The Environmental Health Program of Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Health and Human Services Department holds a class for food handlers on the first Wednesday of each month at the new Health Building and WIC Offices. The first class of the year was held on Wednesday, January 8, because of the holidays. The free one-hour class attracted 11 people, including Community members, SRPMIC employees, Casino Arizona employees and On Auk Mor Smoke Shop employees who wanted to receive food handlers cards for work or personal reasons.
Proper storage, handling and cooking of food is essential to prevent foodborne illness, and those who wish to find employment in the food industry need to learn the food code regulations and undergo training. Environmental Health Technician Anthony Phillips presented helpful information about how food should be properly prepared and stored, as well as the risk of contamination and how foodborne illnesses occur.
In the United States, about 43 million people each year get sick with food-related illness. “Maybe they had a bad salad, ate raw or undercooked meat, or maybe someone didn’t wash their hands when they prepared the meal,” explained Phillips. Most foodborne illness is not serious, but 128,000 people are hospitalized each year and 3,000 of them will die. Death is more likely in the elderly and very young children, as well as people who are already compromised with a weakened immune system, autoimmune disease, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, or dialysis.
How do you know if you have a foodborne illness? Most of the time you feel okay right after eating and you will become sick later on, Phillips explained. Symptoms of foodborne illness are upset stomach, cramps, diarrhea, dehydration and fever. It can take as little as 30 minutes or up to six weeks for foodborne illness to show up.
The most common way foodborne illness is transmitted is from dirty hands. “You touch a lot of things throughout the day and pick up bacteria, dirt and grime,” Phillips said. The easiest way to avoid spreading germs and disease is to wash your hands often. Wash hands with soap and hot water for 40 to 60 seconds and dry with a single-use towel.
“Those in the food industry should have access to warm water for hand-washing. If there is no warm water in the restaurant, that employer is in violation of the food code,” said Phillips.
Direct hand contact with ready-to-eat food is not allowed; you need to use gloves, deli papers or utensils. Ready-to-eat foods include sushi, sandwiches, cereal, donuts, cookies, bagels and breads. “If you don’t need to warm it up, and it’s ready to go straight from the tray to the consumer, you are not allowed to touch it with your bare hands,” explained Phillips. Gloves must be worn if you have nail polish, fake nails, or cuts, burns or sores on your hands. When gloves become soiled, change them. You still must wash your hands frequently. Workers who are ill should not go to work; if they must go to work, they should work at tasks away from the food and food prep areas.
Packaged foods should come from an inspected and approved source. All food must be properly stored at a temperature of 41ºF or below at all times. All food must have a label to indicate where the food is from and what the expiration date is.
Phillips said that Community members should be cautious about buying foods from sellers going door to door. It may not be properly inspected and approved, and you don’t know where the meat is coming from.
It is legal to sell food out of homes on the Community, explained Phillips, but these foods are not subject to the same inspection as food in a restaurant. If food sellers leave their property, they become subject to the laws of the Community and require the proper food permits to conduct sales within the Community.
Avoid Food Contamination
Cross contamination can occur when different foods are prepared in the same area without cleaning the area between foods or using clean and different cutting boards. To prevent cross contamination, never store raw meats, poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables in the same area. Ready-to-eat foods such as fruits and vegetables should be stored away from meat, poultry and fish.
Phillips went on to explain the proper ways to cool, reheat and store cooked foods, noting the different temperatures for safe food storage. As the class wrapped up, he conducted a quick review of what they just learned before giving out the food handlers cards.
“I would like to invite everyone out to receive their food handlers card,” said Phillips. “The class is free, and there is a lot of helpful information for your home and food business.”