How do we know that the food we purchase is safe to eat? While government regulations are designed to ensure that you are supplied with safe food, there are still things you can do to ensure that the food you purchase is safe and that you keep it safe.
Take care when choosing where you buy or eat food. Ask yourself the following and if you answer ‘no’ to any of these questions it could signal that the operators are not handling foods appropriately and there may be potential food safety problems.
- Are foods that require refrigeration adequately refrigerated and cold to the touch?
- Are foods kept or served steaming hot?
- If you can see food being prepared, are precautions taken to prevent cross-contamination of food?
- Are raw and cooked foods kept separate at all times during preparation and display?
- Do staff use tongs or gloves when handling food and do you they use separate tongs for different foods?
- Is there a handwashing basin? Do staff wash their hands well with warm soapy water between tasks?
- Are the areas clean and tidy?
Food preparation, such as cutting up meat and preparing dishes for the salad bar, may take place in areas you can’t see. Dirty staff and conditions in public areas may be a clue that things are worse behind the scenes.
What to look for when shopping
- Food from damaged packaging. Examples include dented or swollen cans, leaking containers, and packages with broken or imperfectly formed seals.
- Cracked eggs.
- Any product which may have been tampered with (eg broken safety seal).
- Food which is spoiled, such as mouldy or discolored product. Spoilage microorganisms need to grow to high numbers to produce spoilage. If they can grow, pathogens or food poisoning bacteria can too!
- Perishable food which is past the ‘use by date’. Food may still look, smell and taste okay after this date, but it may also contain dangerous numbers of pathogens.
- Chilled or frozen food which is not chilled or frozen. These products need to be kept at low temperatures to minimize pathogen growth. Touch the packaging, particularly in supermarket fridges and freezers to determine whether they are still hard and cold.
- Chilled or frozen food stacked high in cabinets. Look for the maximum load indication line.
- Food in deli counters not protected from cross-contamination because it is displayed in contact with raw food or where staff at the deli counter do not use separate tongs or change gloves between raw and ready to eat foods.
Tips for safe shopping
- Shop for non-perishable food first. Shop last for cold food and hot food.
- Keep hot food separate from frozen and chilled products in your shopping trolley and vehicle. Place chilled and frozen food together on the conveyor belt to encourage the checkout operator to pack these items together.
- Put raw meats into separate plastic bags before placing them into the trolley to prevent meat juices from leaking into other products.
- If you have to travel for over 30 minutes, place your chilled and frozen food into an insulated cooler for the trip, and avoid buying hot food.
- When you arrive at your premises, immediately pack chilled, frozen, and hot cooked food into the refrigerator or freezer.
Self-service and salad bars
Self-service salad/dessert bars are popular. Nevertheless, there are some food safety issues to keep in mind…
- Hot food should ideally be served steaming hot, in hot food displays or over burners. However, in a buffet situation, short periods of time at room temperature are acceptable.
- Chilled food should be kept chilled, either in refrigerated cabinets or on ice. Once again short periods at room temperature are acceptable.
- Fresh food should be brought out regularly, and it should not be combined with the leftovers from the food being replaced.
- Each salad or dessert should have its own utensil.
- Food should be protected from coughs and sneezes by a guard – usually a clear plastic cover extending over the food.
- Pre-made sandwiches and rolls containing perishable ingredients, such as soft cheeses and meats, should preferably be stored under refrigeration, or otherwise at cooler room temperatures for no more than about four hours.
- Food in hot display cabinets should be steaming hot. Do note stack too high in hot display cabinets.
- Minced meats, such as hamburgers and sausages, and chickens should be cooked right through.
Want to know more?
Why not download a copy of
‘How to Be Food Safe’ eGuide
-is your food safe for your customers-