Food Service Safety: How to Prevent Cross-Contamination

Food Service Safety: How to Prevent Cross-Contamination: Image of a chef looking into a large kitchen appliance with whisk in hand.

Food service safety is not something to take lightly, especially when it comes to preventing dangers such as cross-contamination within your restaurant’s kitchen.

Simply put, cross-contamination is a vicious beast responsible for many serious health risks like food poisoning or unintended exposure to food allergens. None of this is pleasant and none of this will improve sales within your company. Do your part to promote food service safety among your coworkers by following along throughout this in-depth guide to contamination-free living.

What is Cross-Contamination?

Cross-contamination occurs when disease-causing microorganisms, like bacteria and viruses, transfer from one food to another. This type of contact is easy to encounter, resulting in cross-contamination being one of the leading causes of food-borne illness. However, there is good news; cross-contamination can be easily eliminated. Simply use our easy-to-follow suggestions to protect your employees and customers from picking up or spreading any harmful germs. Read on for more details.

How to Prevent Cross-Contamination

Preventing Cross-Contamintion: Image of Edward Don White Cutting Board

Preventing cross-contamination from wreaking havoc in your restaurant’s kitchen doesn’t require fancy equipment, extra spending, or a team of laborers. Prevention can be as simple as washing kitchen accessories like your cutting boards, knives, and tongs. Another easy trick is to make sure raw food items are separated from food that doesn’t need to be cooked. Knowing the risk for contamination in each step of your food preparation process and training your team with a set of guidelines to follow is also crucial.

How to Store Food to Avoid Cross-Contamination

Avoid food contamination by using the correct food storage techniques. This means properly storing your refrigerated food products, as many types of refrigerated food items are oftentimes stored in one place. This can be messy as contaminants spread easily in such tight corners.

Keep things fuss-free and follow these steps for safely storing food:

  • Store raw meats and dairy in well-sealed, sturdy food storage containers to prevent contact with other foods.
  • Try storing food from top to bottom based on the minimum internal cooking temperature of each product (for example: ready-to-eat food, seafood, whole cuts of beef and pork, ground meat and ground fish, whole and ground poultry). This not only makes it easier to find food product, but also establishes a reliable system for organization.
  • Food service operations with flexible budgets should store raw meats and dairy items in separate refrigeration units from fruits, vegetables, and other ready-to-eat items.

How to Prevent Cross-Contamination During Food Prep

Believe it or not, cross-contamination can still occur even after your staff has started preparing meals. Fear not! Similar to before, there are easy ways to avoid spreading germs:

  • Clean your surfaces before using them to prepare food and be sure to sanitize them between uses. Neglecting to clean an area after working with raw substances will contaminate any food item or equipment that is placed on it afterward.
  • Color-coded cutting boards are a simple solution for differentiating between surfaces used for raw meat, fish, poultry, fruits, and vegetables. On a similar note, color-coded chef knives easily identify varying knives’ purpose. Follow HACCP guides of color-coordination for ultimate efficiency: Green knives should be used with fresh produce, white knives for dairy, yellow with poultry, red with raw meat, blue for raw fish, and brown for cooked meat.
  • Once cooking equipment has been cleaned and sanitized, it should be kept separate from food storage areas.

Practicing Proper Personal Hygiene

Preventing Cross-Contamination: Image of Chef Works 3-Pocket Waist Apron

Say you’ve purchased your kitchen staff color-coded cooking accessories and have organized your refrigerators to your best abilities to ensure germs are not spread. By now you might think all the bases are covered and you’re officially safe from harmful germs, but unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true. Contaminants can still linger on your employees’ hands and clothing, thus leading us back to square one — cross-contamination.

Practice proper personal hygiene by:

  • Having your staff wear aprons and headwear that work to protect food from outside contaminants carried on the body or clothes.
  • Provide disposable gloves to keep hands free from contamination. Make sure to change these gloves when an employee begins handling a new food or material.
  • Promote frequent handwashing, especially when handling raw meat, fish, or poultry.

How to Handle Prepared Food to Avoid Cross-Contamination

Preventing Cross-Contamination: Image of 58 oz silver aluminum scoop.

So, you’ve finished cooking your food while dodging the dangerous possibilities of cross-contamination. That’s great, congratulations! But don’t get too excited just yet. Preventing the possibility of contamination isn’t finished until the food is brought to your customers’ table. This means cross-contamination can still happen if utensils, glasses, and plates are improperly handled while tables are set or cleared. Here’s how you can prevent the spread of germs:

  • Avoid using the same utensils to serve different food items. Designate a utensil for meat, fish, and poultry, and another for sides like vegetables or starches.
  • Never put ice into a glass with bare hands; use a scoop or tongs.
  • This might sound silly, but always hold utensils by their handles and not by the parts that will come in contact with your patrons’ food.
  • Have your servers handle your guests’ dishes by their base, without touching any parts of the plate where the food may go.
  • As an added solution to steering clear of vicious cross-contamination, we recommend utilizing and reviewing resources found on the FDA’s website. There you will find a guide available to highlight the importance of separating food products during preparation.