You have likely stepped up your cleaning procedures since the start of COVID-19, but some procedures shouldn’t change. Case in point: Your existing methods for ensuring the safety of food including fruits, vegetables and packaged products. According to the CDC, the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 by eating or handling food and food packages is very low. Further, the CDC advises against wiping down cardboard or plastic packaging with disinfectants meant for hard surfaces, which may contaminate the food itself. After handling packages, it’s most beneficial to simply wash hands with soap and water.
As the weather warms up and we crave – and have access to – more fresh, local produce, be sure to take appropriate food safety precautions with it. Don’t wash whole produce before storing it. In the refrigerator, keep it above and away from raw proteins – and avoid overcrowding it with other produce. Any chopped or peeled fresh produce must be refrigerated within two hours or discarded. When keeping cut produce in the refrigerator for later consumption, store it in airtight containers.
In recent months, E. coli contamination has been responsible for dozens of serious illnesses – and that’s in romaine lettuce alone. Could your menu choices help minimize your chances of purchasing contaminated produce? Every year, the Environmental Working Group releases updated lists of the produce most commonly exposed to pesticides and other chemicals, along with produce that has tested to be the cleanest. Food News reports that these items made this year’s Clean 15 fruits and vegetables: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms and honeydew melons. Can any of these ingredients be substituted for others on your menu?
Does your restaurant buy pre-washed produce? Remember that it still must be washed under running water during preparation. Steritech also advises that bacteria can be transferred from the surface of produce to its flesh when cut, so be sure to make sure your fruit and vegetables are washed thoroughly in running water prior to cutting them.
In the wake of recent reports that the FDA and CDC knew of three E.coli outbreaks connected to romaine lettuce that infected nearly 300 people and killed six, a number of researchers in the food safety industry have gone on the offensive. The editor of Food Safety News, for one, declared that in articles it prints about the agencies in the coming weeks, it would attach warning language saying “both agencies have shown a reckless disregard for the public’s right to know, and their reliability going forward remains suspect.” Restaurant operators can decide for themselves how much trust to place in the agencies when it comes to their supply chains, but in the meantime, some are taking actions ranging from omitting menu items with poor track records on contamination to relying on product recall coverage to protect their business in the case of an outbreak.
While eggs, meat, seafood, fermented foods and unpasteurized milk and cheese all carry a high risk of causing food poisoning if not stored and prepared appropriately, nearly half of all cases of food poisoning come from infected produce, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Leafy greens, sprouts and fruit are common carriers of Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli and other pathogens, Medical News Today reports. Help ensure the produce you serve is safe for guests by washing all fruits and vegetables, and refrigerating any chopped or peeled produce within two hours – or within one hour if the temperature of the environment is 90°F or higher. Finally, separate all produce from other raw foods – meats, in particular.