What are High Risk Foods and How Can I Use Them Safely?
When a busy schedule is the order of the day, what you eat and where it came from might not always seem too important. However, this consensus should rapidly change. After all, each item of food demands different handling methods in order to ensure customers receive safe food.
Bubbling under the surface of it all is the risk of food poisoning, in which more than 500,000 cases are reported yearly in the UK alone. Bacterial contamination can taint many types of food if allowed to fester, and the causes and consequences are serious. In spite of everything, it only takes mere hours for symptoms to occur. In one instance of poor judgement, you can lose a business reputation, or worse, a life.
Ultimately, high risk foods need your unwavering attention to keep people, and restaurant prospects, safe and secure.
What are High Risk Foods?
High risk foods share a tendency to spoil as a result of unsuitable storage conditions or improper cooking methods. Meats, fish, gravy, sauces, shellfish, dairy products, pasta and even cooked rice are all examples, and the smallest errors can lead to contamination. Consequently, basic mistakes in handling common produce can negatively impact on anyone.
A variety of harmful bacteria can manifest depending on the hygiene of high risk food and of those preparing it. The illnesses that bacteria cause vary in cause and duration:
- Salmonella. Contamination and undercooking generally causes this common type of food poisoning. 2,500 sufferers in the UK are admitted to hospital each year.
- Campylobacter. This is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, largely due to undercooked poultry.
- Escherichia coli (E Coli) 0157. E Coli causes potentially fatal harm to the elderly and young children. You can prevent this by cooking meats thoroughly.
- Listeria. This type of bacteria is present in raw milk (and anything made from it) and processed meats. Listeriosis is a huge risk because it can even counter the cold temperatures of a refrigerator. Only thorough cooking can destroy this.
- Clostridium Perfringens. Causing nearly one million illnesses each year, the most common origin of this bacteria is large quantities of meals that are warmed for an extended period of time before serving. Companies and institutions are usually the responsible parties due to feeding many people at once.
For a full list of illnesses associated with high risk foods, check out our Complete Guide to Food Borne Diseases.
Who is Most at Risk?
Many of these might seem like relatively low health risks, due to our bodies’ immune systems often being capable of combatting such ailments. However, when the germs spread to the more vulnerable who do not have a fully functional or developed immune system, things can get much more serious very quickly. Children, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with pre-existing conditions can all be particularly susceptible to these sicknesses. In due course, food poisoning can even become fatal, meaning that high risk foods must be handled with consistent care without fault.
How Can I Prevent Risks?
Kitchen users should always be up to speed with the basics, in terms of general practice and law. Anything less can leave those accountable dealing with prosecution, paying hefty fines or even facing a prison sentence. In the end, knowing something as simple as the difference between use by and best before dates will eliminate many potential hazards and all the legal and health ramifications embroiled with them.
Additionally, you should allow food safety officers to carry out inspections of stock in order to comply with the law too. In the end, there’s no room to cut corners.
Where Should High Risk Foods be Stored?
Contamination is not always evident by your senses of sight, smell or sometimes even taste. Therefore, you can only avoid contamination with high risk foods by storing them correctly.
Bacteria thrive on protein, moisture, warmth and a good dose of time in order to multiply. Subsequently, low temperatures become the only viable solution, slowing down the time bacteria need to grow in number. Your fridges and freezers are therefore essential, as they quite literally freeze the spread of germs.
Ways you can store high risk foods properly and safely include:
- Keeping refrigerated produce below 5 degrees Celsius. This ensures they are below the designated ‘danger-zone’, in which bacteria can form and fester in ever-expanding numbers.
- Storing frozen food at -18 degrees, unless you need to thaw it. If so, you should transfer it to the fridge before prompt consumption.
- Sealing refrigerated items properly to preserve nutritional value, texture quality and flavour, as well as prevent cross contamination.
- Storing raw and cooked foods separately from one another to minimise any further likelihood of cross contamination.
- Acquiring all produce from a reliable supplier. Refrigerated and insulated vehicles are a good idea for those wanting to haul their produce cross country, so check to see if your suppliers use these.
Ultimately, fending off bacterial parasites is a constant process for every dish you prepare and serve. Kitchen cleanliness holds a set standard that you must adhere to at all times, and not just as an occasional one-off to tick a box. With a solid hygiene routine and a sprinkle of common sense, you can prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
What to Read Next:
- The Importance of Food Hygiene Training
- Food Preservation Methods and Guidance
- Shellfish Safety Guide: How to Source, Store, and Cook Them Safely
- How Long Does Food Last in the Freezer?