Learn the safe food handling practices for each food type and get answers to frequently asked questions about food handling
Published 20 May 2022
Food handling is the process of preparing food that is safe for public consumption. Essential to implementing safe food handling is that food handlers receive training on personal hygiene and sanitation, cooking and storing food at appropriate temperatures, and other safe food handling practices. An integral part of food safety, food handling should always be a priority.
Food handling is important because unsafe food handling can lead to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses (commonly known as food poisoning). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), foodborne illnesses can cause long-lasting disability and even death.
As a possible threat to public health and safety, food handling is closely monitored by government agencies across the world. Failing to pass routine inspections and not complying with regulations can result in involuntary shutdowns of businesses.
On the other hand, food service businesses that are consistent in following safe food handling practices may actively prevent cases of foodborne illness and gain the trust of their customers as a result. Additionally, these businesses avoid the chance of non-compliance with regulations and form better relationships with the local authorities and business partners in their areas of operation.
In the United States, under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code 2017, permit holders or those who operate food establishments must assign someone or take responsibility as the person in charge. The person in charge has to ensure that employees are maintaining the correct temperatures during cooking, cooling, and holding.
In Australia, under the Food Standards Code, food businesses are responsible for ensuring that food handlers have both the skills in and knowledge of food safety and food hygiene matters. Food businesses must also take the necessary steps to prevent the likelihood of food being contaminated.
On June 9, 2021, it was reported by the public health department of King County in Washington that 13 people who dined at a certain restaurant were sick with norovirus, a kind of foodborne illness. According to Medical News Today, norovirus infections are caused by touching a contaminated surface or by consuming contaminated food.
The last inspection of the restaurant before investigation showed that it had failed to observe several safe food handling practices which could have prevented the outbreak, such as:
Aside from putting the lives of people at risk, bad food handling also has long-term legal implications, as seen with Blue Bell Creameries. In 2015, a deadly Listeria outbreak was traced back to the company’s ice cream. As a result, Blue Bell had to settle its criminal liability with the Department of Justice in payments of $19.35 million.
In 2017, the company was sued by shareholders for misconduct leading to the recall of its products and reached a $60 million settlement with them in 2020. In 2021, Blue Bell is facing a lawsuit filed by its insurance carriers for failing to maintain standards and controls for sanitary and safe production.
Often referred to as the 4 steps to food safety, the core safe food handling practices are clean, separate, cook, and chill. Each safe food handling practice will be discussed in detail below for dairy, meat and fish, eggs, fruit and vegetables, frozen goods, and dried goods.
Food handlers must always wash their hands before they begin food preparation. The key tip for handwashing is to use warm water and regular soap. Handwashing should last for at least 20 seconds. Aside from keeping their hands and arms clean, food handlers must also ensure that the tools they’ll be using for food preparation, such as cutting boards, knives, pans, and spatulas, are clean and dry.
Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs should always be kept separate from other ingredients. Don’t use containers, plates, or cutting boards that have held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs for other ingredients, unless they have been washed in hot soapy water. The same rule applies to utensils.
Once they have finished cooking a dish, food handlers are required to check its internal temperature by using a food thermometer. There are specific internal temperature ranges for each food type. Food handlers must not send food out for serving if it is not within the required temperature range. This is to ensure that all harmful microorganisms are killed before the plate reaches the customer.
Keep the temperature within the refrigerator below 40°F (4°C). To avoid having to manually check the temperature using an appliance thermometer several times throughout the day, consider setting up temperature sensors for ease of mind. These sensors can also alert food handlers when fridge temperature reaches or starts to go above 40°F (4°C). For freezers, the recommended temperature is 0°F (-17°C).
Food Handling Practices for Dairy
Food Handling Practices for Meat and Fish
Food Handling Practices for Eggs
Food Handling Practices for Fruit and Vegetables
Food Handling Practices for Frozen Goods
Food Handling Practices for Dried Goods
Other Food Handling Guidelines
Since food handling is such an important part of their job, food safety managers are looking to gain more knowledge on the risks involved and their responsibilities as food establishment operators. Below are answers to some of the frequently asked questions about food handling.
The type of hazard most commonly associated with food handling is microbiological. Microbiological hazards are bacteria, viruses, parasites, and prions. The top 3 sources of microbiological hazards in food are raw (unpasteurized) milk, contaminated fruits and vegetables, and raw or undercooked meat and seafood. Use a HACCP plan to efficiently identify and control microbiological hazards and prevent cases of foodborne illness.
iAuditor by SafetyCulture is a digital operations platform that has helped food service businesses such as Marley Spoon, Snooze Eatery, The Dinner Ladies, and more in safe food handling.
Together with iAuditor, SafetyCulture sensors are powerful tools that bring ease of mind to food safety managers and food handlers. Receive an alert whenever sensors detect that temperature or other factors have gone out of acceptable range. SafetyCulture sensors also have no IT requirements and can be set up in minutes. Simply unbox your sensors and stick them in the fridge.
iAuditor sensors temperature alert
iAuditor can also connect to existing sensors, enabling you to take charge of your data and monitor conditions more seamlessly.
iAuditor enables food handlers at different locations to capture data on the spot. By adding photos or notes of what needs to be fixed or of what can be improved, food handlers can document valuable information for food safety managers to see in real-time.
With food service, fast action is not just recommended, it’s required. Get better visibility of operations and automate notifications in order to resolve issues quickly regardless of location with iAuditor.
Unlike paper-based processes which are inconsistent, vague, and difficult to organize, digitized checks record every little detail, storing them in a single, secure location for you and your team to access at any time of the day. As those in the food service industry know, consistent quality is key to customer satisfaction.
Whether you’re a food supplier, manufacturer, or food business owner, protecting your customers from foodborne illnesses, allergies, and poisoning should always be the number one priority. Any food handling oversights or lack of preparation can result in huge business losses, which can come in the form of fines, lawsuits, rejected products, or business closure. Being able to implement food safety practices requires knowledge about food contaminants that can affect any part of the food supply chain. These contaminations are usually caused by biological, chemical, and physical hazards so it’s important to know proper food handling applications to avoid such incidents. Some of the most important food handling practices include maintaining proper hygiene, segregating food to avoid cross-contamination, storing food at the correct refrigerator temperatures, and cooking at the right internal temperatures to prevent serving undercooked food.
As a business, one of the best ways you can promote these food safety practices is by distributing a comprehensive food handling course to your employees. These courses typically cover topics such as food safety standards, delivery and storage processes, food prep, food contamination, and food-borne illnesses, all of which are vital for food handlers to understand.
Food handlers and other food workers can use this food handling checklist as a guide in following the 4 steps to food safety. This digital checklist also has temperature fields which automatically determine if the temperature entered is considered safe for the specific type of food. Food safety managers can also use this food handling checklist to ensure compliance with core safe food handling practices such as:
Food handlers can use this refrigerator temperature log to check and record temperatures of refrigerators and freezers (both walk-in and reach-in units). This digital checklist also includes the recommended temperature ranges for refrigerators and freezers, so that food handlers can immediately assess their compliance.
Food safety managers can use this comprehensive kitchen checklist to assess food handling practices, including hygiene and storage. This digital checklist can also be used to ensure that all food handling tasks are performed according to health and safety standards.
Food handlers can use this kitchen SOP checklist as a guide in delivering timely food service. Food safety managers can also use this digital checklist to observe if food handlers are complying with standard operating procedures in food handling, kitchen hygiene, and kitchen closing.
This food premises assessment report checklist is based on guidance from the Safe Food Australia (2001) publication A Guide to the Food Safety Standards. Food safety managers can use this digital checklist to determine if food handling practices are aligned with COVID-19 precautionary standards, such as those related to food handler hygiene and cleanliness.
Zarina is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. She enjoys discovering new ways for businesses to improve their safety, quality, and operations. She is working towards helping companies become more efficient and better equipped to thrive through change.
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