Preventing Food Borne Illness

Community Development Agency

Food borne illness affects millions of people each year and causes several thousand fatalities.  Following proper food safety practices can greatly reduce the risk of food borne illness.  The following are the leading causes of food borne illness and what you as a food facility operator can do to prevent them from occurring.

Improper Cooling

The temperature DANGER ZONE (41-140 degrees F) for potentially hazardous foods is the temperature range where harmful bacteria can reproduce in sufficient numbers to cause illness.  The time a potentially hazardous food spends in the DANGER ZONE must be kept to a minimum.

When cooling, potentially hazardous foods should be cooled from 140 degrees to 41 degrees within four hours.

Acceptable methods of quickly cooling foods include

  • Place the food in a heat-conducting container (e.g. stainless steel pot) then place the container in an ice bath and stir the food frequently until the food temperature drops below 41 degree F.  After cooling, cover food and place in refrigerator or freezer.
  • Place the food in shallow heat conducting pans (keep the product depth no more than 2") and use an ice bath or refrigerator for cooling to below 41 degrees F.  Separating the food into smaller or thinner portions will help facilitate cooling.
  • Add ice to the food.
  • Use a rapid-cool stirring device.
  • Use a quick-chilling unit

Improper Cooking Reheating

Failure to cook or reheat potentially hazardous foods can allow the survival of harmful organisms that may be present.  Heating food to a sufficiently high temperature will kill off harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites.  Within two hours of beginning the heating process, foods should reach the following internal temperature for at least 15 seconds.

  • 155 degrees F - Pork, game meats, ground and/or injected meats including beef, pork, poultry, and fish
  • 145 degrees F - Seafood, beef, veal, lamb, and eggs
  • 165 degrees F - Reheated leftovers  (all types), poultry, stuffed foods,  microwaved foods

Hot holding units (e.g., steam table) are meant to hold hot foods at 140 degrees F or higher.  They are not designed to heat cold foods.  Before placing food into a hot holding unit, preheat it to the proper temperature (described above)

Improper Holding Temperatures

To prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, potentially hazardous foods must be held at or below 41 degrees F or at or above 140 degrees F at all times.  Make certain that refrigeration and hot holding units are capable of holding these foods at the proper temperatures.  Employees should be instructed in the use of thermometers to monitor the temperature of potentially hazardous foods and refrigeration units. Standard operating procedures for every food facility should include the routine checking of temperatures.

Improper Thawing

When thawing potentially hazardous foods, the time the food spends in the DANGER ZONE (41-140 degrees F) must be kept to a minimum.  That can be accomplished by following proper thawing techniques.  These include:

  • Place the frozen food in a refrigerator until thawed.  This is the most reliable method of thawing potentially hazardous foods.
  • Place the food in a container, place the container in an approved food preparation sink, and run cold (less than 70 degree F) water over the food until thawed.
  • Thaw the food as part of the cooling process.

Poor Employee Habits

Good employee habits reduce the risk of food being mishandled or being contaminated.  Every food services manager should not only instruct employees in proper sanitation, but also monitor habits and set a good example by his or her own behavior.  Good sanitary habits include:

Washing hands before beginning work and whenever hands may have become contaminated (e.g. after using restroom, after handling raw products, garbage, or soiled utensils, after smoking or eating, after performing cleanup duties, after touching hair or face, etc.)  A customer observing employees washing their hands helps promote a positive sanitation image.

  • Wearing clean work clothes.
  • Not touching face or hair and then handling food.
  • Not eating or smoking around food or utensils.
  • Not working if ill.
  • Not coughing or sneezing around food.
  • Use tongs or other utensils to handle food rather than direct contact with hands.

Food From Unapproved Sources

All food products must be from approved sources and received in good condition.  Upon arrival, food deliveries should be checked for condition and sanitation.  The temperatures for frozen and refrigerated foods should be verified.  Foods that are not in good condition, show evidence of filth or vermin infestation, or are not at proper temperature should be rejected.  Do not use any home prepared foods or foods from unapproved sources.


Cross-contamination of food can expose a safe food product to contamination by harmful microorganisms.  Some ways of preventing cross-contamination from occurring include:

  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and produce or clean/sanitize cutting boards when switching between types of food products (e.g., from raw meats to produce, from raw foods to cooked).  Color-coded cutting boards are a useful way to prevent cross-contamination (e.g., red for meat, green for produce, yellow for poultry).
  • Clean and sanitize hands and utensils (including sponges and dishrags) after handling raw products or when switching between types of food products.
  • Clean and sanitize food-processing equipment regularly and when switching between types of food products.
  • Store food so it is protected from contamination.  For example, in refrigerators, store raw meats below and away from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
  • Use an approved food preparation sink for washing and trimming produce, thawing frozen foods, and other preparation activities.  Do not use a janitorial sink, hand sink, or utensil sink for preparation activities.
  • Treat gloves as you would your bare hands.  Make sure gloves are not contaminated and then used to handle foods.  For example, after using gloves to handle raw poultry, remove gloves before handling cooked food products.  Replace gloves after situations that would necessitate handwashing as described above.  Always wash hands before using gloves or before putting on new ones.