Kitchen Operations That Increase Risk of Foodborne Illness

Foodborne illness is on an alarming rise worldwide; According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that over 600 million infections are caused by unsafe food globally, and account for over 420,000 deaths every year. Disturbingly, over 30% of the victims of these foodborne infection-related deaths are children below the age of 5, or infants, one of the four most vulnerable sections of society in terms of immunity.

Due to the dangerous nature of foodborne illness infections, it is prudent to understand the significance that food safety norms carry in home kitchens; unfortunately, food safety in the home is an aspect that takes a backseat as compared to other factors such as efficiency or culinary expertise. Dangerous foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella and Norovirus cause over 28% and 11% of deaths caused by domestically acquired infections respectively. It is crucial to note that these pathogens in particular are most commonly acquired through unsafe handling of food products and cross-contamination in the household; kitchen operations such as unsanitary cooking methodologies and ineffective cleaning and sanitization play a major role in the rise of foodborne illnesses caused by both large scale and domestic kitchens worldwide.

Unsafe Food Handling

Handling of food products is an aspect of food production and management that is not isolated to only large-scale food production facilities; it is notably an important part of home kitchens as well. Taking this into consideration, it is crucial to acknowledge that unsafe handling of food products can lead to cross-contamination and subsequent severe food safety risks. A common example of food handling is when a food worker is required to switch between preparation stations handling raw meat and raw vegetables. If precautionary protocols such as adequate handwashing, sanitization, and cleaning are not undertaken, it could cause cross-contamination between these products, resulting in the spread of dangerous pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli, amongst others. The first step required in order to avoid these mishaps is the implementation of 2 processes, i.e., training and process monitoring. Therefore, if employees or even home cooks are knowledgeable about the process of handwashing, using color-coded equipment such as knives and chopping boards, and they are regularly educated on these topics, the risks associated with cross-contamination due to unsafe handling can be reduced significantly. 

Effective Cleaning and Sanitization

Cleaning and Sanitization is a process that is essential to the operation and survival of any food establishment, regardless of size. These processes need to be applied to not only food products, but to the entire infrastructure of the establishment in order to maintain food safety standards. An effective cleaning schedule that dictates the frequency of cleaning and the areas that require it should be implemented as it can help avoid any cross-contamination/foreign object occurrences due to infrastructure.

But of course, the importance of sanitization of food products itself cannot be ignored; a great example that illustrates the same is the sanitization of Ready-to-Eat products, such as salads and sandwiches. RTE products are so named due to the fact that they do not require further cooking before consumption, which increases their risk of contamination and subsequent food safety risk exponentially. A tried and tested way to avoid any cross-contamination of RTE foods is ensuring that each ingredient in the item has been sanitized effectively; this can be done through the use of food-grade chemicals, such as vegetable washes and O3 sanitizers. It is important to note that exposure time and concentration limits are crucial in order to execute an effective sanitization program. Of course, storage methods to avoid any risk of cross-contamination from other products are also important to post the sanitization step of the preparation process.

Effective Cooking Methodologies

Cooking is considered one of the most important Critical Control Points of any food production flow; it is the singular step where a majority of foodborne pathogens can be effectively destroyed and removed from the final product. An important example of this can be demonstrated through the cooking of raw proteins, such as chicken: uncooked chicken tends to carry dangerous pathogens such as Salmonella and C. perfringens, which cannot be eradicated through the use of chemical sanitizers. Subjecting the uncooked chicken to temperatures of 75°C for 3-5 min can, however, destroy any pathogens from the product, thereby leaving the product safe for consumption.

One of the most common questions that arise when talking about cooking methodologies is how can a process such as cooking be monitored and verified during a full-scale production or in home kitchens. To answer this, it is crucial to understand that the cooking process is a delicate combination of two factors: Time and Temperature, and both of these factors need to be monitored in order to ensure the cooking process is adequate. Chefs around the world employ various techniques in order to achieve this, the most common of them being the use of a stand-alone/installed probe thermometer coupled with a timer.

Thus, in the past few decades, especially with the pandemic, food safety has come to the forefront; with food safety issues costing the food industry over $110 billion in revenue globally each year, it is important to consider food safety and health as an important priority when building any sort of food business, regardless of scale. An interesting consequence of the pandemic has been the rise in home bakers across the world, and it is crucial for these home chefs/bakers to consider implementing food safety standards in their kitchens in order to ensure the longevity of their businesses. 

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