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Are you ready? Festivities bring risks to food

Risks of foodborne illnesses contracted from undercooked foods or food not properly stored skyrocket as people make more food than normal during the festive season.

A 341st Force Support Squadron food service Airman records food temperature Dec. 4, 2018, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Risks of foodborne illnesses contracted from undercooked foods or food not properly stored skyrocket as people make more food than normal during the festive season. (Courtesy photo)

Temperature checks occur every hour to ensure safety, quality of food and integrity of food.

A 341st Force Support Squadron food service Airman tests the temperature of food Dec. 4, 2018, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Temperature checks occur every hour to ensure safety, quality of food and integrity of food. (Courtesy photo)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- Restaurants and households are preparing for seasonal festivities which may include larger than normal amounts of food. Due to the seriousness of foodborne illnesses, it is imperative to remember when prepping food that safety may be at risk.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 250 foodborne diseases. Each year an average of 48 million people get sick while 3,000 lose their life.

December is Worldwide Food Service Safety Month, otherwise known as WFSSM.

Common examples of foodborne illnesses include food poisoning, salmonella, E. coli and staphylococcus, also known as a staph infection.

Risks of foodborne illnesses from food that is undercooked - or not properly stored - skyrocket when food is prepared in large amounts.

WFSSM focuses on informing the public on how to prevent food from being contaminated.

The Elkhorn Dining Facility
"As strict as a public eatery, the safety and sanitation guidelines here are equivalent to that of a hospital's standards," said Master Sgt. Chad Hepworth, 341st Force Support Squadron Elkhorn Dining Facility food section chief.

If food safety guidelines are not followed with each meal preparation, an outbreak of foodborne illnesses can occur.

An example of poor food preparation can also include cross-contamination. This happens when bacteria transfers to food through direct contact and risk is especially high when the area is not clean or sanitary.

"To avoid cross-contamination, we use proper hand-washing techniques, have sanitation and wash buckets in place, use clean knives and maintain clean, dry cutting boards," said Hepworth.

"Consequences of cross-contamination could be devastating to our patrons, and we don’t take this responsibility lightly," he continued. "There are protocols in place for every situation to ensure that, from delivery to final product, the quality can be trusted."

Such protocols include monitoring foods from the prepping stage all the way to the ready-to-eat stage.

"DFAC staff continuously inspect for dents, leaks, mold, mildew, bruising, rot or damage in packages," according to Hepworth.

Temperature is also taken upon delivery of any item needing to be refrigerated or frozen, to ensure frozen products stay frozen and cold products stay cold.

"We make sure food is thawed, prepared and cooked to the right temperatures," he added. "For example, a preferred thawing method would be a slow thaw for 24 to 36 hours."

After passing initial qualification, temperature checks occur every hour to ensure safety, quality and integrity of food.

Monitoring temperatures continuously allows personnel to maintain food before it enters what is known as the "temperature danger zone", where food is more susceptible to harmful bacteria contamination.

Of course, after all preparation and cooking has finished, a taste test is made to check the quality of flavor, texture and color.

Quick tips to prevent risks
"These same precautions should be implemented in our homes," said Phillip Winkler, Elkhorn Dining Facility head chef.

The reality is food hygiene risks can be present in any location.

Practicing food hygiene and properly preparing food knocks out a majority of foodborne illness occurrences. Its cliché, but it's simple and easy.

1. Wash hands with soap and warm water before and after handling food.
2. Bandage any cuts on fingers, hands and wrists before handling food.
3. Make sure to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly with clean, warm water.
4. Separate cooked foods from raw foods to avoid cross-contamination.
5. Switch out with clean utensils between each use.
6. Properly store food items in refrigerators, e.g. eggs and chicken on the bottom shelf to avoid contamination
7. Slow thaw foods by refrigeration. Don't thaw an item in a large mixing bowl of water in the sink, as the water must be flowing in a small trickle to keep it stirred.
8. When using a cutting board, place a wet towel underneath to prevent sliding. This prevents cuts or even a loss of a finger.
9. Do not leave food out for more than two hours! The temperature danger zone, where bacteria grow most rapidly, is a real thing!

"We do this to ensure the safety of all who dine at our DFAC, no matter the time of the year," said Hepworth.
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