How Can Food Handlers Reduce the Risk of Spreading Bacteria

How can food handlers reduce bacteria to avoid foodborne disasters?

In most states, restaurant workers must be ServSafe certified, but inevitably, bacteria and food contamination can still happen. Your restaurant staff must be well-trained, well-equipped, and diligent. Here are the risks and 6 best practices food handlers can use to reduce bacteria in the kitchen and throughout your restaurant.

Your customers can get food poisoning, and an outbreak can become a major health hazard. Foodborne illnesses range in severity from mild to deadly, and outbreaks are frequently traced to restaurants or hotels. Foodborne illnesses result in 5,000 deaths per year in the US alone.

Types of Common Bacteria Found in Commercial Kitchens

A scientist holds a petri dish scattered with green bacteria.Salmonella

Salmonella is a common culprit in foodborne illness outbreaks. Food poisoning is caused by the bacteria itself and not by a toxin it generates, unlike other types of bacteria. Salmonella contamination often results from improperly handling certain foods, including eggs, seafood, and meat. Salmonella poisoning can be unpleasant for some and very serious for others.


Staphylococci bacteria are found everywhere, including in the human body, but when they get into food, they can produce a toxin that makes people sick. The toxin can survive the cooking process, making it even more dangerous. It’s one of the most common causes of foodborne illnesses worldwide.


Food poisoning caused by campylobacter can come from contaminated food and water, resulting in diarrhea (often bloody), fever, stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Campylobacter can spread through contaminated food, especially raw or undercooked chicken, fresh produce, or contaminated water.


Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) is a species of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria that can survive and grow under refrigeration and other food preservation measures.

According to the FDA, US listeriosis outbreaks have been linked to raw, unpasteurized milk and cheeses, ice cream, raw or processed vegetables, raw or processed fruits, raw or undercooked poultry, sausages, hot dogs, deli meats, and raw or smoked fish and other seafood.


Diners can be exposed to E. coli from contaminated water or food — especially raw vegetables and undercooked ground beef. While many strains of E.Coli are harmless, some strains can cause diarrhea (sometimes severe and bloody), stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting.


The most common foodborne or waterborne viral infection is norovirus. It causes viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu), and once infected, it can spread from person to person. It can also spread when a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their eyes or mouth or consumes contaminated food or water.

How Food Handlers Can Reduce Bacteria in Restaurants

Sliced orange bell peppers, raw chicken, and cubed cheese each on a different cutting board to prevent cross-contamination. The cutting boards are green, white, and brown, and sit on a black countertop.With the health of your customers and staff on the line, it’s critical to implement effective ways to prevent cross-contamination and reduce the risk of bacterial growth. Food safety prevention requires a combination of the right equipment and best practices. Here are the most important steps your staff can take:

Watch the Temperatures

At every stage of food storage and prep, temperature comes into play. So to minimize bacteria, keep a close eye on temperatures, cleaning regimens, and cooking procedures.

  • Refrigeration: Store perishable foods below 40°F and never leave perishable cold foods at comfortable room temperature for more than two hours – one hour if the temp is above 90°F. Pathogen growth is quick when food is stored at the wrong temperature.
  • Cooking: Different kinds of meat, poultry, eggs, fish and shellfish, casseroles, and even leftovers have minimal internal temperatures that range from 145°F for most cuts of meats to 165°F for poultry. Ensure your cooking staff knows the safe internal temperatures for each type of food, and always use a thermometer to ensure dishes are adequately cooked.
  • Cleaning and Sanitation: The FDA issues guidelines for restaurant hot water to help food handlers reduce bacteria. Check frequently to ensure your dishwasher and hand sinks meet safety requirements. Wash cleaning rags with hot water and a sanitizing agent in a washing machine.


Food handler cleaning starts with frequent, thorough handwashing. Food handlers must wear single-use gloves and change them between tasks. (They should not wash their hands with gloves on).

Utensils and surfaces should also be sanitized, especially after contact with raw meat. And, of course, your restaurant regularly needs a good deep cleaning. You might want to post a handy cleaning checklist your staff can use as a guide.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

Raw meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish should be kept separate from each other, from vegetables, and from cooked foods. Surfaces and utensils used to cut or prep raw food need to be cleaned and sanitized with hot soapy water before the next use.

Watch the Juices

Raw meats and poultry stored in the refrigerator can drip onto shelving or other foods that won’t be cooked. When storing meats, make sure they are packaged and separated to prevent drips.

Any marinade used for raw meat, poultry, or seafood should be discarded or boiled if you use it during the cooking process.

Let Sick Workers Stay Home

Food handlers can significantly reduce bacteria by not bringing infections to work. Servers, kitchen staff, and management can spread bacterial infections through coughing, sneezing, breathing, and touching surfaces. Letting sick workers stay home without penalty may be inconvenient, but it will help keep outbreaks from damaging your reputation.

Monitor Alerts

Foodborne illnesses are sometimes traced to ready-to-eat foods, frozen foods, or fresh produce. Stay on top of the foodborne illness outbreak news to be sure your food sources are safe.

Bacteria are everywhere. The best way food handlers can reduce the spread of bacteria and prevent foodborne illness is by cleaning everything that comes in contact with food, paying close attention to temperatures and storage, and not bringing infectious germs to work when sick.

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