Foodborne illness outbreaks can be caused by several factors, such as ill employees or customers contaminating food, leaving hot or cold-held food in the Temperature Danger Zone too long, and failing to cook food to high enough temperatures. Following good food safety practices is crucial in keeping you and your customers safe!
Caring for Self-service Food Areas
Self-service areas, such as buffets and salad bars, are great ways for customers to get exactly the meal they want. However, it can also be an easy way for germs to spread. As mentioned before, if a food worker or customer is ill, they can contaminate food just by touching it. From there, it’s easy for the germs to find a new host. Consistently following simple practices can help prevent the spread of those unwanted germs.
Tip #1: Provide Utensils
Serving utensils help keep hands (and the germs that may be on hands) out of food. At least one serving utensil should be provided per food item. If the handle or whole utensil falls into the food, the food is likely contaminated and should be discarded and replaced. Also, provide a clean utensil when you restock with fresh food. Doing this will keep bits of old food from contaminating the fresh food!
Tip #2: Restock Food Correctly
When restocking food, replace the whole container. Avoid combining old food with new food, as that can contaminate the fresh food. If you notice that a food has become visibly contaminated (like if a customer’s hair fell into the food), replace the food immediately — even if it’s not yet time to restock.
Tip #3: Take and Record Temperatures
It is also crucial to food safety to make sure the food heats up or cools down to proper temperatures and stays there. Specifically, you need to monitor Time/temperature control for safety (TCS) foods. Keep hot foods at 135°F (57°C) or hotter and cold foods at 41°F (5°C) or colder. Frozen foods should stay frozen.
Take the internal temperature of the food often, and remember to clean and sanitize the thermometer between each food. If the temperature is not where it should be, determine if it is still safe to serve and discard it if it is not.
Tip #4: Ask Customers to Use a Clean Dish
At buffets, salad bars, and all other self-serve areas, customers should always use a clean plate anytime they dish up. Using a dirty dish could easily contaminate the utensil and, in turn, the food container. Remind customers to use a clean dish by posting signs or talking to them.
What To Do If There is an Illness Outbreak
Reacting quickly to a potential foodborne illness outbreak is vital to ensure it does not spread any more. If you receive two or more complaints about illnesses with similar symptoms, it is considered an outbreak. When that happens, immediately shut down your facility and stop serving food. Contact your local regulatory authority, such as a health department, and they will instruct you on what to do. Keep all food items available for inspection and cooperate with the inspectors. Throwing food away could actually make it more difficult to determine the cause of the outbreak, as there would be no way to test the food.
For more information about how to prevent cross-contamination in your workplace, visit StateFoodSafety.com.
— Janilyn Hutchings
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