Ready-to-eat foods are exactly what they sound like: foods that are ready to eat as they are. Apples, muffins, and salads are all ready-to-eat foods because they can be eaten without any more cooking or preparation.
Since ready-to-eat foods aren’t cooked, they’re more vulnerable to dangerous foodborne pathogens. If pathogens transfer to ready-to-eat food, they won’t be killed before you serve the food to a customer. Customers could get sick or even die from eating food contaminated by bare-hand contact. That’s why you should avoid bare-hand contact with these foods.
What is bare-hand contact and why is it dangerous?
Bare-hand contact is the official term for handling food with your bare hands. It becomes dangerous when germs on your hands contaminate food. In fact, the CDC estimates that bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods causes about 30% of restaurant foodborne illness outbreaks every year.
How is this possible? Think about all the things you touch throughout your day. Your phone, your clothes, and your hair could all have pathogens living on them. If you touch food with your bare hands, those pathogens could get on the food, making it dangerous to eat.
How to prevent bare-hand contact
To prevent bare-hand contact, you should use deli tissue, single-use gloves, tongs, or other utensils when handling ready-to-eat foods. These create a barrier between your hands and the food you are touching.
If you are a server in a restaurant, here are some tips to keep your hands away from the food you carry:
- When you carry a plate, never let your fingers touch the top of the plate. Hold the plate with the palm of your hand with your fingers and thumb tucked underneath.
- Always carry utensils by the handle.
- Carry cups or glasses by the handle or base.
Handwashing’s role in preventing bare-hand contact
What about washing your hands? Isn’t that an effective way to keep dangerous pathogens from contaminating food? Yes, it is! But remember, you don’t cook or prepare ready-to-eat foods again before serving them to a customer, so you should be extra careful with these foods. You should wash your hands in addition to using deli tissue, single-use gloves, or tongs.
Check out our food handler training for more ways to help keep food safe.
— Rob Cramer
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