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In the Zone: Keeping Food at Safe Temperatures
Maintaining food safety is critical at every step of handling foods, and relies on workers who are trained in food safety and who know how to put that training into action every day.
The equipment kitchen staffs use is crucial, too. A good thermometer in the right hands will tell the worker if a food item is being held at a the correct temperature, a basic and highly important fact.
"Any kind of foodborne illness can have a domino effect," says Jorge Hernandez, vice president of food safety and risk management for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. "For example, one of the biggest challenges is to cool cooked foods rapidly. If that's done improperly, it can certainly lead to illness."
Having up-to-date equipment is key. Here are some of the latest products that represent three types of food-safety equipment.
Cooling paddles, sometimes called wands, are used to chill cooked foods rapidly prior to refrigeration. The cavity of the paddle itself is filled with water and frozen; some paddles hold as little as 64 ounces, others handle up to more than 250 ounces.
Each paddle has a handle used to insert it into a cooked liquid or semi-liquid product. The handle can be used to stir or left upright in the hot liquid. However used, the paddles effectively meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines on the required cool-down time for many foods.
"It's a two-stage process," Hernandez says. "You need to go from 135°F to 70°F within two hours, and then from 70°F to 41°F in four additional hours. If cooling is done improperly, if it takes too long, bacteria can be created that can lead to illness. Paddles can be very effective."
Depending on size, cooling paddles can start as low as about $16 and range up to about $45.
Thermometers are vital to food safety, as is the knowledge of which type of thermometer should be used to check which products. Infrared thermometers are becoming increasingly popular and their prices are coming down. Using point-and-shoot technology, they are used primarily to get a quick digital read of a food item's surface temperature.
"For something like a salad bar, infrared is terrific," Hernandez says, "but you don't want to use it on a product that is very deep or thick." A disadvantage of infrared is the reading is usually within a plus or minus range of about 5°F, so a food handler must use only on products where that range is acceptable.
Infrared thermometers also can be used to read the internal temperature of such products as soups and sauces by stirring the liquid and then taking a surface reading. Some infrared models now come equipped with a probe that swivels out when needed. Because an infrared thermometer doesn’t touch the food, there is no cross-contamination.
Thermometers that come equipped with a sanitizing system address the possibility of cross contamination. With these models, the probe is sanitized after each use by insertion into an antimicrobial sleeve.
The Scoop on Ice Safety
Ice safely is just as important as food safety. Essentials of proper ice care include: a dedicated, appropriate container; ice scoops made of a material that won't chip or break; handles that don't touch the ice; and a regular, posted schedule for maintenance, emptying and sanitizing.
An ice scoop holder, which can cost under $20, mounts to the outside of ice bins and has a removable bottom that can be opened to drain.
The scoop design prevents contact with ice or other foods or fingers. An alternative to a mounted scoop holder is a container with a self-closing lid that stores the scoop; just the top emerges, allowing one-handed access.
Finally, an ice transport tote can be used to transfer ice safely in a container made of high-impact material less susceptible to cracking and breaking than other totes.
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