Food Preparation Regulations

Instructor: Allison Moore

Allie teaches college business and culinary management courses. She has a master's degree in business administration.

This lesson describes basic food safety regulations that are required to be followed by food handlers when preparing and serving food. Temperature control, personal hygiene, and operational cleanliness are discussed.

The Importance of Food Safety

Everyone loves a good meal out. Sharing a meal with family or friends is a great way to socialize and celebrate any number of occasions. But the fun can be ruined very quickly if the food ends up making you or someone you know sick. To reduce the risk of foodborne illness and ensure a safe food supply, food handlers should adhere to food safety regulations and safe food handling practices.

Food safety is regulated by public health departments at the city, county, and/or state levels. All establishments that prepare and serve food are subject to health department inspections to ensure the food is being prepared in a clean environment. Inspections also ensure that the individuals preparing the food are following important food safety practices.

At minimum, all state and local health departments are required to adopt the U.S. Food Code published by the Food and Drug Administration. This food code is updated every four years to reflect changes in research and previously established standards. Health departments use this food code as a model for developing their own food safety standards within their jurisdiction.

Basic food preparation regulations can be summed up into three main categories:

1. Temperature Control

2. Food Handler Safety and Hygiene

3. Operational Cleanliness and Sanitation

Temperature Control

There are many steps to bringing various foods together on a plate to create a meal that you order in a restaurant. Each food has specific temperature requirements in order to keep it at its optimum level of freshness and safety.

Products that require refrigeration must be shipped, received, and stored at proper temperatures before they are cooked and served. The acceptable maximum temperature for refrigerated storage is 41°F. Foods must be held at 41°F or lower to reduce the chance of bacterial growth and spoilage. Foods that are held or served hot must be 135°F or higher.

The U.S. Food Code refers to the range between 41°F and 135°F as the ''temperature danger zone''. Bacteria can grow rapidly at temperatures within this range, so foods are at risk of becoming unsafe. The exception here includes foods that are shelf-stable, such as cookies, crackers, and other packaged or canned products.

Cooking destroys harmful microbes that can potentially make you sick, and different foods have different cooking temperature requirements to ensure the microbes are reduced to safe levels. The following is a summary chart of cooking requirements for various foods:

Type of Food Minimum Internal Cooking Temperature
Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck) 165°F
Food to be Reheated 165°F
Food Cooked in the Microwave 165°F
Ground Meat Products (Beef, Pork, Lamb, Fish) 155°F
Whole Steaks/Chops and Roasts (Beef, Pork, Lamb); Seafood 145°F
Shell Eggs 145°F
Cooked Plant-Based Foods (vegetables, rice, beans) 135°F

Keep in mind that the temperature guidelines above are the standard, but most of these products (other than poultry), can be consumed safely even if they are undercooked. Examples include a rare steak or a sunnyside up egg. These dishes aren't necessarily unsafe, but the risk of getting sick does increase.

Food Handler Safety and Hygiene

Any person working with food has a responsibility to follow good hygiene practices and food safety standards. This includes basic hygiene such as showering and wearing clean clothes. Food handlers should wear hats, hairnets, or other hair restraints to keep hair out of food. They should cover open wounds, avoid food preparation while ill, and wear single-use gloves as required.

Food handler hygiene also includes proper handwashing before working with food, as well as at appropriate intervals as necessary, such as after using the restroom, handling money, taking out the trash, or touching anything that may contaminate their hands. Proper handwashing includes scrubbing hands and arms with soap and warm running water for 10-15 seconds.

Proper handwashing is a crucial aspect of safe food preparation
Proper handwashing

Food handlers must also follow all food safety guidelines for food preparation and service. This includes taking temperatures of foods to ensure they are being stored, held, cooked, and reheated properly. Food handlers must also keep work areas clean and sanitized as needed, and take careful precautions to avoid contaminating foods by mixing raw ingredients with cooked and prepared foods.

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