Saturday, January 1, 2011

Trouble With Your Food Temperatures

My, how 2010 flew by. Happy New Year’s! I have some great news! For the last few years the CDC has been reporting consistently that statistically 76 million people will get a foodborne illness here in the USA resulting in 320,000 hospitalizations which lead to about 5,000 deaths per year. I am happy to convey that it appears all this ‘Food Smarts’ talk, education and efforts are not for naught. The CDC has just released the estimated statistics for 2011 as being estimated “that each year roughly 1 out of 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases.”

Still not perfect numbers … 1 out of 6 of us are going to get a foodborne illness this year … but WOW! What a come down from previous statistics. Let’s keep it up!  The FDA states that the three biggest factors that make our food unsafe are:

1) Time and Temperature Abuse
2) Cross Contamination
3) Improper Personal Hygiene

Realistically, proper and frequent hand washing is the best procedure and practice to avoid cross-contamination and to practice proper personal hygiene. But what are you really doing to control Time and Temperature Abuse? We know to avoid Time and Temperature Abuse that we have to keep food out of “room temperature” or well known as the Temperature Danger Zone (41°F -135°F). I call it the Magic Rule to my students. The time limit is four hours in the TDZ and then your only corrective action is to discard that food item. We also know it’s important to follow guidelines provided by the FDA Food code on Time and Temperature for proper cooking, cooling and reheating procedures.

There is only one thing you can do to control Time and Temperature. Use a thermometer and a clock! It amazes me how many of my students in the Food Service Manager Certification classes don’t even have or use a thermometer in their professional kitchens, let alone their personal kitchens. How can they know if soup is not in the TDZ whilst they maintain it hot through two shifts of the day? We can know all the rules on proper food safety, but if we are not checking temperatures to confirm …then the  knowledge is useless.

Buy your kitchen employees a thermometer! There are different types of thermometers you can buy for your kitchen employees, but the bimetallic thermometer is the most commonly used because not only is it easy to use, but it’s also the cheapest! We all want to save a $ here and there, but my biggest advice, if you are in charge of buying the thermometers is to spend the extra $ to buy the thermometer with a case that has the adjusting wrench attached to the case. The case will protect the stem or probe and also keep it clean. Having the adjusting wrench attached to the case means, it’s all together, and not a separate item that will be lost in “I don’t know where it is land?” Teach them to take temperatures by inserting the probe in the thickest part (typically the centre) and to wait at least 15 seconds for an accurate reading. Teach your staff to calibrate their thermometers and make sure they do it.

Sometimes our thermometers don’t read the temperatures correctly and we have to calibrate (adjust) them to make them read correctly. There are two ways to calibrate your thermometers; ice point method and boiling point method. To calibrate your thermometer using the ice point method, you fill up a container with ice water and insert the stem/probe in the ice water and wait 30 seconds. The temperature of ice water is a constant that we can rely on to always measure 32° F. After 30 seconds in the ice water turn the wrench to make the thermometer needle reads the ice water as 32°F. The boiling point method is completely the same, but our hands are over boiling water and we adjust the thermometer to read the temperature as 212°F. I know that I personally would not want my hand over boiling water as that’s the same steaming process to cook a lobster.

When are you supposed to calibrate your thermometers? At the beginning of each shift is great so you can confirm your thermometer is accurate for your deliveries. If you drop your thermometer it can   throw it off so you should recalibrate it and also if it suffers a big temperature change, like measuring something very cold and then something boiling hot. I translate this to convey that if you work in a kitchen there are several times during the day when you should be calibrating your thermometer. That means it’s not a bad idea to keep a container of ice water handy for a quick calibration. Truth, I never see any container of ice water in kitchens for employees to use to recalibrate their thermometers. My idea: Why not use two thermometers during your shift - One with a blue case for cold food and one thermometer with a red case for hot foods? See how this food safety knowledge can also save you time?

For Real … please buy your employees a thermometer and teach them to use them. Maybe the CDC statistics for foodborne illnesses will continue to go down.

Juliet Bodinetz-Rich is the executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 25 years industry and training experience. Her team of instructors’ specialty is food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore  and Washington D.C. Metro Area. www.bilingualhospitality. com, or 443-838-7561. For Latest Food Safety Tips: Become a Fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS

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