Chefs have a duty of care to ensure no cross-contact or cross-contamination occurs when serving food to customers. Failure to do so can lead to illness and, in extreme cases, death. In this article, we will be exploring the issues of cross-contact and cross-contamination, as well as looking at methods of risk-reduction concerning both.
Cross-contamination – what are the risks involved?
To point out the obvious, customers’ health can be in danger if cross-contamination takes place. It occurs when bacteria or other potentially harmful microorganisms are unintentionally transferred from one place to another, in this case, from one food item to another. It occurs in one of three ways:
- If after handling raw meat, you then handle cooked meat, this is a bad way to deal with people to food contact.
- Say for example, if raw meat touches cooked meat in storage, this is bad food to food contact.
- Poor equipment to food management is, for example, if the same knife is used to cut raw meat then to cut vegetables.
Cross-contact: what are the risks involved?
After coming into contact with each other, foods can mix proteins. This is looking at more of a focus on allergies. Instead of bacteria being the problems as with cross-contamination, the problem here is the trace element of another food item being present. Usually, the amount is so small that it cannot be seen. But for people who are highly allergic to certain food items, even a trace element of that food can be enough to trigger a reaction. Essentially, cross-contamination causes illness. Cross-contact causes allergic reactions.
Commercial Kitchens and their responsibilities
To some degree, there is a level of responsibility for kitchens when it comes to the handling of food. According to the government website, complying with food safety laws requires businesses to follow food hygiene practises. It outlines that it is the business’ responsibility to prevent any items that come into contact with food from transferring anything to the food substance, as well as having traceability of any such food contact materials. Businesses are expected to create processes around the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point principles (HAACP). HAACP requires businesses to identify and avoid, remove, or reduce any hazard to food, as well as monitoring any critical control points along the supply chain. Employers are also expected to train staff on hygiene practises, though this can be a formal programme or informal training.
To avoid problems further down the line, food preparation is of huge importance. The business should be able to inform the customer of any allergen risks in this instance.
How to stop cross-contamination
Key areas to include that will help avoid cross-contamination:
- For excellent cleaning prep, avoid sneezing, coughing or touching your face when around food.
- Cover any cuts you have with a waterproof plaster that is brightly coloured.
- Basic things such as making
sure staff wash their hands before cooking. Hands should
also be washed prior to handling any food, and after handling or touching any
raw meat, fish, eggs, or unwashed vegetables. Hands should be washed after
going to the toilet, using phones or touching light switches, door handles,
cash registers, or money. Also, hands should be washed after carrying out other
tasks such as emptying or touching bins or tending to a cut or wound.
- Proper hand-washing technique has been outlined
by the Food Standards Agency as:
- Wet hands thoroughly under warm water
- Squirt liquid soap onto palm
- Rub to a lather
- Rub the palm of one hand over the back of the other hand and fingers. Repeat with other hand.
- Put palms together and interlock fingers. Rub in-between fingers.
- Rub around thumbs, then rub fingertips against palms.
- Rinse off soap with clean water and dry on a disposable towel. Turn tap off with the towel and dispose of towel.
- Proper hand-washing technique has been outlined by the Food Standards Agency as:
- When handling unwrapped food make sure to wear clean clothes and aprons.
- Bacteria can get caught in the cracks and nooks of jewellery or watches so make sure to remove them when cooking.
- Either wear a hairnet or tie your hair back out the way.
- Staff should not be allowed to eat or drink when preparing food.
It’s important not to rinse meat. Some people believe washing raw meat rinses off bacteria, but it actually increases the risk of food poisoning. The splashing water from the meat being rinsed under the tap can travel more than 50cm away from the source, which in turn, carries bacteria all around the room. Washing raw meat effectively spreads the germs around.
Have separate equipment for each type of food; raw red meat should have its own set of cutting boards, containers, knives, etc. Vegetables would have their own set, and raw poultry its own set, and so on. A common method of implementation is to have a colour coded system in the kitchen, for example, red utensils, boards, and containers are used for raw meat, green for vegetables, and so on. Bacteria can hide away in the crevices and cracks of cutting boards, and these should be replaced. Also, consider ‘hidden’ contact too — can opener blades touch food when they enter a can, so don’t forget to clean these too! Of course, correct cleaning of utensils is a given. All work surfaces and equipment should be thoroughly cleaned after use. This means warm water, soap, the works — rinsing is not enough. Invest in good quality cleaning products and make sure the kitchen is more than rinsed down!
Make sure to store your equipment in the most convenient locations. Unless you are using disposable items like polystyrene cups that can be thrown away, clean dishes and utensils, once cool, should be stored on clean shelves away from floor level. Avoid towel drying dishes as this can cause contamination from towels.
How to stop cross-contact
Although avoiding cross-contamination may be a difficult thing to ensure, there are ways to go about it. Many of the same practises used for avoiding cross-contamination work for reducing the risk of cross-contact too. Washing hands in the method stated above, cleaning surfaces and equipment between each task, separate utensils for different food types, all of these methods work to help reduce cross-contact too. So, when staff wash their hands after handling fish, for example, as recommended to do so to avoid cross-contamination, they will also reduce the risk of cross-contact of the fish proteins to the next food item they prepare. The top eight allergens as listed by FARE are milk, wheat, eggs, soy, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and fish. But they also stress that more than 170 foods have been known to cause an allergic reaction.
Dealing with bacteria and protein is what it’s all about. Where proper cooking will usually remove all bacteria on contaminated food, cooking will not remove trace elements of food proteins that have been cross-contacted. This must be dealt with accordingly: where possible, use different counters and cooking equipment for different food types, such a separate grill for fish and another for meat. If this is not possible, you must make customers aware of this. Consider the case of McDonald’s — recently, the fast food chain has launched a wrap that is, ingredient-wise, vegan friendly. Though the food item itself contains no animal products, it is toasted in the same toaster that their other buns do, which contain milk. As such, there is a risk of cross-contact of milk proteins from the buns to the toaster and to the vegan wraps. The chain has marked the wraps as vegetarian rather than vegan in order to accommodate for this.
In order to protect your customers and kitchen, educate your staff about hygiene and put the right measures in place to ensure this. Ensuring your kitchen maintains a high level of attention to potential risks will keep your customers feeling safe and comfortable!