Battling Bacteria

Nutrition Team Shares Tips to Keep Kitchens Sparkling and Food Safe

In the battle against bacteria, Nutrition Services Director Kathleen Shafer and her army of dietitians, cooks and food service workers at NorthBay Healthcare stand ever vigilant, washing hands, keeping surfaces clean and checking food temperatures.

“Our standards for a hospital are of course very rigid, but these are the disciplines every cook should practice at home, too,” she says.

Keeping surfaces clean is important. Wipe with a drop of bleach in some warm soapy water every time you switch to a new food item.

Kathleen, a registered dietitian, supervises a Nutrition Services team of 73, which serves an average of 130 patients per day at NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay VacaValley Hospital, plus meals and snacks in cafes at both hospitals.

“We not only ensure that we meet all of our patients’ special nutrition requirements but we want the food to be enticing so they don’t leave it on the plate,” explains Kathleen. “They need their proper nutrition if they’re going to regain their health.”

Both cafes have recently expanded hours and menu items, and serve several hundred people—both employees and visitors—every day.

When it comes to food preparation, safety comes first. That’s why hand hygiene is so crucial, says Wycitra Foster, food services supervisor.

“Anytime you break away from preparing food, you need to wash your hands before you step back in,” she explains. “Sometimes a phone call will interrupt you. Do you know how much bacteria can be on a phone? I always disinfect the phone and wash my hands after any interruption.”

Any kind of soap and warm water will do, says Wycitra. “It’s the agitation that really makes a difference. Good hand hygiene means you’ve got to give it some energy.”

Keeping surfaces clean is also important. A drop of bleach—the gold standard—and some warm soapy water can do the trick, but you have to be vigilant, every time you switch to a new food item.

“You can’t cut meat and vegetables on the same cutting board without washing,” says Wycitra. “That would lead to cross-contamination, a big no-no.”

“That’s why I use many plastic cutting boards at my house,” says Kathleen. “They’re small enough to fit in the dishwasher between meals.”

Time and temperature are also key to food safety. “I cook to the recommended time, but I also use a thermometer to ensure that the meat is cooked through and through,” said Kathleen. Some meat thermometers are placed in the meat while it cooks. Others require you to place the stem into the thickest cut of the meat to read its internal temperature.

“In the hospital setting, we take the temperature of the food at least three times,” explains Wycitra. “It’s recorded when it’s cooking, it’s recorded when we plate it, and again when we deliver it to the patient.”

The magic zone for hot food is 160 degrees to 170 degrees. From stove to patient, only a few degrees are lost.

“We get really good feedback about our meals,” says Wycitra.

Cleaning vs. Disinfecting

A kitchen can look perfectly clean, yet be contaminated with a host of disease-causing organisms. Cleaning and disinfecting are two different processes. Cleaning removes grease, food residues and dirt, as well as a large number of bacteria, but cleaning may also spread other bacteria around. Disinfecting kills organisms (bacteria, virus and parasites).

Disinfectants and sanitizers are widely available as liquids, sprays or wipes. You can also make your own inexpensive disinfectant by adding one tablespoon liquid chlorine bleach to one gallon of water. Store the solution in a spray bottle and make a new solution every two to three days.

You should clean thoroughly before you disinfect, because a buildup of food or grease will not allow the disinfectant to penetrate.

Keep Your Utensils Clean

Can openers. Clean after each use, then wipe with bleach solution (or commercial disinfectant) and allow to air dry.

Cutting boards. If practical, keep two cutting boards, one for meat and one for fruits and vegetables. Clean after each use.

Countertops. Clean them thoroughly, then spray or wipe with bleach solution and air dry.

Dishrags, towels & sponges. These items tend to be highly contaminated. You shouldn’t use a sponge in the kitchen. Use a clean dishcloth daily.

Garbage disposals. The inside of the disposal is teeming with bacteria. Use a long-handled angled brush and a chlorinated cleansing powder to scrub the inside walls of the disposal and the underside of the rubber splash guard. Allow the cleanser to remain in place (don’t rinse) until the next time the disposal is used.

Sink drains & P-trap. Before going to bed, pour one cup of hot water into the drain. Wait a minute for the drain to absorb heat from the water then pour in one cup of chlorine bleach (undiluted). Allow to stand overnight. This should be done every one to two weeks to sanitize the drain and keep it running freely.

Refrigerators. The fridge should be periodically cleaned thoroughly. After cleaning, it should be wiped with your bleach solution and the food replaced.

Facts about Foodborne Illnesses

Most viruses and bacteria that cause colds, flu and foodborne illnesses are spread by hand-to-hand or hand-to-food contact.

Raw meats, poultry, and fish carry a large variety of harmful bacteria. One of the most serious is E.coli, the organism found mostly in undercooked hamburger. It is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness and can be fatal for children.

Chicken, turkey and fowl are associated with shigella, salmonella and campylobacter, bacteria that cause diarrhea, cramping, and fever.

Seafood, particularly oysters, clams and other shellfish, can be contaminated with bacteria that causes diarrhea or with hepatitis A virus.

Unpasteurized cheese and some meat can be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a strain of bacteria that can cause disease in people and miscarriage or damage to the fetus in pregnant women. Listeria is often found in soft cheeses, such as brie, and more frequently in imported cheeses. Listeria is one of the few bacteria that grow well in the 40°F temperature of the refrigerator.

Contaminated vegetables and fruits can carry a variety of organisms and parasites, depending on where they were grown and how they were processed, the CDC says.

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