No one can dispute the wisdom of following HACCP food safety regulations closely, both for the quality of the food you serve and the safety of your patrons—not to mention the regulatory and legal protections that go with accurate HACCP records. As we work with front line outlets in the food service industry, we see the same food safety mistakes cropping up again and again. Here are some common food safety errors we’ve seen and how to avoid them in your facility.
Mistake #1: Testing a Thermometer’s Accuracy with an Improperly Made Ice Bath
The simple fact of the matter is that when ice is floating in a container of water (or other liquid), the temperature difference between the water at the top and bottom of the container can be as much as 20°F (12°C). But NIST says a proper ice bath should be within 0.01°C of the ice point—close enough for food safety.
In a properly made ice bath 1) the ice is resting on the bottom of the container and 2) the water level at the top is slightly below the ice level. 3) Stir and let sit a minute and 4) stir the thermometer while performing the test. But, better yet, watch this short video or read this short blog post to become a pro ice bath tester.
Solution: Learn how to make a proper ice bath test.
Mistake #2: Using an Infrared Thermometer to Test Internal Temperatures
We get this question a lot, “Does my infrared thermometer tell me the internal temperature of my food?”
The Answer: No.
Infrared thermometers measure the infrared energy bouncing off the surface of an object to determine its surface temperature.
When it comes to chicken or eggs or soup or any other kind of food you are wanting to measure for food safety purposes, the surface of the food is almost always cooler than the center of the food because of evaporative cooling.* For an accurate reading of the temperature of your food, use a penetration-probe style thermometer (like the Thermapen Mk4) that you can insert into the center of the food (or, if you must use an IR gun, see Mistake #3 below…).
Solution: Use a probe thermometer to measure food.
* The surface may be warmer than the center if you are cooling a food from below.
Mistake #3: Failing to Stir Foods Before Measuring Their Temperature
Differences in temperature within the same medium are called “gradients.” Gradients exist in ovens, coolers, fridges and solid foods like vegetables and chicken. The same is true with liquids and semi-liquids like salsa and soup. Whether they are cooking or chilling, different parts of foods heat up and cool down at different rates. If you just stick a probe thermometer into a Cambro of salsa that has been sitting all morning, for example, before stirring the salsa, you may be measuring the temperature of a cold spot or a hot spot and you’ll never know which.
The quick fix is to stir the salsa thoroughly before measuring its temperature. Stirring evens out the gradients and brings foods, liquids, and semi-liquids to a more uniform temperature. For extra credit, you can even stir your thermometer probe in the food while you take its temperature. Now you’ll know the actual temperature of the food.
Note that if you stir a soup or other liquid thoroughly and measure its temperature immediately after stirring, you can actually use an infrared thermometer to check its temperature because evaporative cooling won’t have had time to set in (see Mistake #2).
Solution: Stir foods thoroughly before measuring their temperature.
Mistake #4: Failing to Measure the Thermal Center of a Food
Because of those gradients, you want to be sure you are measuring the thermal center of a food with your thermometer. This can be a challenge with dial thermometers (whose sensor is up to two inches long) or slow digital thermometers (that take more than 5 seconds to reach an accurate reading). But with a fast and accurate digital thermometer, you can pull the probe tip through a food and simply look for the lowest number on the display if you are cooking food or the highest number on the display if you are cooling food. This extreme temperature will be the thermal center (read more about finding the thermal center of steak, for example, here).
Another common mistake is resting a probe tip on the bottom of a pan or container of food rather than suspending a probe tip in the middle of a liquid. Even if the liquid has been properly stirred, the temperature of the pan bottom itself can affect the reading of a probe resting on its surface.
Solution: Pull the probe tip through the food and look for the lowest reading.
Mistake #5: Using Paper HACCP Logs When So Many Digital Solutions Are Available
We live in a digital age, yet many are still using paper HACCP logs. Paper HACCP logs are subject to damage and even, heaven forbid, fabricated readings when someone doesn’t feel like actually taking temperatures. ThermoWorks has dozens of different digital solutions that will make your paper log books go away while providing clear, organized, and actionable data. Instead of a mundane task, you can have lifesaving, brand-protecting, meaningful data with alerts.
With our Thermapen Blue or Saf-T-Log, for example, not only will your employees need to actually take a temperature to record a checklist item, but when the health inspectors come, you will be able to show them your neatly organized daily reports. Think they’ll be impressed?
Solution: Call or email today and ask our helpful ThermoWorks sales specialists for a digital solution to your food safety or HACCP needs.