A List of Food Handler Mistakes to Watch Out for To Ensure You’re Keeping Yourself and Others Safe.
As someone who spent most of my adult life living and working in the Portland food scene, I was shocked when I learned that food handler certificate training was not required for everyone across the country.
While I’m sure people learn the ins and outs of food safety on the job—hiccups are inevitable, even for the best of us with certificates.
To help you out, we spoke with Trust20 about the most common food safety mistakes and misconceptions so you know what to avoid.
The Most Common Food Safety Mistakes
The orgy of bacteria transferred from food, equipment, and people, cross-contamination is one of the leading ways food becomes unsafe.
“Most commonly, cross-contamination and cross-contact occur because staff forget to properly clean and sanitize their equipment and food contact surfaces between food items they are preparing,” Trust20 shared.
Tips to combat cross-contamination:
– Properly washing your hands early and often.
– Using separate equipment for each kind of food.
– Preparing varying types of food at different times.
– Following best practices for food storage and produce placement.
- Not asking customers about allergies, intolerances, and preferences.
According to Trust20, 32 million Americans experience food allergies as a life-threatening medical condition – and that number is growing each year.
“If a customer has chosen your restaurant, it should be your goal to make sure they don’t regret putting their trust in you and your kitchen.”
Steps for accommodating food allergies and intolerances:
– Prep allergy-safe menu items first.
– Create allergen-free workspaces.
– Wash hands after handling allergenic foods.
– Get in the habit of reading ingredient lists.
– Label foods that contain allergens.
– Always remake a dish if it’s sent back due to an allergy.
- Wiping down high-contact surfaces.
Since the pandemic, we’ve all learned to be more diligent with wiping down high-contact surfaces like tables, countertops, and screens—but other things like shared condiment containers can easily fall by the wayside.
Since these items are passed from customer to customer—night after night—shared condiment containers can harbor lots of bacteria, increasing the likelihood of foodborne illness.
Be sure to stay diligent with cleaning high-contact surfaces, including condiment bottles. Make sure to wipe down bottles and containers between customers, and do a more detailed clean at the start or end of your shift.
The Most Common Food Safety Misconceptions
There are a lot of food myths out there—but for brevity, we’ll just cover a few common ones.
First, just because something looks good, smells good, or tastes good—doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat.
According to an article by Trust20 on food myths, “Your sense of taste, smell, and sight cannot be trusted to suss out unsafe food. As few as ten bacterial cells can cause a foodborne illness (such as E.Coli), which is not enough to be seen, tasted or smelled by a human.”
Next—what you do at home is your own business, but at work, you should wash your fruits and veggies, even if you’re going to peel them.
“Chemicals and bacteria can easily transfer from the peel, rind, or peeler onto the fruits and vegetables being prepared. It is important to wash all produce—no matter how it will be prepared (that means garnishes too!).”
Lastly, you don’t need to wash meat before cooking it.
Research by Drexel University in Philadelphia showed that roughly 90% of people wash their chicken before cooking it. Mainly influenced by older recipes that call for it, but that’s because back in the day when we butchered our own meat—it made sense to wash it first. With today’s food processing regulations, washing meat is unnecessary and increases the chance of cross-contamination.
“This outdated practice actually increases the risk of foodborne illness in today’s world as it can spread the bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices to other foods, utensils, and surfaces,” Trust20 said.
There are quite a few food safety myths out there. If you’re interested in testing what you think you know, check out Trust20s in-depth article here.
Why You Should Get a Food Handler Certificate (Even if You’re Not Required To Have One)
Even if you live in a state where only a manager on duty needs to be certified—it still works in your favor and looks good to get your food handler certificate.
According to Trust20, one in six Americans falls victim to a foodborne illness each year, resulting in approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. So getting your food handler certificate demonstrates that you’ve taken a serious responsibility into your own hands.
Additionally, just because your state is a bit more relaxed on food safety requirements doesn’t mean your place of work won’t get in trouble during inspections.
“There are still food safety inspections from the health department even if food handler certificates aren’t required, and managers are often required to demonstrate that they have taught their staff the best practices of food safety training,” Trust20 told us. “Health inspectors can fine, suspend, or shut down an establishment if they do not continuously meet the standards for food safety.”
Adding a certificate to your resume can be the thing that sets you apart from the competition when job searching. If anything, it signifies that you’re prepared and could be more easily trained with some knowledge under your belt—plus, they’re not all that pricey.
Trust20 offers a $15.00 ANAB-accredited food handler certificate training that meets the requirements for training in most states – and it will last you a couple of years.
Of course, always check in with your state’s requirements, as Oregon and Washington require food handlers to go through their county’s approved certification program.