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Food Safety Handling: Taking a Bite Out of Operational Risk

It’s one thing for food to taste bad, it’s another for it to make you feel bad. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, 47.8 million Americans fall ill with foodborne illnesses each year — of those, over 125,000 are hospitalized, and more than 3,000 die. Put simply, food safety handling matters. The better your company is able to address and avoid issues with food preparation, packaging, and transportation, the lower your risks of accidentally making customers seriously ill, facing a recall of specific productions, and dealing with compliance audits to ensure you’re taking all necessary precautions. To achieve this goal, a comprehensive food safety handling plan is critical. Here’s what you need to know about creating a framework to help keep food safe.Food safety inspections

What is Food Safety Handling?

Food safety handling refers to the processes and policies in place to ensure that food is safely prepared for public consumption. Given the complexity of supply chains and the increasing demand for comprehensive food tracking and source management, effective food safety requires companies to build comprehensive programs capable of ensuring that each step of the food production journey is streamlined, sanitary, and safe.

Potential Problems with Poor Food Safety

Even small issues with food safety can lead to substantial consequences. First is revenue. If customers are infected with foodborne illnesses or suffer food poisoning due to unsafe handling or packaging procedures, sales volumes naturally fall. This is especially worrisome in the age of social media, which allows customers to easily share their experiences — good or bad — with a wide audience. Even more worrisome? Recent research found that unsatisfied customers were far more likely to share their opinions with other consumers but unlikely to communicate their dissatisfaction to the brand directly. Issues with food safety can also cause significant harm to a brand’s reputation. Consider baby formula manufacturer Abbott, which as of February 2022 recalled millions of products after four infants became ill and one died due to Salmonella Newport infections. Along with a full audit from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the company is facing an uphill battle to retain a positive reputation.

The Four Steps of Safe Food Handling

To ensure food is properly handled, stored, and prepared, four steps are key:

Cleaning

Workstations must be regularly cleaned and sanitized, and staff must ensure they’re following good hygiene practices, such as ensuring they wash hands in water for 20 seconds, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, hairnets, and closed-toe footwear. Food items such as fruit and vegetables, meanwhile, must be thoroughly washed before using.

Separating

Separation helps reduce the risk of cross-contamination of different food types. In practice, this means using different storage systems, cutting boards, processing tools, packaging solutions for raw meat, ground meat, egg products, and seafood, and also ensuring that handling of allergens such as peanut butter or shellfish is always conducted on separate machinery.

Cooking 

Undercooking poultry, beef, and pork can lead to serious illness and widespread food contamination. As a result, it’s critical to create cooked food processes that ensure any items that require cooking or grilling meet minimum internal temperature standards using an appliance thermometer (165F for poultry and 145F for beef and pork), while making sure that raw food items are packaged in such a way that they don’t leak or drip. Put simply, the right temperature matters when it comes to perishable items and efforts to prevent foodborne illness.

Chilling

Finally, food must be kept at the appropriate temperature to prevent spoilage. While dry food items may be fine at room temperature for days or weeks, items such as fruit, vegetables, and meat require cooler storage for maximum shelf life and reduced risk of harmful bacteria production.

Essential Ingredients of a Food Safety Program

To reduce the risk of pathogen and public health problems, there are five essential ingredients in food safety programs:

Environmental audits

First, it’s critical for companies to audit their current food safety environment to determine where processes are working and where improvements may be needed to reduce the risk of contaminated food. Given the complexity and scope of these audits, it’s often worth levering purpose-built audit software to streamline the process — see how using Certainty for food safety inspections can help.

Issue identification

Next, companies need to pinpoint areas that require improvement, such as sanitization procedures or initial food handling when new shipments arrive. While this process can be time-consuming, in-depth identification can help avoid larger issues down the line.

Food safety handler training

To ensure staff are up to date on the latest safety requirements, companies must invest in food safety training and handling certifications. While a food safety handling certification doesn’t eliminate all risks, regular food safety hander testing and review can help avoid common problems and increase overall safety. It’s also

GMP and HACCP implementation

The FDA has created two standards to help manage food safety: Good manufacturing practices (GMP) and the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Practices Management (HACCP) system. GMP components include ongoing facilities maintenance, robust record-keeping, and reliable sanitization protocols, while HACCP focuses on identifying potential hazards. Given the sheer volume and variety of potential hazards, a hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) food safety checklist can help pinpoint these issues ASAP.

Ongoing evaluation

Finally, companies must regularly reevaluate food safety handling processes to ensure current operations meet evolving compliance expectations. Take a bite out of potential pathogen problems with comprehensive food safety handling programs. Ready to reduce your risk? Start with Certainty. You may also be interested in: Essential Ingredients In Food Safety: Making The Most Of GMP And HACCP Certainty Helps With Covid19 Pandemic Health & Safety Response At An Award-Winning Grocer Solutions for Food Safety Inspections