Food safety is something that anyone and everyone should be able to practice, whether at home or in the workplace. However, it’s not always clear how to ensure that hazards such foodborne illnesses can be avoided, and there can be a lot of different things to think about. This is why various authorities have introduced four principles of food safety in order to help make things clearer to understand, and easier to remember. In the UK and EU, these are generally known as the four Cs, and the USDA in the United States they’re simply known as the four principles. Let’s find out what each of them means.
The spread of germs is one of the largest causes of foodborne illnesses, which is why it’s important to remember that a clean kitchen is a safe kitchen. Hands are the number one culprit in this regard. It’s all too easy to bring germs into contact with food if you’ve not thoroughly washed your hands before getting started.
This must be done with hot, soapy water, and needs to extend right to your forearms. If you’re unsure about how to make certain you’ve done it properly, then there are instructional guides available to show you how to cover all of your hands.
Leading on from this is of course the kitchen environment in general. You must ensure that all work surfaces are thoroughly cleaned, and free from cleaning chemicals, before you use them. This extends to appliances and utensils too.
The point of chilling certain items of food is that the cold environment slows down or stops the reproduction and spread of certain bacteria. This is especially true for fresh and opened food items, which are likely to come into contact with small non-harmful amounts of bacteria in the course of production. By keeping them cool, you can ensure that they stay safe to eat for a predictable amount of time, because bacteria does not have time to reproduce and spread. As a general rule, items that should be refrigerated need to be kept at temperatures below five degrees Celsius. Those working in commercial kitchens and food preparation areas will need to continually monitor their fridges to ensure that they are at the correct temperature. It’s worth noting that most food items will keep for longer when kept in the fridge, though it’s not essential for non-perishables such as tinned goods.
Cooking is part of the process that ensures that food being prepared is safe to eat. Raw foods, as we have already mentioned, will contain bacteria, some of which can be harmful. By properly cooking raw food such as meat and fish, which are high risk items, the bacteria killed, and the food made safe to eat. In order to be adhering to this important principle, it is essential that food is cooked properly. This is to say that it has reached a high enough temperature throughout to kill most bacteria. As a general rule, 75 degrees celsius at the very centre of the food will ensure that it’s safe. One important point to remember however is that cooking food only kills bacteria - it does not generally remove harmful chemicals that may be present as the result of excessive bacteria. This is why food cannot be safely cooked once it has already gone bad.
The final point to think about is the cross-contamination of food, which brings together several of the above principles. All of the work you put into ensuring that food is free from bacteria, stored and cooked appropriately can be undone if you allow the cross contamination of the wrong kinds of food. For example, salad may not need to be cooked before it is eaten, but if it comes into contact with meats that do, then it may be contaminated with harmful bacteria. For this reason, all work surfaces and utensils need to be cleaned between uses, and differing types of food need to be stored separately. Fresh meats for example need to be kept at the bottom of the fridge, so that the risk of anything dripping down onto other foods is reduced. This point is especially important when it comes to allergies - you cannot guarantee the safety of food if you cannot be certain that it has not come into contact with allergens.
For more comprehensive information about food safety, the Level 2 Food Hygiene course may be of use. This is the standard course for all those who work with food. Our online food safety training can be completed remotely by anyone, and comprises engaging and interactive material.