According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year approximately 76 million people in the United States become ill from harmful bacteria in food. Of the 76 million, 5,000 die. No matter what your church is preparing for, be it potluck dinners, daily lunches for the day care, or a breakfast for a charitable fundraiser, it’s important to minimize all food risks. While your employees and/or volunteers have the best intentions, accidental oversights could cause a major outbreak of food poisoning. To curtail food risk, a written policy regarding food preparation safety can be developed by your church, and all employees and/or volunteers who work in the kitchen should be required to train on the policies and procedures.
When preparing food to be served, it’s important to remember some basic rules. For example, only use foods before the “use by” date. While some foods may seem fine to eat past that date, it’s important to remember the date was printed for a reason; to keep you safe. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling food, and clean fruits and vegetables using cold water.
Wash all cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with warm, soapy water before and in between use with each food item. An important tip is to use separate cutting boards, which are different colors, for produce and meat/poultry. By applying this method, you lessen the risk of salmonella and other bacteria-causing illnesses by reducing the potential for cross contamination. Separate all raw, cooked, and ready-to-eat foods from the time you are shopping to the time you store the food.
If you are marinating meat, be sure that the juices do not mix with other foods. Refrigerate the marinated foods in a covered, non-metallic container. It’s best to plan ahead to guarantee safe thawing of frozen meat. For every five pounds of meat, allow about one day of thawing time in the refrigerator.
It is often assumed that if a hamburger is brown in the middle it is safe to eat. However, you must use a food thermometer to be certain. According to research by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one out of every four hamburgers turns brown before it reaches a safe temperature. Below is a list of recommended minimum internal temperatures, measured with a food thermometer, by the USDA:
• Whole cut meat; beef, veal, lamb and pork – 145 degrees Fahrenheit (allow meat to rest at least three minutes before carving or consuming).
• Ground meat; beef, veal, lamb and pork – 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
• All poultry (whole and ground) – 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Egg dishes – 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Fish – 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once you’ve cooked the food, it’s time to serve it. Disposable gloves should be used at all times when handling ready-to-eat foods. When hosting a potluck or buffet, be sure not to mix new food with existing foods and separate raw and cooked foods on different platters. Remember that food should not be left at room temperature for over two hours, and many dishes brought from home will have already been out for a significant amount of time.
When bringing food from home be sure that it is heated or refrigerated until it’s time to serve. Hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees Fahrenheit and cold foods at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Hot foods should be refrigerated within two hours after having been cooked. Reheat leftovers only once to 154 degrees Fahrenheit.
Label all foods that you have decided to store with a date. Most leftovers should be used within three to five days. If you’re not sure about the freshness of a food, never taste it to check. When in doubt, toss it out. Lastly, check your refrigerator and freezer temperatures periodically to ensure the refrigerator is functioning properly.
It’s important to remember food safety reaches beyond just the food. Any place that food may have contact with should be cleaned thoroughly with the appropriate sanitizers before and after use. For example, bleach is not approved to clean areas that food may have contact with. In addition, garbage containers should be located a sufficient distance away from the building and all trash should be removed after each meal to that location.
Your church kitchen can be a great place for creating memories and building relationships. By following the above recommendations, not only will your kitchen be safer, but you could prevent accidental cases of food poisoning. Be proactive and keep your church kitchen safe.
The information contained in this newsletter provides general risk management ideas only. Any program adopted by your institution should be tailored to the needs of your entity. In addition, it is advisable to seek legal and other professional advice when adopting risk management procedures.