With the pandemic still looming in people’s minds, the issue of cleanliness has become more important than ever, and food is no exception. Whether you get your food from the grocery store, subscribe to a meal service, or grow it in your garden, practicing safe habits can stop the spread of foodborne illnesses.
But what is the best way to prevent poor food safety?
In this guide, our experts at TDI Packsys explain food safety best practices for individuals, manufacturers, and businesses in the food and beverage industry, including prevention, proper handling practices and storage, cross-contamination, and more.
Why Is Food Safety Important?
Why is it important for people handling food to observe safety practices? Bacteria, germs, diseases, and other contaminants in food can make you sick or even kill you.
However, implementing proper safety practices, standards, and techniques during cleaning, producing, processing, cooking, and serving food can eliminate harmful contaminants, lowering the risk of foodborne illness.
Even though America’s food supply is one of the safest in the world, foodborne illnesses still run rampant. According to the Food and Drug Administration, around 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses occur annually in America, which equals approximately one in six people.
Those 48 million cases result in 128,000 hospitalizations and around 3,000 deaths. It’s clear to see the importance of proper safety practices within the food supply chain to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses, which threaten people of all ages.
What Are Some Basic Food Safety Practices?
You can learn proper food safety practices by remembering these four simple steps: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.
Clean: Washing Hands, Foods, and Surfaces
Clean your hands, cooking utensils, foods, and surfaces with soapy water frequently. When washing your hands, scrub both sides, under your nails, and between your fingers for at least 20 seconds — just hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice before you finish scrubbing. You should rinse off fruits and vegetables under the faucet, but don’t wash eggs, poultry, or meat.
Separate: Separating Raw Meats and Vegetables
Keeping foods separate prevents cross-contamination. Use separate cutting boards for different food types and keep raw meat away from other foods and surfaces.
Cook: Cooking Food to the Proper Temperature
Cooked foods must reach a high enough internal temperature to kill off the germs that can cause illnesses. If you don’t already have one, buy a food thermometer. After your food finishes cooking, place the thermometer into the thickest part and avoid touching any fat or bone. If you’re cooking food without immediately serving it, keep it in a warming dish or slow cooker.
Chill: Refrigerating Food Promptly
You need to refrigerate or freeze any perishable food as quickly as possible. Items that require refrigeration should only stay at room temperature for a maximum of two hours. If the temperature is above 90°F, the limit is one hour.
The two-hour rule also applies to leftovers and takeout.
Best Ways to Prevent Poor Food Safety
What is the best way to prevent poor food safety practices? We’ll outline some of the most effective methods for educating people to avoid food contamination.
Education and Training
Implement Food Safety Guidelines
Whether you work in food service or just cook at home, familiarize yourself with the food safety guidelines (Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill) and put them into practice. If you follow the guidelines correctly, there’s minimal risk of contaminating your food or contracting a foodborne illness.
Train Food Handlers
Anyone who manufactures, processes, cooks, prepares, distributes, or handles food should receive on-the-job training regarding safety practices. With proper education and training, food handlers can reduce the chance of contamination for consumers.
Proper Food Handling Practices
Proper Storage and Handling of Food
Food handling and food storage are two areas where the chance of contamination or illness is particularly high. For foods that may be too old for safe consumption, remember this saying: “When in doubt, throw it out.”
While you should follow manufacturer best-by dates, you should also use your senses (smell, taste, sight) to determine if a food item is no longer edible or use a guideline chart for cold food storage.
Hygiene and Sanitation
Of course, proper hygiene and sanitation are critical aspects of food safety. Wash your hands before, during, and after handling or preparing food. Additionally, you should wash:
- After handling raw meats
- Before eating
- After using the bathroom
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
- After touching animals
- After handling uncooked eggs
- After handling raw seafood
Adequate Cooking and Reheating
Cooking food to the correct internal temperature is essential to eliminate harmful bacteria. For eggs, poultry, fish, and meat, internal temperatures range between 145°F and 165°F.
Food that you’ve cooked, stored, and reheated is also at high risk of contamination. You’ll need to reheat food up to 165°F for at least 15 seconds and within two hours of removing it from the fridge.
Regular Inspection and Monitoring
Inspect Food Premises
Food safety inspections are mandatory for all businesses in the food and beverage industry. These inspections detect the presence of bacteria, germs, microbes, and other contaminants within the premises.
Agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA monitor compliance with food safety programs and perform safety inspections.
Test Food Products
Food testing is an accurate and effective safety practice. It utilizes scientific-based methods to assess the food’s chemical, microbiological, and physical composition to determine if it’s safe for consumption.
Methods like food metal detectors are essential to detecting the presence of harmful contaminants like:
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Escherichia coli (E.coli)
Implementation of Technology
Use of Food Safety Software
Many businesses use cutting-edge software to better manage their food safety processes and ensure compliance with regulatory standards like the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). These software systems are an end-to-end solution for all control points in the food supply chain.
Food Safety Testing Machines
Food metal detectors and x-ray inspectors are two of the most common types of food safety testing machines and are invaluable to the food and beverage industry.
Food safety testing machines (like canned food detection) can detect unwanted or hazardous items or conditions within food, such as bone and cartilage, glass, metal, or plastic.
Pest Control Program
What is the best way to prevent poor food safety due to pests? Pests like rodents and insects plague the food and beverage industry. They cause financial losses by damaging food and often carry diseases that they transfer to food products, which could then spread to humans.
Pest control programs take a traditional, reactive approach, typically using either pesticides or traps. Implementation of these programs occurs after the pests have already caused damage.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
Integrated pest management (IPM), on the other hand, takes a preventative approach. Instead of eliminating pests after they’ve invaded, it uses a systemic approach to control the environment and prevent pests altogether.
For example, one aspect is exclusion, which prevents access points by sealing up holes. Altogether, it’s an effective and sustainable solution for managing pests and ensuring food safety without using dangerous chemicals or pesticides.
Commonly Used Food Safety Prevention Programs
In the United States, agencies have developed and implemented food safety prevention programs. These programs are essential to food safety and play a major role in ensuring all Americans have access to a safe, healthy food supply.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a management system that identifies, manages, and controls physical, chemical, and biological hazards at certain points in the food supply chain.
It includes four primary programs:
- Dairy Grade A Voluntary HACCP
- Seafood HACCP
- Juice HACCP
- Retail and Food Service HACCP
Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP)
The FDA enforces the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) regulations, which all food and dietary manufacturers must follow.
The CGMPs consist of quality control management, industry standards, and other techniques that aim to eliminate and prevent foodborne contaminants and other hazards within facilities that produce, process, or store foods.
Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
In 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) made sweeping changes to food production safety regulations and control methods. In addition, the FDA gained more oversight and enforcement authority within food supply chains.
The primary objective of the FSMA was to change how production facilities approached food safety and foodborne illnesses. Now, the FSMA takes a proactive, preventative approach rather than a reactive approach that involves responding after these illnesses occur.
Safe Quality Food (SQF)
The Safe Quality Food (SQF) standard involves certification of food safety within the industry at all levels of the supply chain.
The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognizes the SQF as a worldwide standard that addresses food safety certification throughout the entire chain, from farm to store. It includes the SQF Code and the Compliance and Integrity Program.
Food Safety System Certification (FSSC)
The GFSI recognizes the Food Safety System Certification 22000 (FSSC 22000), a certification standard for food safety, quality management, and packaging for food manufacturers and companies in the supply chain. It applies to:
- Food, ingredients, and packaging manufacturers
- Animal and pet food manufacturers
- Food transportation, storage, logistics, and distribution
- Biochemical manufacturers
How to Store Food Properly
One crucial answer to the question, “What is the best way to prevent poor food safety?” involves storage. To keep food safe with proper food storage, choose the right storage temperature, location, and container.
Listeria, the bacterium that causes foodborne illnesses, thrives in temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. If you have perishable food items, refrigerate or freeze them as quickly as possible and leave enough space for adequate air circulation.
Your refrigerator should be at or below 40°F, and your freezer should be at 0°F. It’s important to note that freezing food won’t kill bacteria but rather prevent it from growing. The longer you keep food in the freezer, the more its quality will decrease.
Proper Storage Area
In addition to temperature, the place where you store food also impacts its safety and quality. Keep raw foods like meat, poultry, fish, and seafood separate from fruits, veggies, and cooked foods.
Perishable foods will spoil quickly, but the food in boxes, bags, cans, and jars in your cupboards and pantry can also lose freshness, quality, or nutrients. Dry goods like sugar, flour, salt, etc., need a cool, dry place, ideally out of the sun.
Proper Storage Container
The type of container you choose to store food in can affect its longevity, freshness, and quality. Only use food-grade plastic containers with markings 1, 2, 4, or 5. Avoid 7, which contains bisphenol A (BPA).
While it’s tempting to keep and reuse leftover food packaging containers, it’s not a good idea. Most are single-use only and not dishwasher- or microwave-safe.
What Is Cross-Contamination?
Food cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful contaminants (like bacteria) from one place to another, like food touching other food, surfaces, people, utensils, etc. It can happen at any point in the food supply and production chain, like in manufacturing plants, in the grocery store, at a restaurant, or during food preparation, cooking, and serving.
Cross-contamination transfer methods include:
You can categorize cross-contamination either by the method of transfer or the type of contaminant. The most common types of contaminants are the bacteria responsible for causing foodborne illnesses, like E. coli and Salmonella. However, viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A can also contaminate food.
Another form of food cross-contamination occurs when allergen proteins transfer during food production, packaging, and handling. For example, plants that process or package foods like peanuts, shellfish, soy, eggs, and tree nuts could cross-contaminate those allergen proteins onto other food items simply by using the same packaging machinery.
Restaurants and food service businesses also are at risk of cross-contamination between food and chemicals, as they use powerful cleaners and solvents on cooking equipment and surfaces.
How to Avoid Cross-Contamination
What is the best way to prevent poor food safety, like cross-contamination? Remember, you can’t smell, taste, or see the bacteria causing foodborne illness, which makes cross-contamination so dangerous. It’s easy to cross-contaminate surfaces when buying, storing, preparing, cooking, and serving food, particularly if you’re distracted.
These four practices help you prevent contamination from raw foods or other harmful bacteria:
- Proper food and chemical storage
- Proper food safety training and education
- Regular hand washing and cleaning
- Strict food hygiene standards
Here are the best ways to avoid cross-contamination and maintain proper food safety practices.
When Buying Food
Take advantage of those free, super-thin plastic bags in the grocery store to prevent cross-contamination in your shopping cart. You’ll find them in the produce and meat sections. Always place raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a bag, and separate them from ready-to-eat foods, fruits, and veggies.
When Storing Food
Before storing raw meat, poultry, or seafood in the fridge or freezer, wrap or package them tightly to prevent the juice from dripping onto surfaces or other foods. You can use food-safe plastic containers, glass, silicone, or heavy-duty plastic zip-bags.
When Preparing Food
The risk of cross-contamination is very high when handling, preparing, and cooking raw foods. Follow these tips to help you prevent cross-contaminating your food:
- Wash hands for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food
- Use separate cutting boards for produce and meat
- Always throw away the container or packaging materials from poultry, seafood, and raw meat
- Wash the knife, cutting board, and counter with hot, soapy water after cutting raw meat products
- Cook foods until they reach a safe internal temperature (use a food thermometer)
When Serving Food
You can avoid cross-contamination while serving food by following the same basic food safety guidelines of Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill. In addition, keep these tips in mind:
- Never use the same utensils, preparation surfaces, or dishes for raw and ready-to-eat or cooked food
- Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly after handling food and before serving it
- Keep cooked foods at a high enough temperature when waiting to serve
- Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, coughing, sneezing, or tending to a sick person
- Use individual serving utensils and plates for each dish or type of food, and avoid mixing
- Keep raw foods separate from cooked foods
- Cover dishes and food containers when transporting between areas
What Should You Do if You Consume Contaminated Food?
Maybe you ate some bad calamari from that new restaurant down the block, or you just couldn’t resist trying a few spoonfuls of raw brownie batter.
No matter the source, eating spoiled, raw, or contaminated food can make you sick with food poisoning. So can certain types of food, including:
- Raw flour
- Raw shellfish and seafood
- Fruits and vegetables
- Raw milk and milk-based products
- Raw eggs
- Beef, pork, turkey, and chicken
Depending on the type of germ or contaminant you consumed, your symptoms may vary. However, the most common food poisoning symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps or pain
Symptoms usually begin about six hours after you’ve ingested contaminated food. Most people have mild cases and can stay at home to recover. If you have a mild case of food poisoning, here’s what to do:
- Get as much rest as possible
- Drink plenty of fluids and water (no caffeinated beverages), even if you can only take sips
- If you have diarrhea, don’t eat solid foods until it passes
- Don’t eat or drink any dairy products
Sometimes, food poisoning can be so severe that it requires professional medical attention. You should go to the emergency room or see a doctor if you experience the following symptoms:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Fever higher than 102°F
- Vomiting so frequently that you can’t keep liquids down
What Are Some Common Foodborne Illnesses?
Every year, almost 50 million people become sick with a foodborne illness. According to the CDC, the top five germs that cause foodborne illnesses in the U.S. are:
- Norovirus (can cause death)
- Salmonella (can cause death)
- Clostridium perfringens
- Campylobacter (can cause death)
- Staphylococcus aureus
Additional germs that often cause illness or severe health problems include Toxoplasma gondii, Listeria, and E. coli. Botulism is another serious illness that can result from consuming contaminated food.
Ensure Proper Food Safety with TDI Packsys Food Inspection and Testing Equipment
What is the best way to prevent poor food safety? Ultimately, no single method can 100% prevent poor food safety or contamination. Instead, you should use a combination of common sense, education and training, quality standards, good hygiene, safety guidelines, and testing.
At TDI Packsys, we proudly contribute to creating a safe food supply with our advanced products and solutions, including food testing equipment, inspection systems, packaging automation, and more. Check out our blog for more information, or give us a call at 877-834-6750 to learn more about our end-to-end inspection and packaging solutions.