Chef passing plate of food to server

5 Common Food Handler Mistakes – and How to Avoid Them

5 Min Read

No matter how minor they seem at first, food-handling mistakes can turn out to be very costly.

Inadequate food handler practices are among the leading causes of food-borne illnesses in the United States. Fortunately, these incidents can be easily avoided by implementing Food Handler Training and associated food safety procedures.

However, even fully-trained food handlers can make mistakes that compromise food safety. Read on to discover five surprisingly common mistakes food handlers make and how they can be prevented.

1. Poor Personal Hygiene

One of the most common mistakes food handlers make is neglecting personal hygiene. The implications of poor hygiene practices can be severe, leading to the spread of harmful pathogens, including E. coli, Salmonella and Norovirus.

How to Maintain Good Hygiene

  • Regular hand washing: Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, before handling food, after using the restroom and after touching any contaminated surfaces or waste.
  • Proper uniforms: Wear clean and appropriate clothing, including hats or hairnets, to prevent hair and other particles from contaminating the food.
  • Health checks: Be vigilant regarding health, and stay away from food handling activities if experiencing symptoms of illness, especially gastrointestinal issues.

2. Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination is an issue that can occur when raw and cooked foods are improperly stored or when equipment is not adequately cleaned between uses. Such errors can lead to serious foodborne illnesses.

How to Prevent Cross-Contamination

  • Separate equipment: Use different, dedicated cutting boards, utensils and storage containers for different types of food, especially raw meats and ready-to-eat items.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing: Ensure all surfaces and equipment are cleaned and sanitized before and after each use.
  • Proper storage: Store raw and cooked foods separately in the refrigerator, with raw items on the bottom to prevent them from dripping onto cooked items.

3. Incorrect Temperature Control

Failing to keep foods at the correct temperatures can result in the growth of harmful pathogens. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food becomes most susceptible to pathogen growth at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. This is reflected in the food storage guidelines provided by the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

Both hot and cold foods have specific temperature ranges that must be adhered to for safe consumption.

Tips for Temperature Control

  • Hot food storage: Keep hot foods at 140°F (60°C) or above.
  • Cold food storage: Keep cold foods at 40°F (4°C) or below.
  • Frozen food storage: Keep frozen foods at 0°F (-18°C) or below.
  • Prompt refrigeration: Cool and refrigerate perishable foods as soon as possible.
  • Use thermometers: Food-grade thermometers should be used to check the temperatures of stored and prepared foods.

4. Inadequate Cleaning and Sanitizing

New food handlers often underestimate the importance of thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing all kitchen areas and equipment. If these tasks are overlooked, establishments risk creating a breeding ground for harmful pathogens.

Effective Cleaning and Sanitizing

  • Regular schedule: Establish and adhere to a cleaning schedule for all kitchen areas and equipment.
  • Use the right chemicals: Employ the appropriate cleaning agents and sanitizers, following manufacturer instructions for dilution and contact time.
  • Cross-reference with HACCP plan: Ensure cleaning procedures align with the HACCP plan, focusing on Critical Control Points (CCPs).

5. Lack of Allergen Awareness

Ignoring potential allergens in food can be a critical mistake, leading to severe reactions in allergic customers. Awareness and proper communication are vital in managing this risk.

Enhancing Allergen Awareness

  • Develop allergen management skills: Understand the major food allergens, be vigilant and prevent cross-contamination.
  • Label foods accurately: Provide clear labeling on menus and food items, indicating the presence of allergens.
  • Open communication: Encourage dialogue between kitchen staff, servers and customers regarding allergen concerns.

Embrace Continuous Learning

Individuals must undergo comprehensive Food Handler Training and commit to continuous improvement to avoid these common mistakes. By fostering a culture of food safety, novice food handlers can significantly contribute to the well-being of their customers and the success of their respective establishments.

Remember, the journey of a food handler is one of constant learning and adaptation. Whether embarking on Food Handler Training for the first time or simply refreshing their skills, all food handlers can benefit from participating in Userve’s comprehensive training program.

Food Handler Training

Userve’s Food Handler Training Program includes three learning units covering essential topics such as allergen management, cross-contamination, food storage, personal hygiene and temperature control.

Unit 1 - Understanding Food Safety:

  • Food contamination
  • Types of contamination
  • Perishable foods
  • Bacteria
  • Other types of microorganisms
  • Foodborne illness and high-risk groups
  • Food allergies

Unit 2 - Preventing Foodborne Illness:

  • Personal hygiene
  • Workplace facilities & behaviors
  • Uniforms and hair care
  • Illness and onsite injuries
  • Temperature zones and time control
  • Thermometers
  • Cleaning and sanitizing
  • Maintaining food premises

Unit 3 - Working with Food Safely:

  • Receiving, checking and storing food
  • Working with food safely
  • Serving food safely

With professional training under their belt, food handlers can significantly reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and allergic reactions, increase consumer confidence and ensure compliance with food safety legislation.

Many states, including California, Illinois and Texas, have legislation requiring food handlers to participate in training programs approved by the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB). Userve’s ANSI Food Handler Course guarantees compliance with current state regulations.

Are you ready to enhance your food-handling knowledge and expertise? Enroll with Userve today and join a community of responsible food handlers who prioritize safety, quality, and customer satisfaction. 

The Userve Food Handler Training Program offers a fast, convenient route to obtaining your Food Handler Card. Follow the link below or get in touch to find out more about the Food Handler Training available in your state.

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