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Common food safety mistakes to avoid in the kitchen
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Common food safety mistakes to avoid in the kitchen

Auburn, Alabama—Food safety, especially that in restaurants, has been a reoccurring issue. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) tracks all reported cases of outbreaks, the most recent one being earlier this month. Janice Hall, a regional Extension agent in Food Safety and Quality with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, is one of the public’s lines of defense when it comes to ensuring restaurants maintaining  quality standards.

“Restaurants are currently required to have at least one person on site that is ServSafe certified. ServSafe is a nationally recognized certification for food service industry.  It provides up-to-date information for all employees on all aspects of handling food from purchasing to serving.  The Alabama Cooperative Extension System Food Safety Team and Quality offers this training statewide.”

Hall said there are several different risk factors that can contribute to foodborne illnesses, such as purchasing food from an unauthorized vendor, to employees simply not practicing good personal hygiene. But per the CDC, most disease outbreaks stem from just a few mistakes.

“The CDC estimates that in 2013, 818 foodborne disease outbreaks were reported, resulting in 13,360 illness, 1,062 hospitalizations, 16 deaths and 14 food recalls. These numbers are attributed to the five most common risk factors as to why people get a foodborne illness.

  • Purchasing food from unsafe sources. It is required that restaurants purchase from approved reputable suppliers.
  • Failing to cook food to the correct temperature.
  • Using contaminated equipment.
  • Holding food at the incorrect temperature. Leaving food in the temperature danger zone, 41F-135F, for too long can cause bacteria to grow to numbers that can make people sick.
  • Employees practicing poor personal hygiene. This means failing to wash hands after touching body, other objects such as phones, and other surfaces that can contaminate hands then touching the food, and coming to work while sick are just a couple of items that fall into this category.”

According to this study done by the CDC, people believe that restaurants make them more sick than eating at home. However, mistakes in home kitchens can lead to illness as well. Hall advises people to practice good food safety habits in their own homes.

“People should always rinse all fruits and vegetables before cooking and/or consuming. They should avoid cross contamination by washing hands, surfaces and utensils between handling raw and ready to eat foods. They should cook their food to the correct temperature and use a thermometer to make sure it’s done. They should never thaw meat on the counter. It should be thawed in the refrigerator, allowing 24 hours for each 5 pounds of meat.  They should not put hot food in the refrigerator to cool because bacteria can grow on warm foods kept in the danger zone for more than 2 hours. Also, putting hot foods in the refrigerator can warm the inside of your refrigerator exposing all of the other food to dangerous temperature levels.”

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers several resources for maintaining good food safety habits at home:

For understanding date labeling on packages

Exact cooking and storing times for different foods

Important tips to follow throughout the cooking process

For more information about food safety, follow the ACES food safety blog.

About Kristen Keeter