It is vitally important that the right control measures are put in place to prevent cross-contamination of foods at all stages of their preparation for delivery to the consumer. As a food handler, it is crucial to understand the different requirements at the various stages of preparation and the controls in place, and why they are there.
Not having proper controls in place to control the temperature of food is the main cause of food poisoning. Bacteria and other pathogens need temperatures between 8°C and 63°C. Temperatures above 64°C destroy any bacterias or slow down their growth.
Between 8°C and 63°C bacteria can grow at a speedy rate, for example, at 37°C the bacteria could double every 10 to 20 minutes. Food poisoning happens when the amount of “bad” bacteria in our stomachs grows to a level where the immune system is overwhelmed. This does not necessarily change the food’s taste, smell or appearance, especially when cooked. In order to preserve food in a freezer it is best to keep the food below -18°C this prevents the bacteria from growing, even if it does not kill it.
It is important that raw food and food ready to eat is kept separate at all times. When it is stored in cold storage, where possible, the best practice is to store them in separate refrigerators, but this is not always possible, for example, in situations where there is only one fridge. In this case, raw foods should be stored at lower levels and prepared food high up. This is to prevent any of the liquid from the raw meat from dripping onto the prepared food.
It is important to make sure that different equipment is used both for the raw meat and to prepare foods. If this is not possible and you need to use the same equipment then it must be cleaned properly and disinfected to make it safe to use again.
All foods have a shelf life and this is no difference between raw and cooked food. For this reason, food must not be prepared too far in advance from when it is to be consumed, this prevents food wastage as it denies time for the food to spoil.
Meats must be cooked properly in order to kill any pathogens or parasites present within the raw meat. Depending on the type of meat, the temperature it needs to reach within will vary.
Meats like Beef and Lamb can be cooked to low heat as any pathogens live on the outside of the meat unless minced. Pork (or products from pig) and Poultry (Chicken and Turkey and some Game Birds) can contain parasites and pathogens throughout and must be cooked fully.
It is for this reason that a beef steak will be “Sealed” by cooking the outside of the steak at high heat with pink or redness on the inside where chicken has to be cooked throughout with all traces of pink removed.
It is important in the food industry to follow set recipes. The main reasons for this are:
- To ensure that all allergens can be identified
- Set nutritional information
- To ensure consistency
- Incorporate HACCP into procedures
By following a set of recipes and cooking times, we can ensure temperatures will be achieved across the dish that will kill anything harmful within the meats. It is also important to control the ingredients during the cooking stage to ensure allergens like nuts or shellfish are kept separate from dishes that do not call for them and that they are only present when they are needed in the dish being prepared. As previously mentioned Nuts and Shellfish are highly dangerous foods that can cause serious illness and possible death in those unfortunate enough to be allergic to them. This needs to be prevented and good control measures are important in the food industry to ensure food safety for all and not
just prevent food poisoning.
Why is it important to cool your food properly?
As we have already explored, most bacteria and pathogens thrive at temperatures between 8°C and 63°C. It is important that when preparing cooked food for cold storage it is cooled as quickly as possible to ensure that food poisoning bacterias have a reduced chance to reproduce.
Food that is not handled properly and cooled appropriately is known to be the leading cause of foodborne illness. Food that cools slowly will stay in the Temperature Danger Zone for too long.
To avoid this food should be cooled quickly. The proper cooling method follows a 2 hour/4 hour rule and happens in two steps:
- Food is to be cooled from 60°C (140°F) to 20°C (68°F) within 2 hours.
- Then, food is to be cooled from 20°C (68°F) to 4°C (40°F) or colder within 4 hours.
* Important: This process is done in the refrigerator.
Methods for Cooling Food
Cooling time and the method used depends on the food. Thicker foods and larger amounts will take longer to cool than smaller amounts. Also, certain ways of cooling may work better with liquid or solid foods. You can cook food by using one or more of the following methods:
- Portion food into smaller amounts and refrigerate.
- Cut big pieces of meat into smaller pieces.
- Transfer liquids into shallow pans.
- Do not fully cover pans during cooling. Leaving a portion of the pan
opened will allow heat to escape and cool the food faster.
- Do not stack pans. Air must be able to circulate around the food.
- Place a pan of food in an ice-water bath and stir the food. Stirring allows
warm air to escape and cool food faster.
- Use chilling equipment if available, such as an ice wand or blast chiller.
All hot foods should be served for consumption piping hot. The core temperatures of cooked joints of meat should be 75°C (however meats like beef and lamb can be cooked to a lower temperature as long as it is properly sealed.)
Another check that can give indications that food is cooked properly is whether the juices run clear when probed.
To carry out a temperature check, use a clean food probe and place it into the thickest part of the meat/dish and leave for a few minutes. If the temperature reaches above 75°C, it should be safe to serve. If lower than 75°C, continue to cook then re-check the temperature.
REHEATING FOOD THAT HAS BEEN COOKED
The same rule applies to food that is reheated.
If you use a microwave to reheat food, make sure there are no cold spots. Cold spots are areas that receive the lowest thermal energy.
Again, care needs to be taken to ensure reheated food has a minimum core temperature of 75°C.
You can only reheat food once and if you do not use it after reheating, you must throw it away. At 63°C bacteria stop growing and above this temperature start to die. At 75°C enough of them have been destroyed to reduce levels to below the threshold that would make you ill, making the food safe to eat.
Not all bacteria may be destroyed by reheating. Some may survive, especially those that are able to form a ‘spore’ (create a tough outer layer to protect themselves). Spores can survive cooking, which means they may be present in cooked food. If the food temperature falls back into the danger zone, organisms that have survived will start to grow again. To prevent this, you must store hot food above 63°C.
Holding and displaying food:
Hot food as we have just explored should be stored above 63°C. The method this is achieved depends very much on the setting where the food is kept you could use:
- Traditional equipment such as an oven or the top of the stove
- A bain-marie
- A heated trolley or hot cupboard
Using the oven or the top of the stove will keep food hot but there is a risk the food will dry out and its quality spoil – although this will not impact the hygiene of the food it will damage the reputation of the business as the quality of the food would suffer.
A bain-marie provides a layer of heat around the food, while not leaving heat in direct contact with food. A very simple form of bain-marie is to put a pan into a tray of very hot (simmering) water on the stove. You can buy a bain-marie as a piece of equipment – this could be a unit designed for kitchen use or a display counter.
Whichever method you choose, you must not use hot-holding equipment to heat food. You must cook the food to a minimum core temperature of 75°C using proper cooking methods, and then transfer it to the hot-holding unit.
Chill and hot holding requirements
Food must be kept either –
- In a refrigerator, refrigerating chamber or cool ventilated place
- At a temperature at or above 63°C.
They are exceptions to this-
Food that is been prepared and sold to a customer to be consumed immediately
Not required to be held either hot or cold (Snacks and sweets) (this means it is kept at a hygienic and safe way for the products shelf life, it is sealed to prevent bacteria from growing as long as it is kept as per the manufacturer recommendations.
Selling and serving food:
Food sold in a retail environment will normally be packaged and kept in cold
fridges, some retailers will sell hot food that will be packaged for consumption
(Baked goods). Different foods will have different hazards and requirements to
keep safe for the consumer. The included but not exclusive to –
- Use by and best before dates on food
- Delivery temperatures
- Fridge and freezer temperatures
By consumer protection law, the packaging and labelling of pre-pack food is highly regulated and controlled to ensure information is clear and easy to understand for the end-user. All foods will be subject to general food labelling requirements and any labelling provided must be accurate and not misleading.
Certain foods are controlled by product-specific regulations and they include:
● bread and flour
● cocoa and chocolate products
● soluble coffee
● evaporated and dried milk
● infant formula
● meat products – sausages, burgers and pies
● natural mineral waters
● spreadable fats
● irradiated food
● foods containing genetic modification (GM)