Cross contamination is the transfer of bacteria from raw or allergenic foods onto other foods or food surfaces and equipment. It is one of the main food safety hazards you’ll be challenged with as a food handler and it should therefore be one of your top concerns when working in any food preparation area.
So how do you play your part in avoiding cross contamination in the kitchen? The following six points should be taken into consideration:
1. Personal hygiene, especially washing hands
The first thing to mention when it comes to cross contamination is that the human hand is the most common source for the spread of bacteria. For this reason your personal hygiene as a food handler should be your initial concern in ensuring that the spread of bacteria is avoided. We recently wrote a blog entirely dedicated to personal hygiene rules in the kitchen, which will help you to achieve the desired level of hygiene.
2. Handling and disinfecting of contaminated kitchen gadgets and appliances
In reality one should take care with all kitchen gadgets and appliances by always cleaning and disinfecting them properly after use and between use. Even so, there are certain gadgets that should be entirely reserved to one particular type of food. The handling, storage and preparation of raw foods (especially meat and eggs) and allergenic foods should follow strict kitchen policy guidelines. Cooked foods in particular should never be placed next to raw foods. It is always best to designate special tools and appliances as well as kitchen surface areas to these two categories of food. Chopping boards for example should follow a recommended colour coding practice for the different food types and forms.
Extra care should also be given to the disinfecting of other gadgets and appliances such as can openers, food processors, blenders, and eggbeaters which are vulnerable to the collection of bacteria due to their complex mechanisms. Wooden items too should be avoided where possible, but if used should be scrubbed with utmost care. Our blogs on bacteria, viruses & parasites and allergens highlight the many food safety hazards your kitchen faces. They also delve into some key food handler tips on how to avoid each type of hazard and are worth a read.
As a side note it is important to remember that old or damaged gadgets can be a cause for concern as they can give space for bacteria to develop in nooks and cracks that weren’t previously there.
3. Cleaning and disinfecting of countertops and other surfaces used for food preparation
This is probably the most obvious point to mention when it comes to avoiding cross contamination. Countertops and food preparation surfaces should at all times be kept clean and be disinfected thoroughly with bleach solution. Best practice is to allow the surfaces to air dry and wipe off any residual “frost” from the bleach with a clean cloth. You should always clean thoroughly before you disinfect. The build-up of food or grease will not allow the disinfectant to penetrate effectively.
4. Cleaning procedures and materials used
Dishrags, towels, sponges, and scrubbers are some of the most highly contaminated materials you will find in your kitchen. Recent research suggests that the use of tea towels for more than one job can cause food poisoning. How you dry your dishes and utensils is therefore another important aspect to avoiding cross contamination. The best practice for drying gadgets, appliances, surfaces, crockery and cutlery is to leave them to dry in the dishwasher following a sterilising cycle. Air drying or drying with a paper towel are the next best approaches to drying.
As mentioned previously, the sanitisers used to spray countertops or wash-up must also always have disinfecting / anti-bacterial qualities.
5. Cleaning and organisation of food in storage areas
Simple procedures when it comes to storing food can make a huge difference in avoiding cross contamination. Raw meats for example should always be stored below any cooked foods in refrigerators. Smells too are known to transfer between foods affecting taste of other items stored near it. Thus foods such as cheese should be kept separate from other items. Allergenic food should also always be stored separately from other food in a sturdy, lidded container and should not be stored on or above a surface used for the preparation of other food.
The temperatures at which you store all food items are hugely important in minimising the development and the killing of bacteria and parasites. Contact points are the other area to consider. All contact points should be cleaned at the end of every season using the approved sanitizer.
The handling of packaging as well as glass in the kitchen is also a key point to observe. Ensuring that food is not contaminated by packaging material or glass, by not bringing it into the kitchen where possible, will help avoid such materials ending up in cooked foods served to your customers.
6. Garbage disposal and pest control
To avoid cross contamination caused by garbage and pests the best thing to do is to keep the entire kitchen clean and disinfected at all times. It’s important to equip your kitchen against insect infestations by screening windows (which again should be regularly cleaned) and that stored refuse is protected from access by pests. Thoroughly bleaching the bins themselves at least once a month is also a necessary evil.
So, those are the 6 considerations you should bear in mind when fighting cross contamination in your kitchen. But before closing we’d like to share one final overarching rule with you and that is: just because it looks clean, doesn’t mean it’s safe! Always be sure to maintain the recommended cleaning regimes in the kitchen and set up strict policy guidelines for your staff to follow when it comes to handling food and disinfecting gadgets, appliances and surfaces in your kitchen. All action in this regard will be credited to your final food hygiene score when the EHO comes round for an inspection. Speak to our food safety experts for further advice on how to ensure legal due diligence in your restaurant kitchen.
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