
- Test the internal temperatures of all food before serving.
- Don’t allow food to become too hot or too cold.
* The danger zone is described as being between 41 and 135 degrees F *
When food is being cooled or heated, those handling the food should make sure that it does not remain in the danger zone for too long. If any food has remained between these temperatures for over four hours, it is no longer safe to eat. When food remains in this range of temperatures, bacteria can grow at a much faster rate, increasing the risk of foodborne illness. Even though you can refrigerate or reheat this food to the proper temperature, toxins from the bacteria that has grown over the 4+ hours will remain.
Hot foods should be served at 135 degrees or hotter, while cold foods should be served at 41 degrees or colder. In order to keep hot food hot, stir it occasionally and keep a lid on it. When keeping food cold in the refrigerator or freezer, make sure it is covered as well.
The proper temperatures for cooking various food vary, so make sure you consult your manager for the proper temperatures.
Contamination of Food
Food can be contaminated in many ways, from being touched with bare hands to coming in contact with a surface that has recently been cleaned with a chemical.
- Always always wash hands before handling any food.
- Between uses, always wash, rinse, and sanitize any surfaces before re-using them. If a surface has recently been sanitized, make sure that food is not placed directly on a wet, harmful chemical. The proper steps for washing anything should always be wash, then rinse, then sanitize, then dry.
- When storing food, always store raw meat below anything else. The juice from raw meat can drip out and contaminate vegetables and other foods below it. If you are storing food that is ready to eat, make sure you store it separately from food that needs to be cooked.
- Store chemicals, pesticides and other cleaning materials completely separate from any food. Make sure each and every chemical and cleaning product is properly labeled. If chemicals must be stored near food, make sure they are stored below the food, not above.
Proper Grooming and Behavior
Even if you’re working in the back of the kitchen and no customers ever see you, it’s still important to practice proper grooming and behavior techniques in order to avoid contaminating the food in any way.
- Make sure you are always cleaning underneath your fingernails! If they are too long, dirt and other grime can get trapped underneath and little particles can fall out onto the food you are dealing with. Keep them short, keep them clean.
- Never eat food near the food you are preparing. Germs from your mouth can easily be spread onto other people’s food without you even realizing it.
- If you must drink while preparing food, always do so out of a cup with a secure lid. If the cup is completely open, it’s a no-go.
- If you have long hair, always wear it up in a ponytail and place a baseball cap (or something similar) over it. How many times have you been cooking at home to find that a piece of your hair has accidentally fallen into your soup? Yeah, the customers won’t find it as funny.
- Don’t wear loose clothing. All too often I’ve been reaching over a plate of food to find that the arm of my sweater has accidentally been dragged through some gooey cheese. When you wear loose clothing, you are increasing the risk that your clothes can contaminate the food around you.
Many states now allow you to take a food safety course right from the comfort of your own computer. You can take the course, review it as long as you’d like, and then take the test when you feel prepared. If you pass, you’ll get a certification notice that you can print out that day and your official food safety certification card will come to you in the mail a couple of weeks later. Some other states will require you to sit down and take the exam with a class. You should ask your manager or look online to find out which your state prefers.
Once you have been certified, you can now legally work in any food establishment! If you want a more in-depth look on everything you need to know about food safety certification, Udemy has a course that will help you prepare for your exam.