Serving seafood this season? Take care to thaw it properly. The FDA advises you thaw any frozen seafood overnight in the refrigerator but if you have limited time, seal it in a plastic bag and immerse it in cold water. Alternatively, you can thaw it in the microwave on the defrost setting. Just make sure you stop the defrosting while the fish is flexible but still icy.
If your dishware and utensils aren’t as clean as they could be, they could sicken a guest (or at least leave them with a negative impression of your operation’s cleanliness). Make sure you maintain and clean your dishwasher to ensure it performs as it should. Ecolab advises to first avoid overcrowding the washer, since overlapping dishes can impede water flow. Then monitor the functioning of the unit by checking your gauges’ minimum temperatures, chemical concentrations and pressure measurements against those shown on the data plate. Clean the unit’s wash arms and jets regularly as they may become clogged with food or sediment buildup. Finally, Ecolab advises regular de-liming of the machine, since just one-quarter inch of lime scale can make a heating element use 39 percent more energy.
Temperature is one of the most important factors that lead to bacteria growth in food – and using a calibrated food thermometer to take the temperature of the food you serve is the only safe way to know if it is cooked to a safe temperature. When taking the temperature of meat or poultry, Statefoodsafety.com advises you place the thermometer in the thickest part of the protein but not next to a bone. If the food is even in thickness, check the temperature in several different places. If the food is a soup or other liquid, stir it before taking the temperature in the center of the food.
If turkey, ham, roast or other animal protein is on your menu over the holidays, now is a good time to make certain your food thermometers are giving you accurate readings. HACCP Mentor advises using either the boiling water method or the ice water slurry method to check your thermometers. A thermometer in boiling water should read 212˚F (at altitudes below 1000 feet) and a thermometer in an ice slurry should read 32˚F, with a two-degree margin of error. If you aren’t already calibrating your thermometers daily, remember to do so before using a new one, after dropping it, or if you use it for testing both very hot and very cold foods.
Planning on serving turkey at your holiday gatherings? Make sure your kitchen staff doesn’t wash the turkey during preparation. As the Safe Plates Food Safety Information Center reports, washing a turkey in the sink can spread harmful bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter up to three feet away. To prevent the spread of bacteria, clean and sanitize any utensils and surfaces used during preparation, wash hands before and after handling raw turkey, and cook it to a temperature of 165˚F.
Will a turkey, roast or ham be the focal point of your holiday table? Your eye won’t be able to tell if it is cooked to perfection or if it could pose a safety threat to your guests, so put your trust in your food thermometer. According to the USDA, a turkey is cooked when the innermost part of the thigh and wing, as well as the thickest part of the breast, reach a minimum internal temperature of 165˚F. Beef, whether a roast, tenderloin or steak, must reach an internal temperature of 145˚F and be allowed to rest for at least three minutes after cooking. Fresh or smoked ham must be cooked to an internal temperature of 145˚F and allowed to rest for at least three minutes, while pre-cooked, reheated ham should reach an internal temperature of 165˚F.
When you receive food deliveries, does your staff know how to spot red flags that can indicate problems with the storage of foods before they were delivered? As Statefoodsafety.com advises, frozen foods should arrive frozen, and without any visible liquids, frozen liquids or ice crystals, which indicate prior thawing. Refrigerated foods should arrive under 41˚F, with the exception of eggs, which can be received when the air surrounding the eggs is 45˚F or lower. Hot foods should arrive at 135˚F or higher. To test the temperature of flat foods like bacon, place the thermometer between packages. Before you test the temperature of a new food item, clean and sanitize your food thermometer to ensure you get an accurate reading.
If you offer grab-and-go foods, adhering to food safety procedures can be especially difficult. The food auditor Steritech found a number of common food safety issues in 3,000 recent reviews of fresh and prepared foods at grocery stores. Their lessons can also apply to restaurants offering prepared foods to go. Of the problems Steritech discovered, several stood out: One major issue across the board was unclean food contact surfaces, particularly when businesses offer a wide range of prepared foods that require the use of more utensils, equipment and prep areas. Further, contamination via chemical, physical and/or biological hazards was among the top food safety challenges in all departments except produce. Specifically, allergen contamination was a pressing concern for bakery items (demonstrating the need for clear labeling) and improper storage and placement of raw items was an issue in meat, seafood and deli products. Finally, cold holding was among the top problems for produce, seafood, deli and general grocery items – with the principal issue being the temperature of display cases for pre-cut and prepared foods. Make sure these foods are kept at a temperature of 41 degrees or below to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
A food thermometer is the only trustworthy way to determine whether or not food is cooked to a safe temperature. Just make sure to take precautions to prevent cross-contamination when using them. Statefoodsafety.com advises operators to clean and sanitize food thermometers between uses, which can be especially easy to neglect when you are using one thermometer to monitor the temperatures of different foods in quick succession.
As severe weather becomes more common, the increased risk of power outages can threaten food safety. Make sure you monitor your TCS foods to prevent spoilage and discard items that have gone out of temperature range. Steritech advises that you monitor and document food temperatures as long as it is safe to stay in the building. Promptly after losing power, prepare ice baths for your TCS foods. Dry ice can also help you keep refrigeration temperatures at 41° F or below – just be cautious with it as it can produce dangerous gas in enclosed areas. Avoid opening cooler doors as much as possible – a freezer in good condition may maintain its temperature for 24 hours if unopened. Test foods using a calibrated thermometer and throw out any TCS foods that have been warmer than 41° F for more than two hours.