Preventing contamination in the kitchen

The Chipotle restaurant chain has been in the news for months after dozens of people across the country came down with illnesses that could be traced back to the eatery. E. coli, salmonella and norovirus affected patrons in multiple states, leading to lawsuits and investigations that are still pending.

These outbreaks have been devastating to the chain, but it's not the first time that contaminated food has wrecked havoc on a restaurant and its customers. Businesses in the food industry need to be aware of the risks and health procedures for preparing and handling food to prevent such a disaster from striking them. 

"Food is only safe with proper storage, handling and cooking."

Disinfecting food-contact surfaces
There are a number of ways that restaurants can work to keep their kitchens clean and their food properly handled. As Food Service Warehouse suggests, the first step should be to make sure that the entire staff is properly trained on heath procedures. These policies should include detailed tips on safe food handling, cleaning and storage. 

Restaurant.org states that one of the most important routines in these health procedures is cleaning food-contact surfaces. Utensils and tables that come into contact with food need to be regularly disinfected. Food also needs to have its own station to help prevent cross-contamination. The same table that is used for cutting raw chicken should not be used for slicing cooked chicken, for example. 

To properly clean food-contact surfaces, items should be placed in water that is at least 171 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 30 seconds, or a high-temperature dish washer should be used. Be sure that any disinfecting chemicals are appropriate for the kitchen and follow all of the cleaning instructions carefully. Surfaces should be wiped down and disinfected immediately after use and dishes placed in the sink or dishwasher right away. Food should never be allowed to sit on dirty surfaces.

Tips for safe food handling
Food needs to be carefully stored at proper temperatures. Kitchen managers should check their refrigerators and freezers regularly to be sure hey are operating at the right temperatures – no more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit for the fridge and zero degrees Fahrenheit for the freezer. Foods should never be left out for more than two hours to prevent them from rising to unsafe temperatures.

Anyone who comes into contact with foods should wash their hands regularly with hot water and a disinfecting soap. Even while wearing gloves to prepare food, regular hand washing is still a must.

Produce should also be washed before use, including lemons used for water or limes that go to the bar. Not all produce in the kitchen will be cooked before being served and can be carriers for diseases like listeria and E. coli. Cold water should be used to clean fruits and vegetables to prevent bacteria growth. Start by rinsing produce and removing any dirt or grime that may be present. Use a colander for leafy or small vegetables.

Even parts of food that won't be eaten need to be washed to prevent contamination. The outsides of fruits and melons, for example, can harbor bacteria that gets onto the edible portion of the produce when it's cut and served. Avoid using any chemicals, as porous produce can absorb these and be just as dangerous to the consumer as bacteria. 

Produce used in salads often aren't cooked to destroy bacteria, so the ingredients must be thoroughly washed before being served. Be sure to wash all produce before serving.

Use the right equipment 
Even with the best cleaning processes, food is only safe with proper storage, handling and cooking practices. Kitchen equipment needs to be up to date and fully functional to ensure that food is being stored and cooked correctly. Any time equipment is malfunctioning or wearing down it needs to be replaced immediately to prevent the risk of making customers sick. 

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