Food Safety Focus (201st Issue, April 2023)– Article 1
Paying Extra Attention to Food Safety in Commercial Kitchens in the Post-pandemic Era
Reported by Ms. Melva CHEN, Scientific Officer,
Risk Communication Section, Centre for Food Safety
With the lifting of COVID-19 related restrictions, more customers are returning to dine-in restaurants. This makes food safety more essential than ever for food premises especially when skilled and experienced workers are in short supply following the pandemic. Unlike home kitchens where usually only one person prepares the food for a household, commercial kitchens may have many food handlers such as chefs, kitchen helpers and waiters working together to cater for a large number of people. To prevent food poisoning, commercial kitchens must be well managed to ensure adherence to food safety requirements.
Ready to be Back to Business?
Examining the recent food poisoning cases related to restaurants, the major contributing factors were consumption of raw food, inadequate cooking, time and temperature abuse, and cross-contamination including food to food, equipment to food, and person to food. All of these problems can be avoided with appropriate food safety training that improves the knowledge, attitudes and practices of food handlers.
Figure 1: The “Safe Kitchen” website of the Centre for Food Safety aims to update food handlers’ knowledge and protect consumers' health. 2022.
Training is Key to Food Safety
Some food business operators (FBOs) still view food safety as an extension of common sense, as evidenced by their food safety training practices. However, a common sense approach alone is insufficient when serving food to the general public. Some surveys reported that good hygiene would be more of a factor in choosing a restaurant by customers than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Adhering to Good Hygiene Practices (GHPs) can protect customers from hazards in food, including chemicals, broken glass, plastic fragments, insects, germs, toxins, etc.. GHPs are fundamental measures and conditions applied at any step within the food chain to provide safe and wholesome food. For example, food businesses need to make sure their premises, especially kitchens, utensils and food contact equipment, are clean, and have pest control and proper waste disposal in place. Food handlers should wash their hands before handling food, wear disposable gloves when handling ready-to-eat food, wear clean clothing, and follow the Five Keys to Food Safety when working. They should refrain from handling food if they are sick. It is critical that food handlers receive appropriate training in order to improve food safety and add to long-term benefits in the catering industry. Whether full-time, part-time, or temporary, food handlers should receive food hygiene training suitable to their operations.
Training should not take place just once. Regular retraining sessions can enhance behaviour. This provides food handlers with repeated exposure and more chances to practice newly acquired skills. FBOs may provide food safety training to staff at least once a year. Additionally, hygiene managers need to be conscious of the importance of regularly checking on their food handlers to guarantee food safety.
Well-organised Kitchen, Lower Risk
Among other risk factors, cross-contamination may be especially hard for local restaurants to deal with. With a wide variety of dishes being prepared in a limited space, FBOs should carefully consider their kitchen setting and its cleaning to prevent cross-contamination. Commercial kitchens should use separate refrigerators for storing raw food and cooked food or ready-to-eat food. Worktop areas also need to be designed to follow a pattern of preparation, from cooking to plating up. Cutting boards and utensils should be designated for the preparation of raw foods and separate from cooked foodstuffs. Kitchen sinks must never be in an area where there is potential for contaminated water to splash on clean utensils, food or food preparation areas. In tight areas, a barrier may need to be installed between the sink and worktop area. Cutting boards and utensils should go straight into the wash, and worktops should be rigorously wiped and cleansed before preparation of the next dish. All rubbish bins should have covers and garbage should be disposed of on a daily basis.
Food businesses should pay attention to potential sources of contamination from food handlers and the environment. They can post visual alerts such as posters or stickers on the walls of toilets and kitchens to remind staff about proper hand hygiene and correct food preparation. In addition, frequent and regular cleaning, sanitising, and maintenance of floors, walls, ceilings and equipment are necessary for the removal of food contaminants. Food businesses should have a schedule which lists the items that require cleaning regularly.
To facilitate the adherence to GHPs by food businesses and promote on-the-job training, the CFS has launched a new thematic website called “Safe Kitchen” , where various educational materials including handbooks, short videos, cues, etc. can be found. FBOs may wish to encourage staff to visit the website.