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Understanding the Basics of Foodborne Illness

Understanding the Basics of Foodborne Illness


When you’re in the foodservice industry, you need to take responsibility for the final product. This means that food should not only be delicious, but also safe for consumption. Without safety in mind, you risk causing illness to those who eat your food — and that’s definitely not good for business! Let’s take a look at what causes foodborne illness and how you can avoid it.

Three main causes of foodborne illness

The three main causes of foodborne illness are biological hazards, chemical hazards and physical hazards.

Biological hazards can be categorized as bacteria, viruses or parasites that make people sick, such as the norovirus. They are often the biggest threat to food safety and can be attributed to mishandling, such as failing to wash hands before touching food or placing food near contaminants.

Chemical hazards include both natural toxins and chemical contaminants. Some natural toxins may be the food itself, such as certain mushrooms. Chemical contamination can become a problem when potentially toxic chemicals, such as kitchen cleaners, come in contact with food.

Finally, physical hazards can pose a threat to food safety. The metal shavings from cans, plastic pieces and broken glass all qualify as physical hazards.

Remembering FATTOM

Food, acid, temperature, time, oxygen and moisture (FATTOM) are the six factors that affect bacterial growth. Bacteria require food to survive, but it does not grow in acidic environments, which is why items such as lemon juice and vinegar are used as preservatives.

In terms of temperature, most bacteria grow rapidly between 40- and 140-degrees Fahrenheit (which is referred to as 'the danger zone'). Bacteria need time to multiply, as well as moisture to thrive.

However, not all bacteria require oxygen to grow. While aerobic bacteria need oxygen to expand, anaerobic bacteria will only grow in oxygen-free environments. This is why vacuum-sealed packages can help preserve certain foods. So beware — with or without oxygen, bacteria is one savvy microorganism that can find its way!

Potentially hazardous foods

Potentially Hazardous Foods (PHFs) are perishable foods that have FATTOM conditions. In general, a PHF is of animal origin (e.g., raw meats, such as bacon), plant origin (e.g., garlic, potatoes), or is any type of raw sprouts (e.g., bean sprouts), cooked starch (e.g., rice, pasta) or soya protein (e.g., tofu). PHFs support the growth or survival of disease-causing bacteria.

How to avoid foodborne illness.

Remembering these four tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Illness can help you prevent foodborne illness: Clean, separate, cook and chill.

Prior to preparation, food, hands and contact surfaces need to be cleaned and washed thoroughly. Afterward, food should be kept apart in separate containers to prevent cross-contamination. Food should be cooked to the point of safety using a thermometer to verify temperatures. Finally, prepared foods need to be chilled to slow the growth of harmful bacteria.

Lastly, buy holding equipment, such as wells, food warmers and merchandisers, that puts quality design and construction first. Only then will you get reliable temperature controls, which we all know is the secret sauce to food safety. Plus, food will stay fresher for longer, keeping it looking and tasting great! To learn more about quality-first Hatco equipment, visit us today!

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