Temperature Monitoring Critical to Food Safety

Before getting into food manufacturing and inspection I worked in several different food service operations. I used to love the fast paced environment, free food and copious amounts of overtime. The long workdays always flew by because the restaurants I worked at were very busy. This was before I started my education in food science and learned about all the regulations that go into local and mass food production. Most of what I learned about food safety was from the head chef or the owner who was relaying instructions from the health inspector.

I didn’t know why I was doing certain things until I took food microbiology and other courses in school. It makes more sense to me now than it did back then. While I couldn’t imagine going back to work in a hot kitchen now, it was a rewarding experience that has given me a unique perspective for what I do now. I have been in the shoes of a “food handler”. I know that most of the time they are worried about getting food out as quick as possible.

It’s easy to let things slip when it gets busy but it’s extremely important to remember things like properly storing, handling and cooking potentially hazardous foods. And it’s not just the cooking step that food handlers should be concerned with. It’s also things like quickly cooling food to ensure harmful pathogens don’t grow. Also remember when receiving refrigerated products to check temperatures and do a quick visual inspection and store them properly as soon as possible.

Take note if you are a person in charge (PIC) of a food establishment that the FDA has recently added a supplement to the 2013 Food Code which adds an additional duty requirement for the Person in charge to ensure employees are routinely monitoring food temperatures. The supplement goes on to add the public health reasoning which states: “An important duty of the Person in Charge is to make sure that any required temperatures are achieved when foods are cooked, cooled or held in a food establishment. By making it a duty of the Person in Charge to ensure that employees are monitoring food temperatures to verify critical temperature limits, the likelihood of temperature abuse is reduced.”

It’s important if you are an owner, operator or person in charge to set the employees up for success. This means making it easy for them to conduct these activities even in the busiest times. Provide thermometers that are easily accessible and routinely calibrated. Section 4-302.12 of the Food Code states: (A) Food temperature measuring devices shall be provided and readily accessible for use in ensuring attainment and maintenance of food temperatures as specific in Chapter 3 and (B) A temperature measuring device with a suitable small-diameter probe that is designed to measure the temperature of thin masses shall be provided and readily accessible to accurately measure the temperature in thin foods such as meat patties and fish fillets.”

In addition to measuring food temperatures, you almost must ensure that temperatures of coolers are at 41 degrees F or below to prevent pathogenic growth. This means having calibrated thermometers to measure ambient air temperatures inside walk-in coolers. And don’t just rely on one thermometer. It’s a good idea to use one or two different thermometers just to double check. You could also leverage the technology of wireless probes to measure and record this data so it doesn’t take away from an employee’s time of doing other things.

The key takeaways here are that: 1.) temperature monitoring is critical for the success of your food business and public health, 2.) making it easy and efficient for employees to conduct these activities will ensure they get done and 3.) the person in charge has the overall responsibility to ensure employees are monitoring temperatures.