When a Food Handler is hired at a food business, they undergo comprehensive food safety training. That training includes the importance of maintaining good personal hygiene, cooking meat to the correct internal temperature and washing fruits and vegetables. However, more often than not, hand washing, thermometer use and cleaning produce are still frequently neglected in a food preparation setting. That’s because there’s a gap between knowing a food safety step is important, and performing it each and every time.
Food Handlers may see washing their hands or using a thermometer as a very minor part of their day-to-day responsibilities, but in reality, these tasks are some of the most crucial parts of food safety. This fact must be reinforced by management to encourage habits that all staff repeat, ensuring not only that the business is successful, but that customer safety is a top priority.
Small changes lead to long-term habits
Studies show that when hand-washing instructions are included in recipes, the number of people washing their hands is as many as 90 percent. Similar results were shown with thermometer use: without the specific mention in recipes, only 34 percent of people used thermometers while cooking, but with the message included, that number jumped to 86 percent.
Reinforcing food safety habits relies on effective communication, which depends on displaying those messages in the right place at the right time. Minor tweaks to messaging in kitchens — or anywhere Food Handlers work — can go a long way in improving food safety practices.
Improve food safety in your business by using these simple, easy-to-implement techniques.
Include food safety steps in your recipes
Hand washing should be the first step in any recipe used in your business.
The benefits of hand washing are well documented and understood. But it’s easy to forget or neglect this crucial step when rushed, or to underestimate how imperative hand washing is in preventing the spread of illness through food. By including hand washing as the first step in every recipe posted or used in your business, the chances of staff remembering to wash are much higher.
Add reminders to wash hands in every step of the recipe where it may be needed.
For example, after the chicken is cut. The more reminders, the better!
Add instructions for how and when to use thermometers in the cooking process for all recipes.
This will help remove the temptation for staff to guess the internal temperature of meat based on appearance or texture, which are unreliable metrics. Ensure the recipe also indicates what the internal temperature should be when cooking is complete.
Include other important food safety instructions in recipes.
For example, washing vegetables, wiping counters or keeping raw and cooked items separate.
Add food safety reminders throughout your business
Add hand washing as a step in other process signage.
For example, your business likely has signs displayed above trash bins detailing when, how and where to take out the trash. Add “wash hands” as the last step on this signage, so Food Handlers associate hand washing with seemingly unrelated tasks.
Post hand washing instructions in washrooms.
It’s important that everyone knows that hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water. This includes washing under fingernails and between thumbs and fingers.
Label refrigerator shelves and compartments.
Add clear, easy-to-read labels indicating which food should be placed on which shelves and in which compartments. For example, raw poultry should never be placed on a top shelf where it can drip onto other foods, so label a bottom shelf “chicken” and include an image as well.
Colour-coordinate cutting boards.
Cross-contamination is a big problem that can easily lead to an allergic reaction or even a food-borne illness outbreak. Prevent this by assigning colours to cuttings boards to be used for different types of food. Place signs above food preparation areas showing the colours and what they mean.
Have signage reminding staff to inspect equipment when cleaning and sanitizing.
Cutting boards often need to be replaced as bacteria can get trapped in any deep grooves or knife cuts on the cutting surface. Staff should inspect cutting boards and other utensils and equipment frequently, so placing a reminder during the cleaning and sanitizing process can be key to preventing a food safety incident.
Constantly communicate food safety reminders
Reinforce food safety best practices in staff meetings.
Sometimes rules about food safety feel so basic or so widely understood that managers may neglect to remind employees of their importance. If you’re leading a meeting, add hand-washing, temperature checks, sanitizing processes and other often overlooked food safety habits to your notes and wrap up a meeting with these reminders for everyone.
Lead by example.
Wash your hands every time you enter the kitchen. Don’t come to work if you are sick, and make sure all employees know that they should not come to work with any illness either. Handle food safety complaints with transparency and professionalism. Communication can be wordless — show employees how important food safety is by making it a part of your daily habits as well.
Education is still the only way to address the constant concerns of hand washing, thermometer use and other food safety best practices. The Canadian Institute of Food Safety (CIFS) provides training on hygiene protocols and techniques. Our Food Handler Certification Course is the industry standard and nationally recognized in Canada, and provides you with the tools you need to implement proper food safety best practices in your business.