Every year, 48 million people in the United States are struck down by food poisoning. Out of those millions, at least three thousand will lose their lives as a result.
Food safety is no laughing matter, which is why it’s imperative to educate yourself on the basic principles of cross-contamination so you can be in the best position to avoid it. Your customers and your family’s well-being may just depend on it.
What Is Cross-Contamination in Food?
When referring to cross-contamination in food, you come to learn that it’s the process of harmful bacteria being transferred from one object, surface, or person to another. Surprisingly, as easy as cross-contamination can be to avoid, it’s one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States.
Cross-contamination can happen at any stage of a food product’s manufacturing process. For example, when meat and poultry go to slaughter, small amounts of their intestinal contents can contaminate the fresh carcasses. Even fruit and vegetables aren’t risk-free, especially as they can be exposed to water contaminated by human waste or animal manure during the washing process.
However, as easy as it can be to contaminate food during these early stages, it’s what you do next that can make the real difference. Refrigeration and freezing can stop almost all bacteria from growing. Once heated to a safe temperature, most bacteria, parasites, and viruses are killed.
It’s when you don’t follow safe food practices, such as those you’d learn in a Texas food handlers card course, that you put people at risk of food poisoning.
Contamination During Food Preparation
Even though cross-contamination can happen as early as the harvesting and slaughtering stage, it’s even more common during food preparation. You may be surprised at the sheer number of ways in which your actions dictate the safety of the food you’re preparing.
We’ve all learned about the importance of hand-washing, even from our early childhood years. Pathogens can be transferred to food from the food handlers who haven’t washed their hands.
Working with food in a kitchen environment also involves the use of surfaces, kitchen tools, and the food itself. Cross-contamination in food can occur at this point when you use those same surfaces and kitchen tools for meat and poultry that you would use for other fresh produce like fruit and vegetables. Without washing those surfaces or utensils in between, microbes can be transferred from one food type to another.
Even when you understand the importance of temperature control and keep those foods in the fridge, how you store them can make a difference to the cross-contamination risk. Raw food and/or its juices touching cooked food could lay the prime foundation for a case of food poisoning.
Food Allergy Cross-Contamination
Cross-contamination, or cross-contact with food allergies, involves one food type coming into contact with another, resulting in their proteins being mixed. While that cross-contact may not be apparent to the human eye, it can be severe enough to promote a reaction in someone with an allergy eating that food.
An example of cross-contamination, or cross-contact, would be using the same bowl you used to store peanuts to serve a customer a meal. Without washing that bowl with hot, soapy water in between food types, there’s a genuine risk of food allergy cross-contamination.
High-Risk Foods for Contamination
Food handlers – from the chef to the busser – should take precautions with every food they handle. However, some foods are more at risk of contamination than others.
The risk of contamination is high in undercooked, raw, and poorly handled poultry. Salmonella and campylobacteria are often present in poultry when raw, and it’s the cooking process and proper handling that ensures that the food poisoning risk is low.
When handling poultry, use appropriate temperature control measures to ensure it’s cooked, and properly wash and sanitize any surfaces or utensils used to prepare it.
Uncontaminated eggs look no different from contaminated eggs, which is why it’s crucial that you take all appropriate food safety measures. Like chicken, there is a high risk of salmonella in raw eggs. Store uncracked eggs in your refrigerator, and refrain from tasting recipes that contain raw eggs.
Cheese, milk, and butter, while innocent-looking, can be high-risk foods for contamination. This contamination risk comes from pesticides but also listeria, E.coli, and salmonella. Ensure you store your dairy products appropriately and take care when consuming raw milk.
Seafood is an incredibly high-risk food, especially when not stored or cooked correctly, or mishandled. You can reduce the risk of histamine or ciguatera poisoning by remembering all your food handling training while handling, cooking, and storing it.
Preventative Measures to Avoid Cross-Contamination
Given how many millions of people are struck down by food poisoning every year, it becomes essential for food handlers to learn preventative measures to avoid cross-contamination.
Fortunately, by taking a food handlers card course online, you can learn many of the following preventative measures.
Make Cleaning a Priority
One of the best things you can do as someone involved in food handling is to make cleaning a priority. Wash your hands and food preparation surfaces often. Remember, harmful bacteria can quickly spread from your hands to food and from surfaces and utensils to food.
Wash your hands with hot soapy water before and after handling food, taking out the trash, or doing other tasks. In the COVID-19 age, washing hands after serving customers is also incredibly important.
What you use to clean can also make a difference. Use paper towels and clean cloths. Throw paper towels away immediately, and put washcloths in a washing machine on a hot cycle.
Use hot soapy water to wash any dishes, cutting boards, and surfaces before and after each food item’s preparation.
Take Care with Chopping Boards
Cutting or chopping boards are an essential tool in food preparation. They can also be a source of cross-contamination if great care isn’t taken. Remember to use a clean cutting board for each meal preparation task. Where possible, use a separate one for fresh produce and seafood, raw meat, and poultry.
If you notice that your cutting board is becoming worn and hard to clean, replace it as soon as possible.
Safe Fruit and Vegetable Handling
When handling fruit and vegetables, great care should be taken to ensure they are safe for consumption. Always wash fruit and vegetables under running tap water to remove any visible dirt and grime. Never utilize the outer layers of vegetables like lettuce or cabbage, and avoid leaving them sitting at room temperature for several hours.
Proper Food Service Principles
When the time comes to serve the food you’ve prepared, always use a clean plate. If you have been handling raw food, never place cooked food back onto the same cutting board or plate that previously held it in its raw form.
The Importance of Learning Food Safety
If you’re unaware of what it takes to prevent food poisoning, or what even causes it in the first place, you can’t be in the best position to stop it from happening. Cross-contamination is an entirely preventable practice, but it can take education to make sure you’re taking as much care as possible.
Failure to learn food safety principles can affect both your business and customers. To ensure both are well cared for, enroll in a food handlers card course now. TABC Pronto offers a food handlers certificate for just $6.99.
This 100% online course is approved by the Texas Department of State Health Services (TXDSHS) and incorporates all the necessary information about cross-contamination, safe food handling, temperature control, and other food safety principles. The best part? It’s easy to do online and can take as little as 90 minutes. What are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present to give your customers complete peace of mind.