For many consumers, the holiday season means celebratory meals centered around meat, poultry, and seafood: Think Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas roast beef, Hanukkah brisket, and New Year’s Eve shrimp cocktail. To meet increasing demand, grocery stores and supermarkets will be stocking larger volumes of these raw foods than they usually do the rest of the year. As a best-case solution, they’ll use cooler and freezer units normally reserved for other products; the less ideal route is to cram as many turkeys, roasts, and shrimp platters as tightly as possible within the space of each unit.
If this scenario sounds familiar, all the more reason your food safety plan must be strictly enforced and adhered to by all of your employees. Otherwise, you’re at risk of spreading foodborne illness to your consumers rather than holiday cheer.
Meat, Poultry, and Seafood: High-risk Food Products
Raw meat, poultry, and seafood are susceptible to contamination from a wide variety of physical, microbial, chemical, and radiological agents. These foods are particularly vulnerable to such hazards because their moisture, pH levels, and high protein content provide ideal environments for the growth of bacteria. Because of these characteristics, temperatures must be carefully monitored to prevent exposure of meat, poultry, and seafood products to temperatures outside of the safe range — especially during the holiday season when refrigerator and freezer units are being used at maximum capacity.
Basic Precautions to Ensure Food Safety
To get your staff ready to prioritize food safety with proper cooling this holiday season, your managers should be prepared and trained on best practices. It’s the responsibility of your managers to train all employees no matter what time of year it is, but a safe holiday season can lend good raw food habits year-round. From unloading at the dock and storing in the warehouse to displaying in open air coolers in the store, it’s imperative to maintain the proper temperatures of raw foods. All employees should be trained on the following:
Unloading Inspection: When unloading raw food items from delivery trucks, ask for the temperature log from the supplier. If the supplier still takes manual temperature readings, review the data to determine if the products have been exposed to unsafe levels during transport. Another helpful practice is to take the external temperature of about five to seven products using a food probe. This can be done by folding products around the probe to get an accurate reading. If there‘s an out-of-range temperature reading, quarantine those products. If not, immediately move these items to refrigerator and freezer units.
Monitoring Temperature: Strictly monitor all freezer and refrigerator units, especially open air coolers in the store where most meat, poultry, and seafood products are stored and displayed. Using wireless sensors is the best solution to monitor temperature in different zones of your coolers. Make sure that readings are being taken at about 15–30 minute intervals, and ensure that alerts are set up for real-time notification. If you don’t have wireless sensors, take temperatures at different times (generally every 30 minutes, and in different zones of the units). Ensure that your staff are taking temperature readings by making it an essential part of employee shift checklists.
Preventing Cross-Contamination: If there’s ever any doubt about the safety of any items, the protocol should be to remove and dispose of the items to avoid cross-contamination. If any customer returns an item that is spoiled, take extra care to find out how and where it occurred so that the item does not continue to be sold to consumers. Any incidents should be promptly reported and recorded so that it can be handled properly.
Using a continuous temperature monitoring system is the ideal solution, given employees are extremely busy during this time and may forget to check temperatures manually. If an employee forgets or is dishonest, you could be looking at false temperature logs, and likely won’t become aware unless a major issue arises. TempAlert’s remote, digital system does all the work, making the holiday season all the merrier for everyone!