The greatest dangers to food safety are foodborne illnesses. A foodborne
illness is a disease that is carried or transmitted to people by food. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines an outbreak of foodborne illness as
an incident in which two or more people experience the same illness after eating the
same food. A foodborne illness is confirmed when laboratory analysis shows that a
specific food is the source of the illness.
Each year, millions of people become ill from foodborne illness, although the
majority of cases are not reported and do not occur at restaurants or establishments.
However, the cases that are reported and investigated help us understand some of the
causes of illness, and what we, as restaurant foodservice professionals, can do to
control these causes in each of our establishments. The most commonly reported
causes of foodborne illnesses are failure to properly cool foods, failure to cook old foods
at the proper temperature, and poor personal hygiene.
Any outbreak of foodborne illness is a serious matter. In addition to the personal
suffering, there may be monetary costs to a food service that include fees for testing
food samples and employees, cleaning and sanitizing the establishment, and throwing
away all food and supplies that are or might be contaminated. An establishment may
be forced to close temporarily--thus losing revenue--or to close permanently. Employee
morale and productivity will probably suffer; turnover may increase. Customers may be
driven away by bad publicity. The establishment's reputation may be damaged for a
long time. Finally, the courts are likely to hold the establishment responsible for the
expenses of anyone made ill by the food, and may also award extra sums of money as
punishment for negligence.
By implementing an effective food safety program, you may not only prevent a
foodborne outbreak and avoid its high costs, but also collect the benefits from an
efficient system. These benefits may include reducing food waste and spoilage, gaining
an edge on your competition by improving the quality of your food, and increasing the
awareness and involvement of your employees.
Fortunately, every restaurant and establishment, no matter how large or small,
can take steps to ensure the safety of the food it prepares and serves to its customers.
Foods Most Likely To Become Unsafe
Although any food can become contaminated, most foodborne illnesses are
transmitted through foods in which microorganisms are able to grow rapidly.
Such foods are classified as potentially hazardous foods. These foods typically have
a history of being involved in foodborne-illness outbreaks, have a natural potential for
contamination due to methods used to produce and process them, and are often moist,
high in protein, and have a neutral or slightly acidic pH.
The FDA Model Food Code identifies potentially hazardous foods as any food that
consists in whole, or in part, of the following:
 Milk and milk products
 Shell eggs
Meats, poultry, and fish
Shellfish and edible crustacean (such as shrimp, lobster, crab)
Baked and boiled potatoes
Tofu or other soy-protein products
Garlic-and-oil mixtures
Plant foods that have been heat-treated (cooked, partially cooked, or warmed)
Raw seeds and sprouts
Sliced melons
Care must be taken when handling ready-to-eat foods, which may also be
considered unsafe because they are intended to be eaten without further washing or
cooking. Proper cooking reduces the number of microorganisms on food to safe
levels. Foods that have been properly cooked, and washed whole or cut fruits and
vegetables are considered ready-to-eat foods.
Potential Hazards to Food Safety
Unsafe food usually results from contamination, which is the presence of
harmful substances not originally present in the food. Some food-safety hazards are
introduced by humans or by the environment, and some occur naturally.
Food-safety hazards are divided into three categories:
Biological Hazards-include certain bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi, as well
as certain plants, mushrooms, and fish that carry harmful toxins.
Chemical Hazards-include pesticides, food additives, preservatives, cleaning
supplies and toxic metals that leach from cookware and equipment.
Physical Hazards-consist of foreign objects that accidentally get into food, such as
hair, dirt, metal staples, and broken glass.
-Do not use glasses to scoop ice. Use only commercial-grade plastic or metal
scoops with handles.
-Do not store glass or any other items in ice to be used for drinks.
-Do not store toothpicks or non-edible garnishes on shelves above food storage
or preparation areas.
-Place shields on lights over food storage and preparation areas.
-Clean can openers before and after each use and replace them as often as
-Remove staples, nails, or similar objects from boxes and crates when food is
received so these materials do not later fall into the food.
By far, biological hazards pose the greatest threat to food safety. Disease -causing
microorganisms are responsible for the majority of foodborne illness outbreaks.
How Food Becomes Unsafe
Foodborne illness is caused by several factors, which can be placed into one of
three categories: time-temperature abuse, cross-contamination, and poor personal
hygiene. Reported cases of foodborne illness usually involve more than one factor in
each of these categories. A well-designed food-safety system will control these factors.
Time-Temperature Abuse: Food has been time-temperature abused any time
it has been allowed to remain for too long at temperatures favorable to the growth of
microorganisms. Common factors that have resulted in foodborne illness include the
-Failing to hold or store food at required temperatures
-Failing to cook or reheat foods to temperatures that kill microorganisms
-Failing to properly cool foods
-Preparing foods a day or more before they are served
Cross-Contamination: Cross-contamination occurs when microorganisms are
transferred from one surface or food to another. Common factors that have resulted in
foodborne illness include the following:
-Adding raw, contaminated ingredients to foods that receive no further
-Food-contact surfaces (such as equipment or utensils) that are not cleaned
or sanitized before touching cooked or ready-to-eat food
-Allowing raw food to touch or drip fluids onto cooked or ready-to-eat food
-Hands that touch contaminated (usually raw) food then touch cooked or readyto-eat food
-Contaminated cleaning cloths that are not cleaned and sanitized before being
used on other food-contact surfaces
Poor Personal Hygiene: Individuals with unacceptable personal hygiene can
offend customers, contaminate food, or food-contact surfaces, and cause illnesses.
Common factors that have resulted in foodborne illness include the following:
-Employees who fail to properly wash their hands after using the restroom or
whenever necessary.
-Employees who cough or sneeze on food
-Employees who touch or scratch sores, cuts, or boils and then touch food they
are preparing or serving
Practicing Good Personal Hygiene
Features of a good personal hygiene program include the following:
Proper Handwashing: Hands and fingernails should be washed and
cleaned thoroughly before handling food, between each task, and before using food
preparation equipment.
Strictly Enforced Rules Regarding Eating, Drinking, and Smoking:
These activities should be prohibited while preparing or serving food, or while in areas
used for washing equipment and utensils.
Preventing Employees Who Are Ill From Working with Food: Cuts, burns,
and sores must properly be cleaned and covered.
General Cleanliness: Daily bathing, clean hair, and clean clothing.
Preventing Cross-Contamination
Some ways to prevent cross-contamination include the following:
Require employees to wash their hands frequently when working with raw foods.
They should never touch raw foods and then touch ready-to-eat food without
washing their hands.
Do not allow raw or contaminated food to touch on drip fluids onto cooked or readyto-eat foods.
Clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces (such as equipment or utensils) that touch
contaminated food before they come in contact with cooked or read-to-eat foods.
Clean and sanitize cleaning cloths between each use.
Food-contact surfaces, cleaning cloths, and sponges must be cleaned and sanitized to
prevent cross-contamination. CLEAN simply means free of visible soil and refers only
to outward appearance. SANITARY, on the other hand, means that the object is free
from harmful levels of disease-causing organisms and other harmful contaminants.
Hands must also be washed regularly to prevent cross-contamination.
Common Foodborne Illness Factors
The most common factors cited in foodborne outbreaks are:
1. Failure to properly cool food.
2. Failure to thoroughly heat or cook food.
3. Infected employees who practice poor personal hygiene at home and at the
4. Foods prepared a day or more in advance before they are served.
5. Raw, contaminated ingredients added to foods that receive no further cooking.
6. Foods allowed to remain at bacteria-incubation temperatures.
7. Failure to reheat cooked foods to temperatures that kill bacteria.
8. Cross-contamination of cooked foods with raw foods, or by employees who
mishandle foods, or thorough improperly cleaned equipment.