September is National Food Safety Month. A main focus: avoiding cross-contamination in the kitchen. This is a concern in both restaurant and home kitchens because it’s easy to cross-contaminate food products if you’re not careful. The good news is that avoiding cross-contamination is also easy as long as you take the appropriate steps.
Before we get too far, it’s important to point out that there is a difference between cleaning and sanitizing. Cleaning removes food and dirt from a surface while sanitizing reduces pathogens on that surface. That’s why restaurants use a three basin sink: one each to clean, rinse and sanitize without contaminating other items.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s Food Safety Month website, cross-contamination can happen when equipment and utensils are not washed, rinsed and sanitized properly between uses; when food surfaces are wiped clean but not washed, rinsed and sanitized, wiping cloths are not stored in a sanitizer solution and clearly labeled pail between uses; and when sanitizing solutions are not at the required levels. All food-contact surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized before they can be used for a different type of food. That way, you are not mixing the contaminants from raw meat, for example, with your fresh vegetables.
Cross-contamination can also happen if employees are not using the proper preventative tools. That means wearing single-use gloves when handling ready-to-eat food. Gloves should be changed when they become dirty, torn or you switch tasks (like going from working with raw meats to vegetables). Hair nets are also vital to avoiding cross-contamination and keeping hair and particles from falling into customers’ meals.
While most people have some familiarity with avoiding cross-contamination in the cooking and preparation process, many do not realize that cleaning the floors, restrooms, kitchens and front of house could also lead to cross-contamination if not done properly. That’s where a color-coded cleaning system can save you time and prevent danger. You should use different colored mops, brooms, buckets, brushes, etc. for each segment of your restaurant. For example, red cleaning supplies in the kitchen, blue in the front of house and yellow in the restrooms. Let your employees know what color should be used for each segment of your restaurant. Think about it this way: you don’t want someone to clean a toilet, then turn around and use that same item in a food prep area. That could make your customers sick.
When it comes to cross-contamination the bottom line is to keep everything separate. Don’t mix cutting boards used on raw meats with those used for other items, don’t mix your clean sanitizing tools with dirty ones and color code your cleaning supplies to avoid using the wrong one in the wrong place