Preventing cross-contamination is critical in minimizing the risk of foodborne illness at your food service establishment. Customer sickness can have a crippling effect on your business, leading to bad reviews and word-of-mouth, loss of repeat business, and even a personal injury lawsuit, depending on the severity of the injury and the negligence involved.
Cross-contamination occurs most frequently through contact between various unwashed tools and implements, such as knives, storage bins, hands, and cutting boards, which have touched raw and uncooked foods. Bacterial transfer is the main culprit here, but it is important in most modern food establishments to consider the benefits of allergen cross-contact, too. To maintain a kitchen environment that is friendly to customers with certain common allergies, any contact between the allergens-at-issue and the order must be minimized, if not eliminated entirely.
Restaurants accomplish these goals in distinct ways. Consider implementing the following strategies to prevent cross-contamination.
- Label or otherwise differentiate storage containers so that they can be easily identified and organized.
- Make sure that raw meats, dairy, and other foods that can contaminate are stored in separate, sealed containers. In some kitchens, raw meat and dairy are stored in separate refrigeration units altogether to minimize the risks, so consider that option as well.
- Organize food storage containers in such a way as to minimize leakage and cross-contamination. One common tip is to avoid placing meats above non-meat or cooked items (cooked meat, vegetables, sauces, flour, fruits, etc), as any leakage could drip down and lead to cross-contamination.
- Consider using certain tools (knives and other cooking equipment) exclusively for raw meats and dairy (and for certain allergen-products), and keeping a separate set for items with lower risk of contamination. This is useful, especially for allergen cross-contact prevention, as washing an item is not an absolute guarantee that it will be free of offending molecules. If you do implement this strategy, labeled or color-coded tools can help prevent any mixups.
- Prepare foods on sanitized, sterile surfaces and cutting boards, and clean the surfaces thoroughly between items (or use separate surfaces altogether for raw meat, dairy, and certain allergen products).
- Employees should wear protective wear - disposable gloves, aprons, and headwear - to prevent contamination, and if employees go to the bathroom or outside, must take off the protective wear beforehand.
- Employees should wash their hands throughout the day, and most importantly, before and after handling raw meat, dairy, and allergen products. Employees should also change their gloves before and after handling these products.
- Avoid work schedules that discourage employees from taking time away from the restaurant if they are sick. You must allow employees to recover before they get back to work, else you risk serious bacterial and viral contamination, and germ spread.