Food safety is serious.
Outbreaks of dangerous diseases can affect even the biggest restaurants and chains: it has been claimed by an academic journal that the single worst norovirus outbreak to hit a restaurant struck at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in 2009 although the Fat Duck was “satisfied with all our procedures that were in place and strongly refute any accusations of wrongdoing”. Resulting from oysters which were contaminated at source, the Fat Duck voluntarily closed the restaurant, contacted authorities and followed recommended procedures to aid in the investigation. Another outbreak of norovirus cramped the celebration of Wahaca’s tenth anniversary where Wahaca admitted liability and subsequently closed multiple sites.
On top of damaging health and risking lives, scary news stories such as those can wreck reputations and threaten to break businesses.
In this post, we will focus on one of the key areas of food safety in your kitchen:
Cross Contamination and Cross Contact
- Cross Contamination is when a contaminant, whether biological (consisting, for instance, of micro-organisms: bacteria, viruses or parasites) or chemical (such as a toxic chemical cleaner), is transferred onto food.
Drops of blood from raw meat, harbouring nasty microbes such as E. Coli, might drip directly onto a piece of ready-to-eat food. Alternatively, the contaminant might be transferred into the food via dirty hands, improperly cleaned surfaces or unwashed utensils.
- Cross Contact is a name sometimes given to a specific kind of Cross Contamination where food is contaminated by allergens.
This might mean nuts end up in a dish which is served to someone with a nut allergy, or microscopic amounts of gluten are put on a plate meant for someone with coeliac disease.
Cross Contamination and Cross Contact can both be extremely dangerous – either can lead to serious illness and even death.
Both Must Be Avoided.
First, we’ve got to know about the FSA.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is the body responsible for protecting public health in relation to food.
The FSA incentivises kitchen cleanliness with its Food Hygiene Rating Scheme, which sees food businesses inspected and rated from 1 (poor) to 5 (very good). As no one wants to buy food from an unclean kitchen, the ratings ensure that bad practice is bad for business.
The FSA also hand out fines to businesses which fail to meet standards or to follow procedure.
One notable case: part of the FSA’s procedure is that food businesses must keep diaries recording how well they are keeping on top of their food safety; in 2018, The Sir Charles Napier, which had been a Michelin star restaurant until the year before, was fined £18,000 for failing to keep up with this diary and for falsifying some entries.
The FSA is serious about food safety.
Crossing out cross contamination and cross contact in your kitchens begins by developing your own food safety procedures based on the FSA’s guidelines.
After giving those a read, identify all of the points of your food preparation process in which contaminants could spread between food.
Your food safety procedure should be tailor-made – taking into account the number of staff you have, the size of your kitchen and the proximity of your work areas.
Perhaps you have enough staff members to ensure that no single chopper is cutting into vegetables right after cutting up raw meat. You might need to take special measures to ensure raw food is never placed above ready-to-eat food in your fridge. Or maybe you have so few work spaces that you need to take extra care that no allergens make it onto those surfaces and then into food.
Whatever unique problems your kitchen set-up poses, your food safety procedures must overcome them.
Here’s a few rules which will always be part of your standard practice:
Hands should be washed thoroughly, for 20 seconds with plenty of soap and water, before and after touching food.
All surfaces and utensils should be cleaned regularly – ideally after each and every use, remembering that even the smallest quantity of an allergen can have disastrous consequences.
Staff should dress appropriately – that means taking off watches and jewellery (including wedding rings) which may harbour microbes, wearing aprons and ideally chef-wear, with hair tied up under a hat or hairnet.
Your kitchen should have at least two of everything. Doubling up means having separate chopping boards and knives for raw meat and vegetables, for instance, as well as another set of equipment to prepare allergen-free food.
All staff should receive full training, not only in safe food preparation and production techniques but also how to safely store foods and organise storage to prevent cross contamination or cross contact.
With Your Procedures Set Up, Ensure They Are Never Forgotten
In a hectic kitchen, even the simplest rules can fly out of the window. But, when it comes to food safety, that just can’t happen.
Install informational signs, to remind food preparers to wash their hands, for instance, so that the basics never leave their minds.
Get interested: keep an eye on how well your staff are complying with the procedures you’ve laid out, and when retraining might be necessary.
Finally, invest in some good quality commercial catering equipment and warewashing systems: the right appliances, especially those with self-clean functions such as the Rational SelfCooking Centre, or commercial fryers with in-built oil filtration (either as a standard feature or as an optional extra) will save your staff time which they can use elsewhere, to ensure that all of your kitchen is thoroughly cleaned, allergen and bacteria-free and that you never have a problem with cross contamination.