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The Best Ways To Prevent Cross-Contamination

Best Ways To Prevent Cross-Contamination

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When you run a restaurant, food safety is a top priority. After all, you don’t want your customers to get sick – and you also don’t want to get bad reviews or a reputation as a restaurant that makes people ill. While you may not be able to prevent all food-borne illnesses in a restaurant, taking certain steps to reduce cross-contamination can help.

Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria from one item are transferred to another, allowing for the spread of harmful germs. It is important to reduce cross-contamination as much as possible to reduce the likelihood of customers getting sick or even dying from a foodborne illness like E. coli. There are many simple yet effective steps that your staff can take, such as frequently washing hands and sanitizing equipment and counters, to avoid cross-contamination.

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What Is Cross-Contamination and Why Is It Important to Prevent It?

Every year, approximately 600 million people globally are sickened by a food-borne illness. There are many potential causes of these illnesses, such as improperly canned food or prepared food that has been left out at an unsafe temperature for too long. Another major cause of foodborne illness is bacterial cross-contamination.

Cross-contamination is exactly what it sounds like – the transfer of bacteria (or other microorganisms) from one item to another. It can happen at any stage of food production or preparation. 

Bacterial contamination is something that we should all be concerned about for several reasons. While a person might not get sick every time that cross-contamination occurs, even mild side effects – like upset stomach, loss of appetite, nausea, headache, and diarrhea – can be challenging. In more severe cases, a person might suffer from symptoms like fever, dehydration, bloody stools, long-lasting diarrhea, organ failure, and even death for higher-risk populations. People who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from food-borne illnesses include children under the age of 5, people over the age of 65, anyone with a weakened immune system, and pregnant people.

Given the potential risks associated with cross-contamination, it is important for every restaurant and food service business to take steps to minimize the danger to customers. Below, we outline the best ways to prevent cross-contamination in your restaurant.

Types Of Cross-Contamination

Contaminants can be transferred to food in different ways. There are three main types of cross-contamination transfer: food-to-food, equipment-to-food, and people-to-food. 

Food-To-Food Contamination

Food-to-food contamination occurs when contaminated food is added to non-contaminated food. This allows harmful bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, and listeria to spread. For example, unwashed lettuce added to a sandwich can cause food-to-food contamination. Common food sources of bacterial contamination include bean sprouts, soft cheese, deli meats, leftover rice, leafy greens, unpasteurized milk, raw eggs, meat, seafood, and poultry.

Equipment-To-Food Contamination

Equipment-to-food contamination occurs when food preparation, manufacturing, and/or storage equipment is not properly cleaned and sanitized. Many bacteria can survive for a long period of time on storage equipment, counters, utensils, manufacturing equipment, and cutting boards. For example, if you use the same cutting board and knife to cut up chicken and then to dice vegetables, you could get sick if the vegetables are then eaten raw. This category also includes things like improper canning of food, which can lead to cross-contamination and notably, illness related to botulism.

People-To-Food Contamination

People-to-food contamination happens when bacteria are transferred from a person’s body or clothes to food during preparation. For example, if a person sneezes while cooking and then doesn’t wash their hand, then any viruses or bacteria on their hands could be transferred into the food. Similarly, if you use a smartphone while cooking – which is something that most people rarely clean – it could contaminate the food or equipment that you are using.

Best Ways to Avoid Cross-Contamination in the Kitchen

As an initial matter, at least one person in any restaurant kitchen should have a food handler’s license. In most areas, getting a license requires taking a food safety course and passing an associated test (usually ServSafe). A food safety course will typically cover issues such as cross-contamination.

As a business, there are many other steps that you can take to reduce the likelihood of cross-contamination. 

Preventing Cross-Contamination When Shopping

  • Do not purchase food close to its expiration date unless you intend to prepare it immediately
  • Separate your raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods

Preventing Cross-Contamination When Refrigerating Foods

  • Store raw meat in sealed containers or plastic bags on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator to avoid leaks dripping onto other foods
  • Use refrigerated food within 2 to 3 days, and cook it to proper temperatures
  • Refrigate eggs as soon as possible and store them in their original carton

Preventing Cross-Contamination When Preparing Foods 

Cutting Boards

  • Wash and sanitize all utensils, cutting boards, storage containers, and other kitchen equipment
  • Use separate cutting boards for meat and produce

Employee & Surface Sanitation

  • Wash hands with soap and water regularly, including after touching raw meat or eggs, using the bathroom, coughing or sneezing, touching garbage, or using your phone
  • Thoroughly clean food preparation surfaces with a disinfectant
  • Change out dishcloths and kitchen towels regularly 
  • Use gloves when handling raw food
  • Set a policy of employees staying home when sick

Meal Production

  • Maintain safe temperatures while thawing frozen ingredients
  • Wash produce thoroughly
  • Cook foods to the proper temperature
  • Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for more than 2 hours
  • Marinate food in a refrigerator as opposed to marinating on the counter
  • Use separate marination sauces for raw meat and seafood 

Preventing Cross-Contamination When Serving Foods 

  • Plate food on dishware that has been thoroughly washed and sanitized
  • Do not plate cooked food on plates that previously held raw food

Employee Training Is Key

As a restaurant owner, you should be following up with employees regularly to ensure that these best practices are followed. When things get busy and your staff is in the weeds, it can be easy to abandon some of these precautions. Regularly scheduling staff training and refreshers on food safety can be a great way to ensure that your employees are taking this issue seriously.

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