Ensuring the food you serve your customers is safe to eat should always be one of your top priorities as a foodservice professional. Food safety threats can come from various sources, including poor hygiene, inadequate sanitation, and much more.1
Identifying and preventing these hazards might seem overwhelming–but it is in everyone’s best interest to take the time to do so. With the right knowledge and practices, you can identify and prevent these threats and create a safe kitchen environment for your customers and staff.
Let’s look at the most common threats to food safety and what you can do to prevent them. In this article, we'll cover:
What Are the Most Common Food Safety Threats?
As foodservice professionals (particularly if you’re in a management position), taking food safety seriously is essential. Not only is it your legal responsibility, but it's also necessary for the health and safety of your customers (and for your business's bottom line).
Unfortunately, there are many potential threats to food safety–perhaps too many to mention all of them here! To mitigate these threats, you must first have a general idea of what they are. Let's take a closer look.
Contamination is a significant threat to food safety that can cause serious harm to your customers, your staff, your business, and your reputation.
Contamination can occur at any stage of the food production process, from the farm to the plate. Some common causes of contamination include poor hygiene practices, cross-contamination, and improper food storage and handling.
For example, if a food handler does not wash their hands properly before handling food, they can transfer harmful bacteria to the food, leading to contamination.
Similarly, if raw and cooked foods are stored together, bacteria from raw food can contaminate the cooked food.
The consequences of contamination can be severe. It can cause foodborne illnesses that may lead to hospitalization or even death. In addition to the human cost, contamination can have profound financial implications for your business.
A foodborne illness outbreak can lead to lawsuits, loss of customers, and damage to your reputation. Therefore, it is vital that you take every precaution possible to prevent contamination in your kitchen.
Improper Handling by Food Handlers
Improper food handling is one of the most common threats to food safety.
Improper food handling can occur during preparation, storage, cooking, or serving. Food can come into contact with contaminants at any point in the process, leading to foodborne illness.
You and everyone on your team should always prioritize proper food handling practices to maintain excellent food quality and safety.
Poor Employee Health and Hygiene
The foodservice industry is built on trust–and providing customers with safe and delicious food involves more than just proper food handling techniques.
Poor employee health and hygiene pose significant food safety risks. If someone on staff comes to work sick, they are more likely to spread illness to other team members and customers.
Even for those employees who aren’t actively sick, poor hygiene practices like failing to wash hands after using the bathroom or touching their face increase the risk of bacterial contamination of food.
Those who don't follow the proper uniform and grooming standards may also be more likely to harbor bacteria or other pathogens that can contaminate the food you are preparing and serving.
Time-temperature abuse refers to the failure to maintain proper temperature control of food, allowing bacteria to multiply and pose a risk to the consumer. Keeping food at an unsafe temperature can allow bacteria to grow and produce toxins, leading to illness and foodborne diseases.
This kind of threat to food safety can occur at different stages of food handling, including preparation, storage, and cooking. Food can be left out for too long, either during the preparation stage or after cooking, which allows bacteria to grow rapidly.
It's also important to note that heat-sensitive foods that should be refrigerated or kept cold–such as dairy products, meats, and perishable items–cannot be left at room temperature for too long.
Food From Unsafe Sources
Food from “unsafe sources" refers to any food grown, harvested, processed, or stored in a way that may pose a risk to the safety of consumers.
This can include food contaminated with dangerous bacteria such as E. coli or Salmonella or food exposed to chemicals or other harmful substances.
How to Prevent These Food Safety Threats
Here are some fundamental steps you can take to avoid food safety threats.
Conducting a hazard analysis is the first step in identifying potential food safety hazards. A hazard analysis means looking at every step in your food preparation process and identifying potential contamination sources.
For example, you'll want to consider things like cross-contamination from raw meats, incorrect storage of ingredients, and improper handwashing practices.
Conducting a hazard analysis like this can help you develop a plan to address these potential hazards and ensure your kitchen is as safe as possible.
Keep Surfaces Clean
Clean all surfaces thoroughly. You should pay extra attention to surfaces such as cutting boards, countertops, and equipment like knives and food processors.
Cleaning these surfaces requires more than just a quick wipe-down with a damp cloth–a bad habit to get into as a foodservice professional!
Here are a few quick tips for effective surface cleaning:
Use hot, soapy water or a disinfectant solution to clean surfaces. Pay attention to any areas where food debris may be hiding.
Rinse surfaces with hot water and dry with a clean towel.
Use separate cutting boards and equipment for different types of food (meat, vegetables, etc.).
Clean and sanitize surfaces between different food preparation tasks.
Wash Hands Often
Keeping your hands clean is another important way to prevent food safety threats. You should wash your hands frequently, especially when handling raw meat or using the restroom.
The handwashing protocol below is critical for everyone working with food to follow. Post it in several places around your kitchen and in bathrooms so there are constant reminders to maintain good hand hygiene.
- Wet your hands with warm water and apply soap.
- Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds, getting between fingers and under nails.
- Rinse hands thoroughly with warm water and dry with a clean towel.
- Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door (if applicable).
Dispose of Trash in a Timely Manner
Pests and vermin such as rodents, flies, and cockroaches pose significant health risks in your foodservice operation.
Managing and disposing of trash promptly and effectively can prevent the formation of breeding grounds for these pests and ensure that they stay out of the kitchen.
Regularly empty trash cans and dispose of food waste or contaminated materials to avoid attraction and infestation. This practice maintains hygiene standards and prevents the spread of bacterial infections that can cause foodborne illnesses.
Keep Equipment Clean and Properly Separated
One of the easiest ways harmful bacteria can spread throughout your establishment is through dirty equipment. Whether it’s a cutting board or a blender, anything that comes into contact with food should be cleaned after every use.
Again, you should use hot, soapy water to thoroughly clean these items and then sanitize them.
While cleaning your equipment after every use is crucial, scheduling regular deep cleaning is also important. This includes taking apart and cleaning equipment like ovens, grills, and fryers. These can accumulate grime and debris that can be difficult to eliminate with everyday cleaning.
Regularly scheduled deep cleaning can help you and your team prevent the buildup of bacteria and other harmful microorganisms.
Choose Foods From Reputable Suppliers
When purchasing ingredients for your menu, vet your suppliers carefully and only choose those with a proven track record of food safety.
Regularly check in with your suppliers to ensure they follow food safety practices. You may also want to consider implementing a traceability system to help you quickly identify issues that may arise.
Respond to Pests
Pests like rodents, flies, and cockroaches can carry harmful pathogens that can contaminate food. For example, rodents can carry Salmonella and Listeria, while flies can spread E. coli and Shigella.
These pathogens can cause serious foodborne illnesses, and their consequences can be dire for your customers.
You'll need to be vigilant and look for signs of pest activity, such as droppings, gnaw marks, and nests. Some pests are attracted to specific foods, so you'll need to be aware of the foods you're preparing and storing and take appropriate measures to protect them.
Once you've identified pests, it's time to implement a pest control program. This program should involve a combination of prevention measures, such as keeping your premises clean and well-maintained, and control measures, such as traps, baits, and insecticides.
You'll also need to work with pest control professionals who can provide expert advice and help you identify and eliminate pests. Training your staff on pest control best practices can also help prevent infestations and keep your premises safe.
Be Mindful of Allergens
Allergens can cause severe customer reactions and are not always easy to detect. You'll need to be vigilant and take measures to prevent cross-contact, such as using different equipment and utensils to prepare allergy-safe foods.
It's also important to clearly label allergens on your menu and train your team to handle them safely.
Follow All Temperature Regulations
There are several ways to ensure that you follow all temperature regulations. The first is to use calibrated thermometers to check the temperature of the food, ensuring that food handlers have cooked it to the right temperature.
Also, ensure you only hold food at room temperature for short periods and use warming or cooling equipment if necessary.
Of course, train your team on food safety and ensure they understand the importance of temperature regulation.
Develop a Food Safety Plan
Developing a food safety plan can help you identify potential risks and outline steps to prevent contamination. This plan should include regular staff training, regular food and equipment testing, and a system for dealing with potential emergencies or outbreaks.
Properly Train the Food Handlers on Your Team
Anyone in your establishment who handles food must undergo proper training to understand the potential hazards associated with food handling. Training should include basic hygiene, food storage, preventing cross-contamination, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Proper training builds a foundation of knowledge and the skills necessary to maintain safety in the kitchen.
Ensure your training programs and guidelines are updated regularly and continue to meet current safety standards. You should also have a plan for regularly communicating updates to everyone on your team. This approach will ensure you have an effective food safety plan in place and that everyone follows it to a T.
Preventing these common food safety threats is the key to ensuring the safety and well-being of your customers. You can ensure everything (and everyone) stays safe by following proper handling and cooking procedures, maintaining clean and sanitary conditions in your kitchen, and following the other tips outlined in this post.
Need help finding reliable training resources? If so, consider using Trust20's food safety products. We offer a new standard in restaurant safety–and we'd love to be your trusted sidekick in foodservice training and help you bring your kitchen to the next level, too.
Taking proactive steps to prevent food safety threats will give you peace of mind, help you deliver safe, delicious food to your customers, and build a loyal customer base for years to come.