Safe Food Handling and What Food Handlers Need to Know
6 January 2023
In a food business, a food handler may do many different things such as making, cooking, preparing, serving, packing, displaying and storing food. The term ‘food handler’ mainly refers to people who are in direct contact with open food as part of their work. In addition, it also includes anyone who is in contact with surfaces where open food is handled. With this in mind, anyone that works with preparing, cooking, packing or delivering food is considered a food handler. All food handlers are responsible to ensure safe food handling at all times. The food safety regulations require businesses in Ireland to train and educate their staff in order to ensure safe food handling..
In this article, we briefly consider some of the most important concepts of food safety training.
Good Personal Hygiene can Prevent Food Poisoning and Ensure Safe Food
Personal hygiene is incredibly important for food handlers as it greatly reduces the risk of food contamination. This involves doing whatever it takes to prevent their body or clothing from coming into contact with the food or any surfaces that the food will contact. It should go without saying that clean clothing should be used at all times. Food handlers should never smoke, spit or even eat near any unprotected food. There should also be consistent effort to avoid unnecessary contact with the food. Work clothes should be appropriate for staff duties and protect food from contamination. Work clothes should minimise skin coming into contact with food and prevent hairs, fibres and the contents of pockets (which can carry bacteria) getting into food. Ideally, clothing should be light-coloured with no external pockets. Light colours uniforms show dirt clearly.
Washing Your Hands on a Regular Basis is Necessary to ensure Safe Food Handling
Food handlers are required to wash their hands before and after handling raw or ready-to-eat foods. It’s also important to wash hands immediately after using a bathroom, coughing, sneezing, smoking, touching face, handling cash, etc. In fact, hands should be washed as often as necessary. As a rule of thumb, this means, before and after any activity whilst on food handling duty. Washing hands with soap and warm water vital in preventing contamination of food by food handlers. To dry hands, paper towels from a dispenser, or cabinet roller towels should be used. Please note – wearing gloves does not replace hand washing. Hands should be washed before putting gloves on, between glove changes and after gloves are removed. Hand washing is one of the most important procedures in safe food handling.
Bacteria Multiplies Between 5˚C and 63˚C
Temperatures between 5˚C and 63˚C is when food-borne bacteria is likely to multiply. It takes just a few hours in this zone for bacteria to grow to dangerous levels and any such food needs to be discarded. This means food handlers should ensure refrigerators are set below the above temperature to prevent, or at least reduce, the growth of any bacteria on food. Similarly, when it comes to keeping food warm, the temperature of the food must exceed 63˚C.
Special Attention Should Be Given to High-Risk Foods
Food handlers should know that some foods are more high-risk than others and this is especially true for fresh seafood and raw poultry. However, fruit and vegetables are equally susceptible. All fruit and vegetables must be thoroughly washed before use. All food handlers need to know how to properly handle different types of food to reduce the risks associated with bacteria and contamination.
There is a Way to Freeze and Defrost Food Correctly
Food handlers should always freeze food as quickly as possible to ensure it remains fresh and does not spoil. Freezing food essentially slows down the growth of bacteria. The best and safest way to defrost food is to defrost frozen food in the fridge. Microwave ovens can also be used (by using appropriate defrosting settings). Once defrosted, the food should be used as soon as possible. However, once the food is cooked to over 75° it can be stored in the fridge again but not longer than 2 days. Once cooked food can also be frozen. It is important to note that defrosted food should never be refrozen unless first cooked.
There is Also a Way to Store Food Correctly
Most people don’t even realise the importance of how food is stored and the order in which this food is handled. For example, the uncooked items (high-risk items) including poultry and seafood should always be placed at the bottom which prevents them from leaking onto other items. Cooked food should be placed on top of these items. It’s also important to clean any spills immediately and do a deep clean as often as possible.
Great Care is Needed to Ensure Safe Food Handling at All Times
Great care and attention should always be given to the manner in which food is handled. For example, food handlers should always clean utensils and knives to ensure safe food handling. It’s important not to use the same utensils with uncooked food as you have for cooked food. Similarly, food handlers should never use the same utensils with different types of produce. All food items should be cut and prepared on surfaces designed to handle specific food items. This is why kitchens use a colour-coded system for handling different food.
The Minimum Temperature for Cooking Safely
To ensure that food is cooked thoroughly, the temperature at the core of the food (this is the thickest part of the food) must be 75°C or higher, which will kill any bacteria present. Sometimes, it’s often necessary to cook food at a higher temperature. Good food thermometers are often needed to get an accurate reading in this regard. Either way, food handlers need to know exactly how to ensure food is properly cooked at all times.
Know When Food is Safe and Discard When It’s Gone Off
The five senses can help indicate when food is no longer safe to consume. This is certainly the case when food smells terribly unpleasant. Discoloration, mould or strange particulars on food is without any doubt a bad sign. If a food handler is unsure of what to do, it’s always best to throw the food away. Never assume that the food is safe for eating, even if it looks and ‘feels’ good. The food safety training is really the best way to help educate food handlers on how to go about this side of the process.
Food Safety Training is Not Just a Legal Requirement
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) provides a set of rules to which all food businesses must adhere. In fact, food businesses are legally required to train staff in safe food handling and employ a management system that complies fully with these guidelines. Inspections on behalf of the FSAI do happen from time to time and food businesses need to have food safety certificates to verify their food handlers are trained on the relevant principles.
By law, food handlers must receive adequate supervision, instruction, or training in food hygiene for the work they do. In addition, a food business must be able to demonstrate that it has done everything within its power to safeguard consumer health. This is known as ‘due diligence’!
What Training is Required for Food Handlers in Ireland?
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is the recognised tool which enables food handlers to spot and analyse food safety hazards. Food safety training plays an important role in proper implementation of HACCP procedures. There are different levels of food safety training. The food safety training is designed to equip food handlers with relevant skills and knowledge that safeguards food from anything that can cause harm. That being said, certification is merely a benefit of these courses. The food safety training is a means of ensuring food handlers are taking the right approach to food handling. Receiving a certificate is just a bonus.
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