One of the most important areas of food safety is cleaning and sanitising.
Bacteria and other harmful contaminants can be present on surfaces, equipment, hands, food and in liquids. This means it is essential that all food handlers take all necessary precautions to reduce the risk of potential contamination.
When handling and preparing food, bacteria and other contaminating substances can easily be transferred between food handlers, equipment, food and surfaces. Food handlers must do all they can to avoid cross-contamination, when contaminants are transferred from one surface to another.
The best way to avoid cross-contamination and to reduce the risk of your food causing illness is to properly clean and sanitise all surfaces, utensils, hands and equipment which comes into contact with food.
Below are some tips and instructions on how to maintain cleanliness when handling and preparing food.
The first thing that must be done before any individual handles food is to properly wash their hands. This doesn’t mean just rinsing their hands under water or wiping them on a towel, the best way to reduce the risk of cross-contamination is properly cleaning their hands.
Good hand hygiene is an essential step of practising effective food safety and below is a step-by-step guide on how to properly wash your hands:
- Wet your hands with clean running water – preferably warm
- Apply enough soap to cover hands
- Lather soap
- Rub lathered soap all over hands – including under fingernails and back of hands
- Completely rinse soap off hands with clean running water
- Thoroughly dry hands with disposable paper towel or a clean towel
- Use towel or elbow to turn off water faucet
Using liquid soap is a better alternative to bar soap as it reduces the risk of further spreading bacteria, and any soap with antibacterial properties is also preferable. There are also antibacterial hand sanitisers that do not require water so can be a more convenient option.
Alternatively single-use sterile disposable gloves can be used when handling food; however they must be changed between handling different types of high-risk foods.
Hand washing is not only important when handling different types of food. Biological contamination refers to contamination from humans – for example hair, skin, blood or fingernails. Food handlers need to refrain from touching their hair, face and any other body part. If they do they must properly wash their hands again before handling food again, this includes blowing their nose.
Sanitising, which is different to cleaning, refers to using heat or chemicals to kill bacteria. Sanitising chemicals are used after cleaning and remain on equipment and surfaces to provide a barrier between surfaces and bacteria.
When using a sanitising chemical for food it is important to first make sure that it is safe to be used. For a useful table on how to carefully dilute a number of common chemicals in order for them to be used as sanitisers – check out this factsheet.
Commercial food kitchens are encouraged to sanitise surfaces, utensils and food equipment either after each use or at least every four hours.
Heat sanitising refers to equipment which is heated to at least 77 degrees Celsius either in a commercial dishwasher or in a sink filled with hot water. However as washing equipment in a sink with water this hot is dangerous, using a dishwasher is a safer option
Also please note that all equipment must first be properly washed before sanitising. This is because by itself, sanitising does not guarantee that all bacteria is destroyed.
While washing some food reduces the risk of it containing harmful contaminates not all food should be washed before use. In some cases it is a must, like ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables that have likely been treated with toxic pesticides and handled by multiple individuals. However there are some times that washing food does more harm than good.
Meat, including raw poultry, and is one food that should never be washed. Despite the fact that Campylobacter bacteria, one of the most common causes of food poisoning, is often found on raw chicken, by washing it the bacteria is easily transferred to other surfaces. The best way to protect yourself and others against this common bacteria is to thoroughly cook the chicken, which will reduce the number of bacteria to safe levels.
When it comes to food which should be washed before use, ensure that you are using clean and sanitised equipment. If washing food in a sink, first make sure that the sink is clean.
During the preparation stage of food handling, there are a number of tips recommended by FoodSafety.gov, the US Federal Government’s food safety information website:
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas
- Rinse produce under running water. Don’t use soap, detergent, bleach, or commercial produce washes
- Scrub firm produce—like melons or cucumbers—with a clean produce brush
- Dry produce with a paper towel or clean cloth towel… and you’re done
Another issue which directly relates to cleanliness and food safety is effective rubbish disposal. Keeping rubbish separate from food stuff and away from surfaces and equipment is essential to reduce the risk of contamination.
This means keeping bins clean and maintaining rubbish areas, as well as regularly disposing of rubbish. All rubbish bins should be lined and not allowed to overfill and equipment similar to grease traps and oil fryers must be regularly emptied and maintained.
Effective rubbish disposal also serves as protection against pest infestation.
Pest infestations are a serious contamination issue in kitchens as pests rapidly, and most often unknowingly, spread harmful bacteria. Food handlers should do all they can to reduce the chance of pests contaminating food preparation areas. If an infestation is detected, they should take all reasonable steps to eradicate the problem and then prevent it from happening again.
Some signs to look for when checking if there could be a pest infestation are:
- Bite marks in foods or packaging
- Signs of a disturbance in areas where food is stored
- Strange smells
If you do detect signs of a pest infestation some ways which you can help control pests are:
- All holes and cracks are sealed
- Flyscreens have been installed to windows and doors
- Regular pest checks are undertaken
- All food is properly stored – particularly off the floor in sealed containers
- Garbage is regularly disposed