Food Safety Mistakes & Rules

The 5 Most Common Food Safety Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that foodborne illness in the United States affects roughly 48 million, or 1 in 6 Americans. Out of these, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne illness. Salmonella is one of the most common causes of hospitalization of foodborne illness outbreaks in recent U.S. history, with over 19,000 cases of hospitalization per year. Salmonella and other pathogens can come into contact with food through improper food handling, contamination in stores, contamination during manufacturing or distributing, and unsafe practices on farms.

While pathogens may come into contact at the food’s source or during distribution, there are a number of common food safety mistakes in food preparation and foodservice that can lead to serious health risks for both employees and customers. To ensure that today’s special includes serving peace of mind in your restaurant, you’ll need to avoid these 5 common food safety mistakes:

Mistake #1: Cross-Contamination of Raw and Cooked Foods

Cross-contamination occurs when disease-causing organisms are transferred from one surface to another, such as from:

  • Food-to-food:
    • Improper storage of food items;
    • Using raw meat marinades on cooked foods;
    • Raw foods touching ready to serve foods on a cooking surface;
  • People-to-food:
    • Improper handwashing and hand sanitizing practices;
    • Touching raw meats and prepared vegetables while cooking;
    • Wiping hands on aprons between handling foods;
    • Cleaning countertops and surfaces with unsanitized towels or sponges;
  • Equipment-to-food:
    • Reusing unclean equipment such as slicers, knives, cutting boards, can openers, and other utensils, to prepare food;
    • Storing cooked foods in unsanitized containers.

These examples can easily be avoided with the right practices, including; knowing the proper handwashing or hand sanitizing techniques, utilizing the proper cleaning products such as single-use sanitizing wipes, and proper storage and organization techniques.

How Should Food Be Stored to Avoid Cross-Contamination?

Food to food cross-contamination by storage can be greatly reduced through proper organization. Consider the following:

  • Store food in designated storage areas. Do not store food near dishwashing stations, trash receptacles, or near restrooms.
  • Wrap food properly before storing it. Covering food properly with tight-fitting lids, plastic wrap, or foil can reduce the chance of leaks or cross-contamination.
  • Stack and store food properly. If possible, store raw meats, poultry, and fish separate from prepared or ready to eat foods. If they cannot be stored separately, they should be stored below in the following top-to-bottom order:
    • Prepared and ready to eat foods and vegetables;
    • Whole fish;
    • Whole cuts of beef and pork;
    • Ground meats and fish;
    • Ground and whole poultry.
  • Label, date mark, and store food correctly. Label all foods with the proper title and date. Hold foods at the proper temperature, and discard foods at the appropriate time.

Mistake #2: Not Cooking Food Thoroughly

Most foods have minimum cooking temperatures to ensure that they are safely prepared. High-risk foods that are likely to cause food poisoning, and the temperatures they must meet during cooking include the following:

  • Ground beef, pork, veal, and lamb — 160 ℉.
  • Ground chicken or turkey — 165 ℉.
  • Fresh beef, veal, or lamb — 145 ℉, with a rest time of 3 minutes.
  • Poultry — 165 ℉.
  • Fresh Pork and ham — 145 ℉ with a rest time of 3 minutes.
  • Precooked ham — 165 ℉.
  • Eggs — Cook until both egg yolks and egg whites are firm.
  • Egg dishes — 160 ℉.
  • Casseroles — 165 ℉.
  • Fish — 145 ℉.
  • Shrimp, lobster, crab, scallops — until the flesh is pearly or white.
  • Clams, oysters, and mussels — cook until shells open.

Use Thermometers to Ensure Thorough Cooking

Using a food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure that internal temperatures of food have fully reached the proper cooking temperature. A food’s appearance can often be misleading; the internal temperature is the only way to ensure that harmful microorganisms have been destroyed. Be sure to sanitize thermometers between uses.

Mistake #3: Leaving Food Out at Room Temperature

Leaving food on a countertop to marinate or thaw may be tempting but can be highly dangerous. Marinating and thawing should be done in temperature-controlled environments that meet FDA Food Code temperature guidelines, such as refrigeration or cold slacking — the process of thawing food under running water. Leaving food out for too long, or improperly thawing food can allow food to sit in the danger zone, where bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enteritidis, E. coli, and Campylobacter can rapidly grow at dangerous levels.

Understanding the Danger Zone

The USDA defines the danger zone as between 40 ℉ and 140 ℉, the temperature range in which bacteria can grow most rapidly, potentially doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. This bacterial growth can also occur on food contact surfaces, making proper cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces of the utmost importance.

Mistake #4: Improper Handwashing Practices

Inadequate handwashing and hand sanitizing techniques can lead to serious health issues for employees as well as customers. The CDC states that water and environmental hygiene behaviors such as washing hands can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and other infections, including reducing diarrheal disease-associated deaths by up to 50%. In addition, CDC studies on food worker handwashing and restaurant factors found that 89% of the outbreaks in which food was contaminated by food workers came from the spread of germs by hand. The FDA recommends food service workers wash hands after any event that “contaminates the hands” as well as:

  • When entering a food preparation area;
  • Before putting on clean, single-use gloves for working with food and between glove changes;
  • Before engaging in food preparation;
  • Before handling clean equipment and serving utensils;
  • When changing tasks and switching between handling raw foods and working with ready to eat foods;
  • After handling soiled dishes, equipment, or utensils;
  • After touching bare human body parts, for example, parts other than clean hands and clean, exposed portions of arms;
  • After using the toilet;
  • After coughing, sneezing, blowing the nose, using tobacco, eating, or drinking;
  • After caring for or handling service animals or aquatic animals such as molluscan shellfish or crustaceans in display tanks.

Hand washing and lack of hand sanitation can also lead to failure of restaurant health inspections , and health code violations.

How to Wash Your Hands

The FDA Food Code states that friction and water are found to play the most critical role in handwashing. A minimum of 10-15 seconds of scrubbing is necessary to remove pathogens from hands, using warm water and soap. Hands must be scrubbed, rinsed, and dried properly. Furthermore, recontamination of the hands by direct contact with contaminated sources such as sink faucets or door handles should be avoided through the use of a paper towel. Handwashing may be complimented by further precautions such as the use of hand sanitizing and anti-bacterial wipes and barriers such as gloves between ready-to-eat food is necessary.

Mistake #5: Failing to Wash Vegetables

While high-risk foods are generally discussed as raw meats, unassuming vegetables may also harbor salmonella, norovirus, or E. coli. A study on the attribution of foodborne illnesses and outbreaks found that produce accounted for 46% of illnesses, and 23% of deaths related to foodborne illness. Proper handling, washing, and storage of produce is important to ensure that cross-contamination does not occur, and that produce is safe to consume.

Best Practices for Cleaning Veggies

The National Health Services details proper instructions on how to wash fruits and vegetables. They recommend the following:
  • Wash under running water to remove any soil. Most of the bacteria on the produce comes from the remaining soil on the produce.
  • Rub them under fresh water to dislodge any further contamination or pathogens.
  • Give them a final rinse before any food preparation.
  • Peeling and cooking fruit and vegetables can also remove bacteria, but does not replace the importance of washing to remove contaminants.