5 Factors for Safe Food Storage and Distribution

5 Factors for Safe Food Storage and Distribution

There are over 250 foodborne diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites.  If food is not stored and distributed properly, it can come into con

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There are over 250 foodborne diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites.  If food is not stored and distributed properly, it can come into contact with chemicals or other toxins that can make people sick. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans become ill from contaminated food or drinks each year, and, sadly, around 3,000 people die from contaminated food.

The worst part about all of this is that food contamination and foodborne illnesses are mostly preventable. When storing and distributing food, handlers must take the proper precautions and follow food safety best practices to prevent these issues. If they do so, foodborne illness can be almost eliminated.

Maintaining food safety should be of the utmost importance to any food-related business. The best practices for food safety are relatively easy to implement and don’t cost all that much, especially when compared to the cost of being the source of contaminated food. To help remind readers of some of these best practices, here are five factors for safe food storage and distribution.

1. Implement a FIFO Strategy

Food that sits too long in storage is a major factor in food spoilage that can lead to foodborne illness. To minimize this possibility, any organization that stores food should adopt a first in, first out (FIFO) inventory system. In a FIFO inventory management system, when removing the next item from storage, you take out the product that has been in storage the longest, the one that was “first in” storage. For example, if a product was stored on the 1st of the month and another was stored on the 5th, the next item out of storage would be the one that was stored on the 1st.

This is a simple concept but there are plenty of organizations that either don’t follow this system or, more commonly, don’t have a set system at all. In these situations, employees will grab any product they choose without considering the dates.  That is what can cause a product to sit on the shelf for such a long period that it goes bad and contributes to a foodborne illness.

2. Avoiding Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination refers to anytime bacteria is transferred from one substance to another. This is why the best practice for food purveyors and people at home is to keep raw meat on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator and to wash vegetables before preparing them. Food- to-food cross-contamination is a major issue but it is not the only example of cross-contamination.

Two other kinds of cross-contamination must be watched for carefully in the world of food distribution and storage. They are: equipment-to-food cross-contamination and person-to-food cross-contamination. In distribution and storage, food comes across many different surfaces and touches many different hands. Making sure everyone in your organization knows how these two forms of cross-contamination happen is critical for keeping food safe on its journey from one point to another.  

3. Reliable Temperature Monitoring

Another big piece of food safety involves making sure that different foods are stored at the correct temperature so that bacteria or other contaminants don’t develop. Foods that need to be refrigerated should generally be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and frozen foods should usually be stored and transported at about 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Knowing these temperatures is one thing but monitoring them is what creates good food safety practices.

As this Dickson article notes, data loggers are the primary means of monitoring temperature-sensitive products such as food or pharmaceuticals. Data loggers are sensors that precisely record the environmental conditions of an area. This not only includes temperature but also factors such as humidity and air pressure. Many of the data loggers currently used in the food industry are internet-connected. This allows them to report their data to a central location via a cloud-based remote monitoring system.

4. Proper Hygiene and Sanitation

Facilities involved in food distribution and storage have to demonstrate a higher level of sanitation at the facility and among the workers. This goes hand-in-hand with voiding different types of cross-contamination. Having a detailed cleaning schedule and empowering everyone in the organization to help with sanitation are two important ways of maintaining the highest level of hygiene and sanitation. Among other helps, facility administrators should be sure to provide enough handwashing stations and use the right kind of soaps and sanitizers.

Facilities that handle food will also draw the attention of more pests than other types of facilities. Food storage and distribution facilities should practice proactive pest control, regular pest control maintenance, and make sure everyone on site knows the signs of pest infestations, such as droppings or holes, and how to be vigilant about finding them.

5. Consistent Employee Training

Any organization that deals with food storage and distribution can put all the policies and procedures it wants to in place around inventory, cross-contamination, temperature monitoring, and cleanliness but if they don’t properly train their employees on these measures, it will all be for naught. Consistent employee training is the key to make all these factors work in concert and result in a good food safety record.

Consistent employee training starts with the initial hiring process and doesn’t stop there. Training must be an ongoing initiative. It should keep employees up-to-date on the latest changes and trends and also test for knowledge and adherence to policies along the way. An organization-wide commitment to proper training is the best way to ensure that all your best practices are being practiced in the way you need them to be to keep the food and beverages your organization is responsible for safe.

Conclusion

No one in any organization wants to be responsible for making someone sick but, unfortunately, this happens to millions of people each year. The good news is, with some knowledge, care, and training, it is possible to greatly reduce these occurrences and even, in many cases, completely eliminate them. The five factors above can help your organization do this and keep the people who eat your food and drink your beverages safe.