How to Prevent the 3 Most Common Causes of Food Poisoning

Food safety is serious business for the restaurant industry. Breaching local, state, or federal health and safety regulations can be a criminal offense and often leads to hefty fines, loss of license, loss of business, and even lawsuits from customers. However, even with the strict guidelines that are already in place, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 48 million people in the U.S. (1 in 6) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases.

This is a significant public health burden that is largely preventable. Per a 10-year study conducted by the FDA the top three food safety risks in both fast food and full-service restaurants are inadequate cooking, improper holding times and temperatures, and poor personal hygiene of employees.

To improve food safety practices, a proper Food Safety Management System (FSMS) is recommended. In fact, the number of food safety risks in fast food restaurants averages 4.5 without a proper FSMS and only 1.7 with a well-developed FSMS.  For full-service restaurants the average risks went from 5.8 to 2.1 by improving the FSMS.  A proper FSMS includes:

  1. Procedures – Defined actions adopted by management for accomplishing a task to minimize food safety risks
  2. Training – Process of educating employees on food safety practices and how to implement them
  3. Monitoring – Routine observations and measurements to determine if these procedures are being carried out

You can greatly reduce food related illness related to the top three contributing factors by using these tips to set up some basic procedures, train all employees to follow them, then be sure to check daily that the procedures are being followed.


Ensure food is cooked adequately.

  • Ensure that all meat products are cooked to code. Raw meat may contain harmful parasites and bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. Do not rely on sight, smell or taste to determine if meat is cooked. Use a thermometer when cooking. Cook beef to at least 160°F (71°C), poultry to at least 165°F (73.8°C), and fish to at least 145°F (62.7°C).
  • Avoid cross contamination. Do not place cooked meat or fish back onto the same plate, container, or prep surface that held the raw meat. Clean dishes and utensils that have had any contact with raw meat, poultry, fish, or eggs. And be sure to sanitize all cleaning rags and sponges often to ensure you are not spreading harmful germs from surface to surface.
  • Log safety procedures in a central location. Be sure that each recipe has notes about proper food handling so that it is not left to an employee’s memory.  A software that centralizes all of your menu items and procedures to follow when preparing that specific dish is an easy way to ensure protocol is being followed.


– READ ALSO: How to Use Technology to Deliver on Customer Expectation


Reduce holding times and ensure proper storage temperatures. 

  • Receive and store product correctly.  To reduce the risk of having spoiled product in your restaurant, use the first-in / first-out method. It may take a little longer to unload shipments but moving the older stock to the front of the shelves and putting the new stock behind it will ensure that you are allowing good product to spoil on back shelves.
  • Store food properly. Make sure that all food items are placed in an appropriate container and stored at the right temperature.  Mandate date labeling on all perishable products to help with storage and rotation.
  • Control days on hand (DOH) inventory. DOH measures the average number of days you hold inventory before selling it.  For example, if you order 180 lbs of chicken and use 30 lbs of chicken each day then that chicken is on hand six days, which is too long unless the chicken is frozen.  A good inventory software can help with suggestive ordering based on your historical usage and even provide shelf life forecasting.


– READ ALSO: 8 Tips for Using Technology to Curb Food Waste


Improve employee hygiene.

  • Train employees how and when to wash their hands. Handwashing may seem like a no-brainer, but most of us do not wash adequately. Food handlers should be required to lather both the back and front of hands, between the fingers, and under the nails for at least 20 seconds before handling any food item.
  • Require gloves be worn at certain stations. Gloves requirements can vary based on your state and municipality, but the Food Code does require that employees do not touch any ready-to-eat food with their bare hands. These foods include raw fruits and vegetables, deli meats and sandwiches, baked goods, and garnishes. If tongs or other utensils are not provided to handle these items, then gloves should be worn.
  • Don’t let sick employees handle food. Ill employees can spread their germs in ways that could affect food for days into the future.  While this is not technically a “food born illness”, it can endanger your customers and staff. Enlisting a policy that encourages sick employees to stay home and making it easy for them to swap shifts with coworkers will keep the illness contained.

One last suggestion is to be sure that any complaint of food poisoning is noted in the manager log. Each complaint should include the date and time the customer was in the restaurant, what they ordered, and what symptoms they felt. Logging complaints can you help you track them in order to isolate the tainted ingredient and prevent the mishandling of it in the future.


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