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Tackling unseen food safety threats

Bacteria. For something that has so much potential to cause illness for your customers and thus seriously damage the reputation of your foodservice business, monitoring and controlling bacteria can be very difficult to achieve.

Reacting to visible signs is not suitable where bacteria are concerned. Harmful bacteria can be transferred from people to food, and food to people, without any visible signs.

The best approach is a preventative one. The best kitchens will have well-known processes for avoiding contamination and keeping clean; being vigilant of potential contaminations; and frequently cleaning surfaces, utensils, and hands.

Bacteria on surfaces can be prevented by including cleaning steps with soap and hot water before, often during, and after food preparation steps.

Foods should be kept separate – that includes the product, any juices and the utensils (chopping boards and knives, for instance) they come into contact with. A good kitchen setup will include dedicated areas for different foodstuffs like meat, fish and vegetables.

Bacteria can take up residence on foods coming into the kitchen, meaning thorough washing is in order; but they can also form on foods left out during preparation or after cooking. An efficient foodservice operation will mean not only quick service for customers, but will avoid foods lingering at temperatures that invite bacteria (typically 4-60ºC).

In foodservice this will of course involve additional time in an already busy environment; but the alternative of taking risks by cutting corners is not an option. By integrating cleaning steps with food preparation steps, it will become second nature to keep your kitchen hygienic.

One of the most important things to bear in mind is that the materials used to clean the kitchen should themselves be clean. It’s easy to forget how long it’s been since you replaced a cloth, for instance, but the potential for harbouring – and then spreading – bacteria in this way is significant.

A study by the UK’s Health Protection Agency ( (HPA) in 2010 found over half of cloths it tested in a sample from establishments in a region of England were unacceptable. The results make for alarming reading for those not aware of the extent of the bacteria threat: of 133 cloths tested, 86 carried faecal bacteria; 21 E. coli; six hosted Staphylococcus aureus, and five Listeria.

The steps to guard against bacteria spreading are simple – disposable, specialist cloths, for instance, would avoid the problem highlighted by the HPA study. Not doing so is ignoring a food safety threat that cannot be seen.