How Can Bacteria Be Reduced in Vegetables for Hot Holding?
There are several steps you can take to reduce the number of bacteria present on your cooked or cooked-and-chilled vegetables and bring them back into safe temperatures as quickly as possible.
HOW TO REDUCE BACTERIA IN VEGETABLES FOR HOT HOLDING BASED ON U.S FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION GUIDELINES - There are three major factors in reducing bacteria on fresh produce. The first is to reduce the total number of bacteria before you prepare your food, the second is to use proper equipment and technique during preparation, and the third step is to maintain food temperatures properly when serving your food.
The importance of safe food handling cannot be overstated, especially when preparing food to serve in restaurants and other food service establishments that cater to the public. One area where food handlers must be careful about bacteria levels is in hot holding. To reduce bacteria in vegetables for hot holding, there are three simple steps you can take to keep your customers safe and your establishment clean. In this guide, we’ll show you what these steps are and why they’re so important.
The 7 Steps
If your restaurant serves fresh vegetables or other foods that contain bacteria (e.g., pasta salad, cooked vegetables, sliced fruits), these steps are crucial to food safety.
Use gloves and clean hands. Prepare vegetables as far away from hot-holding equipment as possible, preferably on a separate prep table. This way you won’t transfer bacteria from cutting boards, knives or your hands (and there will be less chance of cross-contamination with ready-to-eat foods).
Wash all surfaces thoroughly. Rinse cutting boards and countertops with hot water and a sanitizer after each use.
Step 1 - The Pre-wash
Many food safety experts are now advocating a pre-wash of vegetables. It may be very effective at reducing bacteria and removing dirt and sand, but it’s not as efficient as thorough washing with water. Pre-washing is performed immediately after harvest before washing with water.
The main reason pre-washing is now considered an option is that studies have shown little or no benefit in lowering bacteria when vegetables are washed under running water.
Pre-washing can be performed by hand or by using a brush on small tubs and boxes of vegetables. Large amounts of vegetables can be cleaned with a large brush attached to a high-pressure hose.
Step 2 - The Cold Water Rinse
Cold water is less likely to encourage bacteria growth than hot water, which is why food safety experts often suggest that food handlers rinse their vegetables before placing them on a buffet. It can be tricky, though, because you want your vegetables to stay cold—but if they’re too cold, that’s not ideal either.
The best way to make sure you get it right is with a two-step process: First, cool your vegetables quickly by adding ice or ice water and refreshing them every 10 minutes until they reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Then go through another quick wash cycle with cold water (38 degrees). This will remove any residual dirt and cool down your vegetables even further before you prepare your hot dishes.
Step 3 - Cooking
Food safety experts have found that steam is one of the best ways to reduce bacteria in vegetables. That’s because it creates an environment where heat penetrates food evenly and quickly, helping to eliminate harmful pathogens.
Steaming veggies also helps retain vitamins and minerals, as well as flavor. To cook veggies using steam: bring water (or stock) to a boil in a steamer or saucepan fitted with a steamer insert; place food on top of the insert, cover and reduce heat; cook until tender.
Note: if you’re cooking frozen vegetables, add a few minutes onto your cooking time.
Step 4 - Chilling
Once a vegetable is cooked, it should be chilled quickly. The best way to do that is plunge-chilling, where you immerse your cooked veggie into an ice bath. Cold water pulls heat away from food three times faster than air—so you can drop its temperature by more than 18 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) in just two minutes.
This method works well with chunky items like potatoes and carrots, but liquids like soups and stews should be cooled more gradually using a bath of ice cubes or crushed ice. When that liquid’s temperature reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius), it can go right into storage—and if your restaurant has refrigeration issues, consider purchasing an immersion cooler.
Step 5 - Reheating
After taking a batch of food out of a hot-water bath, submerge it again, to reheat and kill bacteria. If you don’t, any pathogens may survive and multiply. You should also ensure your thermometer is accurate—and that it isn’t submerged in water—to make sure it measures temperatures accurately.
Check water temperature regularly as you heat food: If it drops below 135 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius), your food won’t be sufficiently heated for safe consumption.
Step 6 - Sanitizing
One of the most common methods for reducing bacteria on vegetables is sanitizing. To sanitize vegetables before putting them into hot holding, make sure your products are rinsed and then soaked in a solution that’s 160-190 degrees Fahrenheit (71-88 degrees Celsius) for at least one minute.
This temperature range allows you to kill some nasty bugs while still keeping enough flavor and texture that customers can enjoy. Keep reading to learn about other techniques!
Step 7 - Service and Storage
The worst thing you can do is not wash your vegetables at all, but if you don’t have time to give them a thorough cleaning, at least make sure you do one or two of these things.
First, try rubbing them with a cut lemon (the acidity will kill bacteria). Second, add a dash of vinegar while they’re being washed. Finally, fill up your sink and add an inch or two of water; floating those babies on top while they wait to be chopped will keep their surface safe from contamination.
To Wrap Things Up!
Use proper cooking methods. Avoid foods with sauces, oil or fats that may carry bacteria. Before serving cooked vegetables, make sure they are hot enough (at least 160 degrees F) and hold them at 135 degrees F or above until served. How you cook and serve your vegetable matters. Here are some suggestions for handling raw and cooked foods safely.
Keep vegetables away from bare human contact, especially your hands. When prepping or cutting produce that will be served hot, wear gloves and minimize knife handling as much as possible. Also, take care when thawing frozen vegetables; it’s best to microwave them or run water over them rather than using a sink of hot water because you can spread bacteria more easily by submerging them in running water.
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