The Journey of Food, Preparation
At this point, the stakes start to get a lot higher. At the preparation stage, you will be bringing food out of its protected storage environment and exposing it to the Temperature Danger Zone.
At this stage, time and temperature controls, safe staff handling of food, and temperature monitoring will start to play an important role.
As the manager, this is when the monitoring and training of staff will have a positive effect on food safety. Let the battle commence!!
Most operations will use frozen food, and as we have already mentioned, not thawing food properly is in the Top 10 most common causes of foodborne illness. It is a particular danger area that staff needs to be aware of.
With this in mind, there are four recommended processes for the safe defrosting, (thawing), of frozen food:
Defrosting in the Refrigerator
This is considered the safest method of defrosting frozen food.
It is essential to plan ahead as while the safest, it is also the slowest method.
A large frozen item, for example, a turkey, requires 24 hours for every 5lbs (pounds) of weight. Even a smaller item such as a chicken breast can take over 24 hours to fully defrost.
Ideally, you should have a separate refrigerator for defrosting. If not, then make sure that thawing food is placed on the lower shelves, below any cooked, ready to eat or TCS Foods.
Place the food in a container that will hold the thawing juices without overflowing or dripping.
Do not allow the raw, defrosting juices to drip onto cooked, ready to eat, or TCS foods as you will immediately cross-contaminate them.
Once fully defrosted, you should store the food in a refrigerator and have a policy in place to use the food within 2 to 3 days, or in the case of red meats, 5 to 7 days.
Remember, plan ahead!
Defrosting in a Microwave
Using a microwave is a popular method, however, there are dangers if not used properly. Quite often, the food will start to cook in some areas while other areas are still partly frozen.
The regular use of a digital probe thermometer is vital, as is staff understanding how to microwave correctly.
If you use a microwave to defrost food, you MUST then cook it immediately.
Cold Water Thawing
This process is also a very common and popular method in our industry as it is faster than thawing in a refrigerator. However, it does require more attention.
Food MUST be placed in a sealed bag to prevent cross-contamination.
This method then involves submerging the sealed, bagged, food item under cold running water. Be careful as the risks of cross-contamination are very high.
Some foods can be thawed as part of the cooking process. An ideal example is a frozen hamburger cooked on the grill. This is a perfectly acceptable method as long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions
Best Practice – Defrosting
Before we leave defrosting, there are some best practice suggestions for you as a manager:
Always plan ahead for what the operation needs. Give food ample time to defrost completely, it is better than trying to force the pace, as this is where problems happen. If this is a regular problem in your operation, you need to review your planning and update staff on the procedures.
Regularly sample and record the temperature of the defrosting food using a probe thermometer.
And on a final point, you are not allowed to re-freeze thawed food.
Thawing ROP Fish
Some fish will be supplied frozen in reduced-oxygen packaging, (ROP).
You need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions as this fish will remain frozen until needed.
The two usual methods of thawing are:
- Remove packaging just before defrosting in a refrigerator.
- Remove packaging just before or after defrosting using the cold-water thawing method.
Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions!
Any dish that contains a TCS food should be treated with extra care. These are foods that are vulnerable to bacterial multiplication. As always, staff must be aware of the threats and treat these foods with extra care.
Firstly, ensure that the preparation area has been cleaned and sanitized to avoid any cross-contamination risks.
Before prepping, wash produce under running water to make sure you remove any traces of chemicals, (pesticides), and soil or dirt. Clostridium can live in soil for up to 8 years!
If you prefer to soak produce, use cold water or ice slurry and do not mix different types of produce.
It is a much-used industry practice to prepare fresh produce and then store it before use. This is good practice as you are removing time and temperature abuse.
Fresh cut produce such as leafy greens, cut tomatoes, and sliced melons should always be refrigerated at 41°F or below. Many operations have similar storage methods for other fresh-cut produce and this is also good practice.
If you serve vulnerable customers in operations such as childcare, nursing homes, or hospitals, it is recommended that you do NOT serve raw seed sprouts.
Pathogenic bacteria such as salmonella, love eggs! Eggs should be treated with care and kept refrigerated until needed. (Time & Temperature control).
Many operations have now switched to pasteurized eggs as they are considered safer. They are also ideal if you are preparing salad dressings where there is little or no cooking, (kill stage), involved. You still need to maintain safe time & temperature controls.
If your local authority allows the use of pooled eggs, these should be treated with even more care.
(Pooled eggs are where the eggs have already been removed from their shells and sold in containers).
- You need to refrigerate at 41°F or below until needed
- Mix quickly and then immediately cook
- Clean and sanitize the mixing bowl before making another batch
If you serve vulnerable customers in operations such as childcare, nursing homes, or hospitals, it is recommended that you only use pasteurized eggs.
Salads that contain TCS foods such as tuna, pasta, egg, chicken, or potatoes are also considered high-risk food and have been linked to many foodborne illness outbreaks. This is because the finished salad will undergo no further heat treatment, (kill stage), before being served.
The use of time and temperature are again the best defense. Make sure that the TCS foods such as chicken, tuna, etc. have been cooked properly, and stored at 41°F below. When the salad is assembled, serve immediately. Do not allow the bacteria time to multiply.
Ice is probably the one product that every single operation uses. Usually for cooling foods and also in drinks.
The golden rules are:
- Make ice from mains supplied, (potable), safe drinking water
- Never add ice to drinks that have been used to cool food
- Never touch the ice with hands or a glass
- Never carry or hold ice in any container that has previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or chemicals
- Use clean, sanitized ice scoops and containers to transfer ice
FOODS REQUIRING VARIANCE DOCUMENTATION
If you wish to produce certain foods, you will have to apply to your local regulatory authority. This application is called variance and is only issued by the local authority after an inspection. You will also have to prove that you have a HACCP plan in place.
The authority must be confident that you have the ability to safely prepare and serve or sell the food.
A variance will be required if you intend to prepare any of the following foods:
- Smoking food as a preservation method
- Curing food
- Sprouting seeds or beans
- Selling live shellfish from a display tank
- Packing fresh juice for retail sale
- Using food additives
- Using ROP, (reduced atmosphere packaging), or MAP, (vacuum packaging)
With the above foods, these are specialist processes, and you need to be confident you have the staff and processes to safely produce.
Cooking is a very important process in food safety and is often called the ‘kill stage.’ Most times it is also a Critical Control Point (CCP) as it is the final stage before the food is served to a customer. It is your last chance to “get it right.”
COOKING TEMPERATURE GUIDELINES
It’s widely stated that cooking temperatures of 165°F or above are effective in destroying almost all types of pathogenic bacteria. However, temperatures below this level are also effective provided that the food is cooked for a longer period of time.
FACTOR OF SAFETY
The above guide is very much a minimum temperature and time you must cook food for. Many businesses cook at a higher temperature and for a longer time. This is called a “factor of safety” and is a perfectly acceptable practice. The reason for this is to allow you a “factor of safety” to reduce the chance of error.
If you are in any doubt about the required cooking times and temperatures, talk to your local DOHI.
The Journey of Food, Checking Temperatures
HOW TO CHECK TEMPERATURES
We mentioned this in a previous chapter and due to its importance, we are going to mention it again.
- Sanitize the probe before touching the food.
- As you near the end of the cooking phase, place the probe in the thickest part of the food, (at the center), and wait for the thermometer to give a steady reading.
- You can temperature check in other areas, just make sure you get a reading from the thickest part first.
- Remove the probe and sanitize.
- The danger of cross-contamination is when you probe different foods at the same time. Remember vehicle of contamination? An uncleaned probe is an ideal vehicle of contamination!
- Ideally, your business should have at least two probes in order to avoid accidental cross-contamination (and more if possible).
- And remember, sanitize both before and after each use.
COOKING IN A MICROWAVE OVEN
Using a microwave to cook food is another popular method, however, it does need to be monitored closely. Microwaves can cook certain parts of the food while the thicker parts of a meat joint, for example, can still need further cooking.
If you are going to use a microwave to cook TCS foods such as poultry, meat, seafood, or eggs, you need to follow these guidelines:
- Food must be cooked until a temperature of 165°F has been achieved at the thickest part of the food.
- Rotate or stir the food approximately halfway through the cooking process.
- In addition, check temperatures with a temperature probe in two to three places, the thinnest to the thickest part of the food.
- When cooking has ended, you must let the food stand for a further two minutes to allow the cooking process to stop.
- Temperature probe at the end of the process.
It is a good and safe practice to follow the minimum cooking temperatures we have detailed for TCS foods in this chapter. However, you may have a customer who prefers their food either raw or undercooked. You may also have dishes on your menu that do contain raw TCS food. Steak tartare or oysters are perfect examples.
Your servers need to be aware of the risks and explain this to the customer. It is then the customer’s choice on how they wish their food to be cooked.
From a due diligence defense, you need to protect your operation in two ways:
Firstly, add a disclosure, (usually an asterisk) next to any food dish that contains raw or undercooked TCS foods. Then detail the disclosure at the bottom of your menu.
For example: “This item is served raw or undercooked or contains raw or undercooked ingredients”.
For any customer who chooses to have their food served undercooked or raw, a steak would be a perfect example of this, add a reminder at the bottom of the menu.
For example: “Consuming raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs, may increase your risk of a foodborne illness”.
Children’s immune systems have not yet reached maturity and they are more vulnerable to a foodborne illness. NEVER serve raw or undercooked food to a child. The risks to the person and your business are too great.
HIGH RISK GROUPS
As with children, anyone who we consider high risk, as someone with a reduced immune system, should NEVER be served raw or undercooked foods. These include people in nursing homes or hospitals, and anyone you think could be at risk.
Please remember, you have a legal duty to protect the people you serve.
At the start of the section, we highlighted the top 10 main causes of foodborne illness. Cooling food too slowly (too long in the Temperature Danger Zone) is the second most common cause of foodborne illness.
As a manager, (PIC), you need to make sure that the processes put in place are working correctly and every member of staff understands the reasons why it is so important.
Your objective is to cool food as quickly as possible to below the Temperature Danger Zone (41°F or less), in a legal maximum time of 6 Hours.
- 135 – 70°F within 2 hours
- 70 – 41°F within 4 hours
The FDA Food Code states that cooked food should be cooled from 135°F to 70°F within 2 hours and then from 70°F to 41°F within the next 4 hours.
As a company, we believe that in most situations 2 hours, never mind 6 hours is too long a time to be left in the Temperature Danger Zone (remember how quickly pathogenic bacteria can multiply), and we recommend that you establish processes that cool food as quickly as possible and ideally within one hour.
The best way to cool food is in a blast chiller, as this shortens the time the food spends in the Temperature Danger Zone. Blast chillers are the best option; however, they can be expensive and if you do not have a blast chiller, there are various other methods you can use.
Whenever possible use large, shallow trays and pans (two to three inches deep) for cooling food because the larger surface area helps to speed up the cooling process.
Stainless steel transfers heat away from food more quickly than plastic.
You can divide hot food into smaller portions.
Try to split a large pan, for example, chili, into smaller dishes to reduce the food mass and help accelerate the cooling process.
Use an ice bath. Transfer the hot food to a clean, cold container and place the container in a larger one that holds ice or water. Add new ice or cold water at regular intervals to speed up the process.
Stir or rotate food while it is cooling. Use an ice paddle if available.
Could you use cold water or ice as one of the ingredients? Make a sauce, stew, or soup with less water and add the remaining water or ice at the end of the process to speed up cooling.
After removing cooked roasts and whole chickens from their juices, transfer the food to a clean, cold container with enough space for air to circulate and make sure it is covered.
Regularly check the temperature of the food to make sure you do not leave it in the Temperature Danger Zone longer than necessary.
The temperature of cooling foods must be monitored and documented with a probe thermometer. Take the temperature of the cooling food regularly to ensure that it is cooling within the required time. Start these measurements at 135°F.
Never place hot food in a refrigerator as this will raise the temperature of the refrigerator and cause condensation that could cross-contaminate other foods.
And a final point, try to avoid cooling food at room temperature for longer than possible. Remember the Temperature Danger Zone!
Reheating food is a common practice in the food industry, however, there can be problems. It is another main offender in the top 10 causes of foodborne illness.
You must ensure that you reheat food to 165°F for at least 15 seconds; it is a Legal Requirement.
Reheat to 165°F for at least 15 seconds
Following reheating, you must then immediately serve, chill, or hot-hold the food at 135°F
Regularly stir the food when re-heating to eliminate any cold spots
Test the core temperature using a digital probe thermometer and continue reheating until the correct temperature is achieved
Although there is no law against reheating food several times, we recommend that you only reheat food once. If you decide to cook, chill, and reheat several times, you are vulnerable to mistakes and you will increase the chances of bacterial multiplication.