When a Food Handler joins a food business, they should be trained in food safety best practices like 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 still frequently fall by the wayside in a food preparation setting. That’s because there’s a gap between knowing a food safety step is important, and doing it each and every time.
Often what Food Handlers consider a small or minor part of their day, such as using a thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat or washing their hands, is actually one of the most important parts of food safety. These messages need to be reinforced to create habits that all staff repeat, ensuring a successful business long-term — as well as customer safety.
The right place at the right time
Studies show that when hand washing instructions are included in recipes, the number of people washing their hands increases to 90 percent. Similar results were shown with thermometer use: without the specific step 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.
Here are our top tips to reinforce food safety practices for your business.
Add additional food safety steps to recipes
Include hand washing as 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 hand washing into every step of the recipe where it may be needed.
For example, after chicken is cut. The more reminders, the better!
Add instructions into all recipes detailing how and when to use thermometers in the cooking process.
This will help remove the temptation for staff to guess at 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.
Add other crucial food safety instructions into recipes.
For example, washing vegetables, wiping counters or keeping raw and cooked items separate.
Improve food safety signage in your business
In signage about other processes, add hand washing as a step.
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.
In washrooms, post reminders of how to wash hands.
It’s important that everyone knows that hands should 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 sanitising.
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 sanitising process can be key to preventing a food safety incident.
Be consistent with your messaging to staff
Reinforce rules in staff meetings.
Sometimes rules about food safety seem 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, sanitising processes and other often overlooked food safety practices 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 are not to 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 remains the only way to address the constant concerns of hand washing, thermometer use and other food safety best practices. The Australian Institute of Food Safety (AIFS) provides training on proper hygiene protocols and techniques, including the nationally recognised online Food Handler course and Food Safety Supervisor course. Learn more about our nationally recognised food safety courses or how to start a food business in Australia.