As a food worker, it is important to understand why avoiding bare-hand contact is crucial to food safety. Even after washing your hands, they can still have pathogens on them, especially if you are sick. Norovirus, for example, can easily be spread through person-to-food contact. In addition to bacteria and viruses, dirt and grime can get stuck on your hands and pass to the food, making your customers sick. Using the proper barriers can prevent your customers from getting sick.
1. Wear single-use gloves
Single-use gloves are a great tool to avoid bare-hand contact—as long as you use them right. Gloves should be clean and used with the right food. If you have been cutting raw meat and will be switching tasks, wash your hands and change your gloves before beginning the new task.
If you have contaminated them by doing tasks like taking out the garbage, using the cash register, or touching your face or hair, wash your hands and change your gloves.
If your gloves become torn or visibly dirty, you should also wash your hands and change gloves.
You should also change your gloves if you have been working on one task for four hours. This is the amount of time it takes for bacteria to grow to dangerous levels.
2. Use tongs and utensils
Using tongs and utensils will help prevent bare-hand contact when you prepare and serve food! Always use clean and sanitized utensils and be sure they don’t get contaminated. If the utensils become contaminated, like if they fall on the floor or fall into the food, properly wash them before using them again.
If you store time/temperature control for safety (TCS) foods without temperature control, you should discard the food after four hours and wash the utensils and dishes before using them for other food.
If you have a self-service area, like a buffet or salad bar, each food item should have its own serving utensil.
3. Avoid touching the eating side of dishes
When serving orders, be aware of where your hands are to avoid bare-hand contact with the food. For example, you should keep your fingers and hands underneath the dish if possible. If the dish is hot, use the proper equipment to keep from burning yourself.
If you garnish the food, also make sure you are using gloves or utensils when putting the garnish on. If you think something may have been contaminated, discard the dish and prepare a new one.
Preparing food with bare hands
There are certain foods that are easier to prepare without gloves or tongs. For example, sushi is easiest to prepare bare-handed. If you make foods like this and you do not serve a highly susceptible population, you will need to obtain an official variance from your local regulatory authority. A "variance" is a special permission from the health department (or other regulatory authority) to deviate from the standard no-bare-hand-contact rule.
To get a variance, you will need to create a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan where you identify steps in the food preparation process where hazards could be introduced and precautions to control them. Following a HACCP plan can prevent foodborne illness outbreaks.
For more information and other food safety tips, visit StateFoodSafety.com.
— Janilyn Hutchings
Download/print cartoon: Wolfman Chef
Order our cartoon calendar: Food Safety Cartoon Calendar