Walk into the kitchen of a common restaurant or even any of the five star hotels, it is no surprise to see the chef using the same knife or cutting board to chop vegetables and meat! Many other habits which are not in keeping with food hygiene like rubbing wet hands on the gown, placing the hand towel on the cooking platform or using bear hands while cooking can lead to contamination of food. Besides these, the errors of omission or wrong practices could contaminate the processed food. While every stage in the food processing involves cautious handling, there are common mistakes made especially in handling raw food both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. “Sometimes we fail to realise that preparation, cooking and serving food are activities performed to ‘feed’ – to provide satisfaction to none else than us, the human beings. So, it is imperative that we ‘feel’ and take utmost care in delivering safe and hygienic food for ‘our’ own consumption,” says Nabhojit Ghosh, Chef Trainer, Corporate Learning & Development, Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces.
“Raw foods should be handled separately from cooked food to avoid cross contamination”.
There is also a common misconception that vegetarian food is safer to process than the non-vegetarian ones. “This is not true. Both types of food are equally vulnerable to causing immense harm on consumption, if not handled in the right manner.”
“People eat out more frequently today, thereby increasing their exposure to the food service industry, noted for high turnover rates and minimal job training in personal hygiene. Let’s take some pointers:
Personal & Environment hygiene
Wash hands repeatedly
Wash hands thoroughly before starting to prepare the food and after every interruption, especially after having used the washroom. In between handling of raw foods such as fish, meat or poultry, wash again before handling other foods. If your have any infection or cut, make sure to bandage or cover it before preparing food.
Keep all kitchen surfaces meticulously clean
Foods get easily contaminated. Any surface used for food preparation hence must be kept absolutely clean. Kitchen dusters that come into contact with dishes and utensils should be changed frequently and washed well before re-use.
Choose foods processed for safety
While many foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are best in their natural state, others simply are not safe unless they have been processed. For example, always buy pasteurized as opposed to raw milk and, if you have the choice, select fresh or frozen poultry treated with ionizing radiation. Certain foods eaten raw, such as lettuce, need thorough washing.
Cook food thoroughly
Many raw foods, most notable poultry, meats, eggs and unpasteurized milk, may be contaminated with disease-causing organisms. Thorough cooking will kill the pathogens, but remember that the temperature of all parts of the food must reach at least 65-70°C. For example, if cooked chicken is still raw near the bone, put it back in the oven until it’s done fully all the way through. Frozen meat, fish and poultry, must be thoroughly thawed before cooking.
Eat cooked foods immediately
Keep in mind this philosophy: Eat cold food cold and hot food hot. When cooked foods cool to room temperature, microbes begin to proliferate. The longer the wait, the greater the risk. To be on the safe side, eat cooked foods just as soon as they come off the heat.
Store cooked foods carefully
A special attention to storage of raw and cooked foods is necessary. Cold food should be stored at 4°C or below and hot food at 60°C +, if it is required to be held for more than four or five hours. A common error, responsible for countless cases of food-borne disease, is putting too large a quantity of warm food in the refrigerator. In an overburdened refrigerator, cooked foods cannot cool to the core as quickly as they must. When the centre of food remains warm (above 10°C) for too long, microbes thrive, quickly proliferating to disease-causing levels.
Reheat cooked foods thoroughly
This is your best protection against microbes that may have developed during storage (proper storage slows down microbial growth but does not kill the organisms). Once again, thorough reheating means that all parts of the food must reach at least 65°C.
Avoid contact between raw foods and cooked foods
This causes cross-contamination. Safely cooked food can get contaminated through even the slightest contact with raw food. This cross-contamination can be direct when raw poultry meat comes into contact with cooked foods.
Protect foods from pests
Animals / pests frequently carry pathogenic microorganisms which cause food-borne disease. Storing foods in closed containers is the best protection. Frequent pest control activity needs to be done.
Food safety training and personal hygiene
Food handlers should be adequately trained in food safety and personal hygiene. Basic personal hygiene practices include:
• thoroughly washing and drying hands before handling food, and after visiting the toilet, blowing your nose or coughing, smoking, handling raw food and waste
• wearing clean outer clothing
• using clean disposable gloves
• long hair must be tied back or a cap worn
• covering cuts, sores or skin breaks with clean waterproof dressings.
• avoiding coughing or sneezing over food
• even though it is not a legal requirement to wear gloves, it is safe to use them to handle ready-to-eat food. It is better to use tongs, other utensils or disposable gloves. Disposable gloves need to be changed regularly and will only remain clean if you don’t touch anything that might be contaminated
• all utensils maintained in sanitized condition
“Mistakes” or “errors” can lead to food poisoning. Here are some simple steps to help prevent food poisoning:
Prior to cooking, ensure frozen foods are completely thawed before use. This is especially important with large cuts of meat or poultry, which may not cook totally through if not thawed. Frozen food must be fully thawed either in a refrigerator or a microwave oven before cooking.
Cook food properly
Cooking food properly is an effective way to make it safe to eat. Food must be cooked at a high enough temperature to destroy bacteria. The key is not to cook more food than what one can effectively handle.
• In order to ensure that the correct cooking temperatures are reached, use a calibrated probe thermometer, which should be disinfected before and after use
• Food must be cooked to the appropriate internal temperature, this is particularly important for meat (71°C), poultry (74°C) and seafood (65°C ). Once cooked, meat and poultry should be maintained above 60°C or cooled to below 5°C as soon as possible.
• Partially cooked meat must–for the final cooking stage – reach its appropriate internal core temperature before being served. Other cooked food must be reheated to these temperatures before being placed in a hot holding device (bain marie).
Storage and transportation of food
One must ensure there is adequate hot/cold storage and display unit capacity so food can be stored at the appropriate temperature, which is not over 5°C for cold food, and above 60°C for hot food.
Partially cooked meat must–for the final cooking stage – reach its appropriate internal core temperature before being served. Other cooked food must be reheated to these temperatures before being placed in a hot holding device (bain marie).
All food must be adequately protected (i.e. enclosed or covered) when stored or displayed to prevent contamination by dust, insects or other sources. This is important while catering for outdoor events, especially during summer when flies can be a problem. It is important to ensure food and utensils are protected from contamination by flies.
Avoid cross contamination
Ensure raw food is handled separately from ready-to-eat food to avoid cross contamination with bacteria. Where possible, use separate equipment and utensils (knives, tongs and cutting boards) for raw and ready-to-eat food, or clean and sanitize thoroughly between uses. A chemical sanitizer is essential for sanitizing utensils. A separate container may be required for rinsing.