How Food Handlers Can Identify Pathogens | Food Safety Tips

How Food Handlers Can Identify Pathogens

Person Gets Food Poisoning From Pathogens

One of the many things you learn about when entering the food industry and studying for your Texas food handlers card is foodborne pathogens. Foodborne pathogens are not always harmful to customers, but they can be when appropriate steps aren’t taken during food handling, cooking, and storage.

So, how can food handlers identify pathogens? The short answer is they can’t. However, the following information can be helpful for anyone entering the food industry or already within it, by providing information about pathogens and how to prevent them.


What Are Foodborne Pathogens?

Foodborne pathogens are parasites, viruses, and bacteria that cause upwards of 48 million Americans, or one in six, to get food poisoning each year. Out of those tens of millions, around 128,000 are hospitalized, and at least 3,000 die.

The most common pathogens are Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, campylobacter, E.coli, listeria monocytogenes, staphylococcus aureus, toxoplasma gondii, and norovirus.



Salmonella is the leading cause of foodborne-related hospitalizations and deaths. Salmonella bacteria can live in your intestinal tract and spread without proper hygiene practices and appropriate cooking methods.

You can contract salmonella by eating undercooked poultry and meat, undercooked or raw eggs, raw milk and unpasteurized dairy products, and contaminated raw vegetables and fruit.


Clostridium Perfringens

Clostridium perfringens, or C. perfringens, is a bacterial illness that causes abdominal cramping and diarrhea. It grows the fastest in large food dishes, such as those at buffets that have been sitting in the ‘danger zone.’



Eating raw or undercooked poultry and meat and cross-contaminated food can put you at risk of campylobacter. You may also be at risk by consuming unpasteurized dairy products and drinking untreated water. This foodborne pathogen presents itself most commonly as diarrhea.



E.coli is a bacteria group often caused by eating undercooked or raw ground beef or eating unpasteurized dairy products. This pathogen is linked to food poisoning outbreaks, and symptoms can be incredibly severe.


Listeria Monocytogenes

Listeria monocytogenes is often found in ready-to-eat food products, dairy products, undercooked seafood, meat, and poultry, and even in refrigerated foods. It causes listeriosis, a severe infection, particularly for older people, young children, and pregnant women.


Staphylococcus Aureus

Even though most of us have staphylococcus aureus in our nostrils, skin, and throats, it can become a harmful toxin when transmitted to food. It can cause stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea and poses a risk to high-risk people such as those with chronic illnesses.


Toxoplasma Gondii

Toxoplasma gondii is a toxoplasmosis-causing parasite. This disease presents with symptoms similar to the flu and generally comes from undercooked or contaminated meat or utensils.



This pathogen is one of the leading causes of food poisoning. It causes symptoms similar to the flu and can be spread from person to person. It can also be spread through a range of food products that someone with norovirus has prepared.


How to Prevent Food Poisoning

While you may never be able to prevent every case of food poisoning, you stand a good chance of preventing most of them with appropriate food storage, preparation and cooking practices.


Food Storage

Whether you’re new to the food industry or have been in it for some time, food storage is one of the first things you will learn – and also one of the most important.

All perishable foods should be stored in a refrigerator or freezer within 60 minutes of receiving them. Your fridge should be at 40°F and your freezer at 0°F.

Your meat, poultry, and fish should all be securely wrapped to prevent leakage and contamination. It should also be stored separately from fruit and vegetables.


Staff Hygiene

Food handler hygiene is an essential part of preventing pathogens from causing foodborne illnesses. Always wash your hands, wrists, and forearms with warm soapy water before beginning kitchen prep. Kitchen workers should also wear clean clothing, hair nets, aprons, and beard nets.


Food Preparation

Even after making sure your hygiene practices are up to scratch, and you’ve stored food at a safe temperature, how you prepare your food can make all the difference to the pathogen risk. Tightly wrap meat for thawing in the fridge or set it in water to thaw quicker. Ensure that you cook it right after thawing it with this method.

Keep raw meat away from cooked meat or fresh food, and use separate cutting boards and utensils between produce types.



Every food type has a different ideal cooking temperature. Fortunately, you learn all about these ideal cooking temperatures when you undertake a food handlers safety certificate course in Texas. Always check food temperatures with a food thermometer. Raw lamb, beef, pork, and roasts, should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F, while chicken should reach 165°F. Anything left at room temperature for longer than two hours should be thrown out. Food stored adequately in fridges must be consumed within three days.


Safe Food Practices Can Save Lives

Pathogens have the potential to make your customers incredibly ill. Some foodborne illnesses can even be fatal. You can learn all about identifying pathogens and safe food handling practices by taking TABC Pronto’s Texas Food Handlers Course. Enroll today, because the sooner you take the course, the more educated you can be to avoid dangerous foodborne illness-causing pathogens.