With September being National Food Safety Education Month, it’s a great time to take a step back and assess how you approach hygiene. While it should certainly be a top priority year-round, it’s easy to get in the habit of doing tasks a certain way without realizing there may be a better process or approach. As businesses of all kinds evolve, their needs and processes are sure to change as well. It’s important to regularly take stock of where improvements can be made or where certain areas of hygiene are falling short.
One of the primary causes for concern in hygiene is always cross-contamination. The good news is that there are a number of ways to reduce exposure to cross-contamination risks. Some of these lie in work area setup and design, while others take up space in processes and procedures. But, by following a few key tips, operators can exponentially reduce the risk of cross-contamination-related issues.
Work area design
One of the best ways to avoid cross-contamination is to have as much separation between raw and ready-to-eat foods as possible. This could mean separate workstations, separate tools, and ideally, even separate refrigerators or freezers. Many organizations find this to be cost prohibitive, but it’s important to remember the potential impact of a food safety issue or violation.
In addition to having two sets of equipment for raw and ready-to-eat foods, ensuring that equipment can be easily and regularly sanitized is paramount. Foil and plastic wrap dispensers are a prime example, with the traditional cardboard cutter boxes being impossible to disinfect, yet they’re a primary tool used for raw and ready-to-eat foods in both the preparation and storage stages. Alternatives can be easily thrown into the dishwasher or cleaned with a sanitizer spray, leaving one less worry.
Equipment design is also a key factor to consider when outfitting work areas. Items with unnecessary sharp edges and/or complex designs will create a higher risk for cuts and accidents. Cuts on fingers can be a prime source of food poisoning bacteria, and any steps that can be taken to avoid them are solid investments. To use foil and wrap cardboard dispenser example again, sharp cutting edges on those boxes are an unnecessary risk, with employees often using them hundreds of times over the course of a workweek. Alternatives can easily and safely dispense those products without the need for an exposed blade.
Having the proper equipment within reach at all times is also incredibly important. Now that you have dedicated work areas for raw and ready-to-eat foods, make sure sinks, refrigerators/freezers and storage areas are all within quick reach. The easier you make sanitation practices, the more likely employees are to follow them correctly.
Cold food and beverage processors should also have to constantly remember that separation is the greatest enemy to cross-contamination. All the way down to individual food items, the more separation that can be created the better. Use foil and plastic wrap to keep deli meats, cheeses, fish, bread and other products separated and fresh. This will protect foods from freezer burn, germs and airborne contaminants when they are stored at cold or warm temperatures. Again, the easier you make the process of wrapping food, the more likely employees will be to do it consistently. One simple lapse could be the catalyst that sets off a firestorm of cross-contamination, so make sure food items are always sealed and stored properly.
In the end, avoiding cross-contamination is always an uphill battle. Organizations have to constantly remain vigilant, as one slip can be disastrous. However, by following these tips and making sure to constantly look for ways to improve your plant’s hygiene processes and standards, you will be well-positioned to maintain that squeaky clean record.