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Food Handling in the Health Care Facility: Cross Contamination Concerns

Food Handling in the Health Care Facility: Cross Contamination Concerns

Cross contamination is a potential risk in any kitchen, but it is especially risky in healthcare facilities. Because hospital patients are an immunocompromised population that is incapable of developing a normal immune response, they run a higher risk of infection than do patrons at your typical restaurant or cafeteria. For this reason, it is essential to keep staff trained on proper food handling procedures, to ensure that no foodborne illnesses are spread through negligent sanitation practices.

Luckily, there are some basic tenets of kitchen sanitation from which all other rules follow. Having a solid understanding of these facts makes it easy to remember all the smaller details that follow:

  1. Raw meat, especially poultry, is the main carrier of harmful bacteria into the kitchen. These bacteria are effectively killed when meat is cooked. However, it is essential that prior to cooking, bacteria are not transferred to other foods or surfaces.
  2. Bacteria thrive in damp and unsanitized environments.  

From those two key points follow a number of guidelines that need to be followed in order to keep any foodservice facility safe and sanitary.

In order to prevent cross-contamination that results in bacteria from being transferred from contaminated foods to other foods, keep the following rules in mind:

  1. Keep raw and ready to eat foods separate in all situations.
  2. Store raw foods in well-sealed containers. This will prevent accidental spills from contaminating other foods without employees’ knowledge.
  3. Store raw foods on the lowest shelves in the refrigerator or walk-in cooler, so that if there are any leaks they will not spill onto other foods and contaminate them.
  4. Use separate cutting boards for raw and ready to eat foods. Using color coded cutting boards can help ensure they do not get mixed up, with designated boards for meat, vegetables, dairy and so on.
Color Coding       
  1. Like cutting boards, use separate knives for cutting raw and ready to eat foods.
  2. For meat preparation, use cutting boards with grooves to catch juice before it runs onto the counter, potentially contaminating other items.
  3. Wash hands frequently with hot water, especially after handling meat and poultry.

To keep bacteria from thriving on dishes, countertops and workstations, follow these simple rules:

  1. Replace cutting boards when they become too deeply scratched, as bacteria can get into these grooves and grow without being easily washed clean.
  2. Let dishes air dry after washing and avoid “wet-nesting,” or stacking wet dishes together.
  3. Do not leave cutting boards in standing water.
  4. Scrub cutting boards after use.
  5. Do not use kitchen towels for multiple tasks, such as wiping hands as well as wiping counters.

With these practices in place and employees well-trained on their import, there is no reason foodborne illness outbreaks cannot be 100 percent preventable. 

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