Have you eaten at a restaurant and later become ill? Do those individuals who handle your food expose you to risk? It depends. In the US, many counties require food handlers to pass a food safety test and obtain a food handler card or certificate before working in the food industry. But even after food service employees or volunteers pass a food handler test and obtain a card or certificate, many food handlers still practice unsafe or careless sanitary habits in the process of doing their jobs.
Some food handlers know they have bad sanitary habits and simply don’t care; others are unaware of their mistakes and the potential those mistakes have for spreading illness and disease. Here are 10 common mistakes committed by food handlers, many of whom hold a food handler certificate.
1. A food handler ought to wear a hair net or at least have hair pulled back and held in place. That way hair doesn’t hang over the food prep area and end up in someone’s food. In addition, food handlers who handle their hair and then touch food transfer bacteria from hair to hands to food. Food service workers must keep their clean or gloved hands away from their hair and must keep hair well-contained.
2. If a food handler sneezes or coughs unexpectedly while working, that handler must do everything possible to direct the cough or sneeze toward the floor away from food, and if time permits, it’s better to get a tissue and move away from the food prep area to blow a nose, cough, or sneeze. After contaminating the hands, the food handler must thoroughly wash hands before returning to food preparation or food service.
3. One very common mistake made by food handlers is failure to wash hands properly or wash hands at all after using the toilet. Since no one monitors a food handler in the restroom, who is to say that hands were not washed? Unfortunately, many people believe their hands to be clean, despite where those hands have just been. Other food handlers can’t be bothered with the time it takes to do a thorough job of washing hands.
4. It’s disgusting to see a food handler or server with open sores or acne on the face. Furthermore, a worker who handles food without wearing clean gloves, risks exposing food to open sores or cuts on hands — not to mention exposing food to whatever is riding under the fingernails.
5. Have you ever seen a food handler stick a finger or spoon into a dish of food, taste the food, and then return for another taste? The person’s saliva on the finger or the spoon becomes mixed with the food that is served to the public.
6. Some food establishments ignore flies that land on food. Some allow dogs or cats to come and go, ignoring pet hair and pet bowls in the food preparation area. The presence of flies or animals around food served to the public is unwise and certainly not sanitary.
7. Food service workers get breaks for rest and for meals or snacks. Personal food consumption during food preparation or food service is not a sanitary practice. It also reflects poorly on the food establishment. While working with food served to the public, food handlers should not be personally drinking or eating.
8. Street clothing can be very filthy. Therefore, food handlers should wear a clean apron while handling food. If a food service worker cuts raw meat and wipes hands on his or her apron, it’s as important to remove the apron and get a clean one, as it is to thoroughly wash hands and counter.
9. Some food service workers grab any dirty rag for cleaning up spills. Dirty rags are just that. It is better to launder more rags than to spare a clean one and use a dirty one. Furthermore, if the food handler is not using a kitchen commercial cleaning agent or 1 teaspoon bleach to 1 quart water as a cleaning solution, kitchen sanitation is at risk.
10. In a busy food service kitchen, the refrigerator door may be opened quite often, raising the refrigerator temperature above the safe 40 degree mark. In addition, if the refrigerator is too full, foods won’t quickly reach or maintain their safe temperature.
Some of these food handling bad habits are practiced everyday in homes, and people think little of them. But in the food industry, working with the public, these bad habits become a concern — in fact, a mistake. These 10 common food handler mistakes are serious enough to put the public at risk for foodborne illness.