Correct Food Handling: Why Is It So Important?

Foodborne diseases can be avoided in the great majority of cases. These diseases can occur when food is handled incorrectly.
Correct Food Handling: Why Is It So Important?

Last update: 23 October, 2020

For food to be safe to eat, it must be processed according to correct food handling standards. Food contamination is a real threat and can occur when these standards aren’t kept. Safe food handling includes following strict hygienic guidelines throughout production, transportation, and sale. How can contamination occur, and how can it be avoided?

Incorrect food handling

What are some of the causes of contamination that can occur due to poor food handling practices? Contamination can occur from germs, insects, enzyme damage, chemical reactions, or changes in appearance due to bruising or mishandling.

Contamination due to germs

This is one of the most common problems in food handling. Foods can come into contact with high levels of bacteria during processing which can contaminate them. However, there are different ways to counteract the possibility of contamination, such as refrigeration for instance.

Chemical changes

Chemical changes are common and reduce the commercial and nutritional value of the foods. The oxidization of fats is one of the most common changes. For example, when fruits turn brown, this is a result of enzymic browning, caused by oxygen in the air.

Enzyme changes

The two most important processes where the enzymes can start to damage the food are lipolysis and proteolysis. For example, butter, which is rich in fats, should be kept cold to avoid oxidization of the fatty acids it contains. If not, it will take on a rancid flavor.

Changes in the food’s appearance due to mishandling

This can happen when some foods are frozen, unfrozen, dropped, squeezed, or split.

Hygienic precautions to take in food handling

The correct handling of food is essential to avoid contamination. Safe food handling protocols exist that should be followed throughout the production chain.

Use separate cutting boards for meats and vegetables

What happens if a germ comes into contact with food during processing? One way of controlling bacteria growth is simple and has to do with temperature.

If the temperature is low enough and the food is at a constant cold temperature, the bacteria won’t be able to contaminate the food. What if on the other hand, the cold temperature isn’t constant throughout the journey from the production line to your kitchen? With warmer temperatures, the toxin will contaminate the food before it gets to you.

Food processing businesses should follow strict food handling guidelines throughout the production line. They must follow these processes from when they produce or harvest the foods right to when they sell them at the supermarket.

How can you as a consumer know how food has been handled? A product’s traceability record shows you where the food has been, from its point of origin to where it’s sold. This also allows the health authorities to identify at what point any food contamination happened. Then they can control the outbreak of any foodborne diseases.

Next, let’s look at a couple of common bacterial sources of foodborne diseases, as well as what you can do to avoid contamination.

Homemade preserves and botulism

Botulism is a potentially fatal illness caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. The most common source of the toxin is from contaminated food, and it can appear in almost any food of an animal or vegetable origin.

Preserves, especially homemade ones, can be common sources of botulism. How can you prevent the growth of bacteria? Sufficient acidity levels, a high enough concentration of dissolved sugar, high oxygen levels, or low moisture levels in the food.

Food handling and dangerous bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus

This microorganism causes severe food poisoning and is very difficult to eliminate from food once it’s contaminated. Any food that’s been in contact with an animal or a person that has the bacteria can become contaminated.

It’s estimated that this bacteria is found in one in every three people. These people are called carriers, which means that the bacteria doesn’t affect them. Thirty percent of healthy adults have this bacteria inside their nose, while 20 percent have the bacteria on their skin.

An infected person can contaminate food by direct contact. The person may use a contaminated item to handle the food. Or the person with the bacteria might sneeze and spray droplets of saliva onto the food. This is why it’s so important that food handlers keep strict control over the processing of the foods, and that they use gloves and face masks.

Food processing workers must cover not just their mouth, but also their nose with the mask, even though it may be uncomfortable. If they don’t, they can contaminate food items from their breath without even realizing it. It’s essential to enforce the use of face masks to avoid this source of contamination.

A girl preparing fresh fish and broccoli

How can you avoid food contamination?

The above points are important to keep in mind when you’re considering where to buy your groceries. Correct food handling is vital to limit the risks of contamination.

You can find fresh foods such as meats, fish, or vegetables at various locations such as corner stores, supermarkets, or farmer’s markets. However, if these businesses don’t use safe food handling practices, they could be putting their shoppers’ health at risk. Make sure the places you shop follow safe food handling guidelines.

Lastly, what about food handling at home? Well, in the home it would be a bit tricky to use gloves, a face mask, or a hair net when you’re preparing food. However, these measures really aren’t necessary.

The most important thing is to pay attention to personal cleanliness and hygiene around the home and kitchen. You should also make sure to maintain food at the right temperature, either hot or cold. When you do this, you’ll be handling your foods correctly and will avoid contamination.

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  • Hurtado MP et al. 2002. Staphylococcus aureus: Revisión de los mecanismos de patogenicidad y la fisiopatología de la infección estafilocócica. Revista de la Sociedad Venezolana de Microbiología22(2), 112-118