What's In Your Salad?Thursday, April 08, 2021
The crunch of lettuce, the crisp snap of carrot, the meld of flavours from the ingredients in a salad are all part of the experience of eating a fresh vegetable salad. However, sometimes there is something else in our salad that we did not order, such as a bacterial contaminant. Salad bars are very popular; they can be stand alone or inclusions at restaurants, delis and supermarkets with the option of self-serve or not. Since most of the ingredients at a salad bar, particularly in the cold section, are classified as ready-to-eat, it is important that all care is taken to prevent a food safety issue.
Two of the most common pathogens linked to vegetable contamination are E coli 0157 and Salmonella; investigation of the resulting illness is, more often than not, associated with faecal-oral route of food contamination. Along this route are the transmission vehicle of worker hands, water and soil.
At this point the old adage “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” comes to mind. This is because it is easier to prevent microbial contamination of vegetables, such as green leafy vegetables, than to remove or kill the microorganism after contamination occurs. Furthermore, cut fruits and vegetables have increased surface areas for contamination. Food safety risk and mitigation strategies must be considered from the design stage of the salad bar. This would take into account the design of units and the flow of dishes. Salad bars must have sneeze guards and counter spaces must be frequently cleaned. One-sided service may be slower than self-serve but it gives the operator more control. Additionally, temperature control is very important; mechanical or non-mechanical cooling units can be used. The option depends on operator's choice. Whichever is chosen, the correct holding and serving temperature must be controlled and monitoring records maintained. Remember: The danger zone must be avoided; this is the temperature range in which bacteria grows most rapidly which is between 40°F (5°C) and 140°F (60°C). There must be a designated food preparation sink which is separate from the sink used for hand washing or dishes.
With the areas of water, equipment, pest control, temperature monitoring and training being important, salad bar operators are required to develop and implement standard operating procedures to mitigate against food safety risks.
Water used to wash or cool vegetables that will be eaten raw must be potable, single-pass water. Equipment and pest control are also important considerations. Equipment and utensils must be cleaned and sanitised on a scheduled basis suitable to reduce the probability of cross contamination. Pest control procedures must be implemented to reduce the chance of contamination from pests. Since workers are commonly implicated in food safety infractions, they are required to be consistently trained regarding food safety and hygiene. Here is a guide to help maintain the salad bar:
1. Maintain food temperatures in keeping with the Public Health Food Handling Regulations
2. Mark containers with expiry time
3. Throw out any food that is unmarked or whose time has expired
4. Throw out food at the end of meal service
5. Have fully equipped hand wash sinks for customers
6. Have easily accessed garbage bins
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