Fridge Safety 101: Preventing Cross-Contamination in Your Commercial Kitchen
In the food service industry, ensuring the safety and hygiene of stored food is of utmost importance. One critical aspect of this is preventing cross-contamination, which occurs when harmful bacteria transfer from one food item to another. Cross-contamination can happen at various stages, from storage in commercial fridges to food preparation and service, and it can have severe consequences, ranging from food spoilage to food poisoning and damage to a business’s reputation. This article outlines key practices and guidelines for minimizing cross-contamination in commercial fridges, emphasizing the importance of proper food storage, hygiene, and staff education.
Cross-contamination can be a minor irritant or a full-blown disaster
At one end of the spectrum, cross-contamination of food can mean having to throw out ingredients or prepared dishes, wasting time, food, and money. Cross-contamination can result in food poisoning which can result in being reported to the Food Authority or more seriously, legal challenges and damage to your business’s reputation.
The fundamentals of storing cold food
With so many potential complexities to consider, knowing the fundamentals of storing cold food is a must. All staff who are involved in goods receivables, food storage, food preparation and food service should know the following:
Appropriate containers – Containers must be sanitised before use and must be sealed with an airtight lid. Avoid store uncovered foods in the fridge and favour a proper seal over cling wrap or alfoil which allows containers can be stacked for greater efficiency.
Labelling – Foods stored in the fridge should always be properly labelled so they can be identified without having to pull them out, which releases cold air from the fridge and can compromise the consistency of the internal temperature. Additionally, it can help determine which products should be used first.
Correct temperature – Perishables must be stored in a fridge that is set to the correct temperature to prevent bacterial growth. You can determine the appropriate temperature for certain foods by checking the M pack temperature rating of your fridge.
M Pack Temperature
-1°C to +5°C
Fruit and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, cooked left overs
-1°C to +7°C
Tomatoes, prepped fruit and vegetables, soft drink, beer, wine
Raw meat, poultry and seafood can contain harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, campylobacter, and salmonella, all of which can cause food poisoning. If they come into contact with cooked foods, the bacteria can transfer, making it unsafe to eat, even though they are cooked.
As a rule, the more hazardous a food is, the lower it should be stored in the fridge. Keep ready-to-eat and cooked food above any raw foods in the fridge. Place raw poultry, meat, and seafood on the bottom shelf in either sealed plastic bags or in food-grade, sealed containers in an uncrowded manner. This prevents juices from dripping onto other foods.
Thawing frozen food safely
Bacteria can grow in frozen food during the thawing process so it must be kept out of the temperature danger zone. You can place frozen foods in a pan on the bottom shelf of the fridge so juices don’t drip onto other foods or spill onto the fridge’s surfaces.
Avoid refreezing food that has been frozen then thawed as refreezing does not kill the bacteria which can remain in the food when it is thawed again.
Maintaining a clean, hygienic fridge
Keeping your fridges clean is important to prevent odours and the growth of mould. Establish a regular maintenance schedule so that the fridge is inspected, cleaned, and reorganised frequently.
Removing all the food from the fridge provides an opportunity to identify exactly what’s in there and rearrange according to freshness and expiry. Throw out any expired products and make sure the food is not out of the fridge for longer than is necessary, to ensure temperature consistency.
When cleaning the fridge internally, remove all food products prior to prevent chemical contamination. You can learn more about commercial fridge maintenance here.
The importance of good personal hygiene
Washing our hands thoroughly and effectively is key to preventing contamination. When handling food, clean hands are imperative so that the risk of cross-contamination is minimised.
Wash hands for at least 20 seconds when handling and storing food, particularly raw food. Hands must also be washed after using the bathroom, coughing, or sneezing, using the phone, handling money, and touching one’s hair, among other instances. All staff should be educated on the importance of appropriate personal hygiene.
Protecting your bottom line against cross-contamination
In conclusion, minimizing cross-contamination in commercial fridges is paramount for food businesses to ensure safety and uphold their reputation. Cross-contamination not only leads to food wastage and financial losses but also poses serious health risks to customers, potentially resulting in legal issues and reputational damage. By adhering to proper food storage practices, maintaining hygiene, and educating staff on personal hygiene, businesses can protect their customers, their bottom line, and their brand integrity.