Serving millions of people around the world, the restaurant industry faces significant risks as it conducts daily operations. Perhaps the biggest risk is that of foodborne illnesses; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that these illnesses affect approximately 48 million people each year in the United States alone. Sadly, foodborne illnesses are responsible for the deaths of 3000 Americans annually. Specialty insurance programs for the foodservice industry, such as those products offered by U.S. Risk Underwriters, can protect restaurants and other food service establishments against financial losses resulting from an illness outbreak. In this guide, we will explore ways that restaurants can minimize cross-contamination of food items, the leading cause of foodborne illness incidents.
Cross-Contamination: Where Foodborne Illness Outbreaks Begin
For decades, people have blamed spoiled foods for illnesses. While spoiled foods have and do cause illness, more recent evidence points to food-handling practices as the primary illness vector. Of these practices, the major concern is cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is the mechanism where the pathogens often found in uncooked foods – particularly meat and seafood products — come into contact with preparation surfaces, cooked products, and packaging. Cross-contamination can occur when:
- Food preparation staff does not wash hands between handling raw and cooked foods.
- Workers fail to separate uncooked and cooked products during storage and preparation steps.
- Work surfaces, cooking vessels, and utensils are not adequately cleaned between preparation steps.
Restaurant kitchens and food service industry facilities are often chaotic places, where many different preparations are taking place at any given time. Kitchen staff may inadvertently contaminate food items when transitioning between preparation steps, seeking to save time to meet the hectic pace. It is imperative that food preparation staff has the time necessary to ensure cleanliness between steps, helping to protect those customers who will be consuming prepared foods.
Tips to prevent cross-contamination include:
- Training food service employees on a regular basis, such as quarterly training/retraining sessions.
- Reminding food service employees to wash hands after handling uncooked foods, between preparation steps, and after using the restroom.
- Separating food storage areas, keeping uncooked and cooked foods away from each other to avoid the potential for contamination.
- Separating food processing equipment, such as having different equipment for both uncooked and cooked foods. This can include utensils, food prep areas, cutting boards, and appliances.
- Ensuring sanitizing is taking place on work surfaces after use and between preparation steps.
- Establishing a personal hygiene program that spells out when employees can or cannot come into contact with foods, such as when they are sick.
Food Safety: the HACCP Protocol
To combat the rise in foodborne illness incidents, several regulatory agencies and food service corporations formed a partnership to develop safety protocols. In particular, a joint effort between NASA, the Pillsbury Company, and the United States Army led to the creation of HACCP, or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points in the 1960s. This protocol is now required by two primary government organizations: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In HACCP, food service facilities and their employees must adhere to a science-based food safety system, which includes:
- Conducting a hazard analysis to identify potential food safety hazards and the preventative steps that must be taken to eliminate pathogen contamination.
- Monitoring control steps at every part of a food preparation activity, including temperatures of both raw and cooked foods during storage and during/after cooking.
- Establishing corrective actions, such as when cooked foods do not reach a safe temperature, or when contamination by disease pathogens or foreign objects is suspected.
- Ensuring rigorous recordkeeping procedures that document all monitoring conducted on food preparation and any deviations in critical control points.
Facilities that follow HACCP guidelines are far less likely to experience a foodborne illness outbreak. Along with specialty insurance products developed by leading companies like U.S. Risk Underwriters, safety-oriented food storage and preparation activities serve as risk management strategies for any business that operates in the food services. From restaurants and cafes to prepared-foods packaging and manufacturing companies, food safety begins with staff training and rigorous control steps to eliminate the potential for disease-causing contamination.
About U.S. Risk
U.S. Risk Insurance Group, Inc. is a wholesale broker and specialty lines underwriting manager providing a wide range of specialty insurance products and services. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas and operating 16 domestic and international branches, U.S. Risk and its affiliates would like to help you access a world of new markets and products. For more information, contact us today at (800) 232-5830.