Easter Time Egg Questions

Easter is almost here!  What a fun time coloring and decorating hard-boiled eggs with friends and family.

Easter Eggs

But have you ever wondered about how to safely handle your hard-boiled eggs? Below are some of the top questions I get asked during the ServSafe Manager Training.

How can eggs make you sick?

The pathogen of concern is Salmonella.  Salmonella (nontyphoidal) is the number 2 pathogen that causes foodborne illness in the US and the number 1 that causes hospitalization and death.  The CDC estimates over 1 million illnesses a year.  79,000 of those come from of Salmonella Enteritidis which comes directly from improperly handled eggs.  People that are infected will usually become ill 12-72 hours after consuming the bacteria.  Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting.  People with weakened immune systems are at a greater risk.

How does Salmonella affect a regular shell egg?

The bacteria is carried in the fecal matter of the hen.  It can be introduced to the egg shell when the hen is laying the egg.  The bacteria can enter through the porous shell of the egg.  The Salmonella Enteritidis can also be introduced to the egg before the shell is formed in the intestinal track of the hen.

Why are raw eggs in some countries not refrigerated?

The production process is different in the US from European countries, because of this the USDA requires producers to wash and sanitize the egg before selling.  This creates an environment where air and bacteria can more easily pass through the shell. Therefore, temperature control is required.

Do hard-boiled eggs need to be refrigerated? 

The CDC, USDA, Egg Board and FDA consumer guidelines all agree after an egg is hard-boiled the surface even more porous.  The recommendation is that eggs be refrigerated at 40°F or below for no more than 7 days.  The only source of information that is different is the FDA food code for retail food establishments.  Raw shell eggs can be stored at 45°F or below.  Water cooled eggs must be stored at 41°F or below and as stated in Annex 3 Public Health Reason / Administrative guidelines 3-501.14, air cooled eggs are no longer a TCS food.

“Hard-boiled eggs with shell intact may be cooled in ambient air and are not considered to be a time/temperature control for safety food after cooling. Hard-boiled eggs may be cooled in drinking water but are considered to be a time/temperature control for safety food after cooling because pathogens, which may be present in the water, may pass through the egg shell during cooling”

Should you eat eggs that have been used for hiding?

Yes and No.  As long as the egg has not been left at room temperature for more than 2 hours and the egg is washed off before placing back in refrigeration you should be safe.  However, it would be safer to use other items like plastic reusable eggs for hiding.

Additional Resources:

https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceRegulation/RetailFoodProtection/FoodCode/UCM595140.pdf

https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/eggstorage.html

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/egg-products-preparation/shell-eggs-from-farm-to-table/

Retail: Is your food safety management system healthy?

Food Safety Management System

Food safety management system

When a facility has a functioning Food Safety Management System (FSMS), team members perform better, and customers will receive a consistent message when visiting.

In Maryland a HACCP plan is required for every moderate and high priority facility when they start up.  Often, they become forgotten until a health inspector asks to review it.  A HACCP plan should not be looked at as “just another requirement”.  A well written HACCP plan should be part of your overall food safety management system and should be part of your day to day operations.  However,  HACCP is only the beginning of your full Food Safety Management System.

What is a FSMS?

The short answer is;  Team members understanding,  consistently following and documenting the processes and procedures you have in place to minimize the risk of contamination of food.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at what your system would look like.

Commitment

The first step in creating your Food Safety Management System is to have a commitment to food safety.   No matter what your brands message is your team needs to understand that without food safety you cannot provide a consistent message to your customers.  This starts from the top down.  When team members think the “bottom line” and sales is all you care about food safety will not be a priority.  Unfortunately, the two go hand in hand.

SOP’s

Next establish your Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s).  This would include; your purchasing program that ensures your food is from a safe source, personal hygiene program, employee illness, cleaning and sanitizing program, how your facility avoids cross contamination, and establishing time and temperature controls to avoid bacterial growth.  The person writing the SOP’s need to have a good understanding of food safety and the current practices and procedures of the facility.  This is the core of preventing contamination to food.

Hazard Analysis

After your SOP’s are established you must look at every menu item and determine where a biological hazard could occur.  These are called critical control points.  In a Maryland retail food facility this would be steps in the process like cooking, cooling, reheating and hot holding.   Again, the person doing the hazard analysis must have a good understanding of food safety risks.  There are special considerations when the facility does certain practices like; using time as a public health control, cooks using sous vide, does any reduced oxygen packaging, uses additives or preservatives, cures food like bacon, displays seafood, squeezes juice or offers live shellfish in a display like a lobster tank.

Food Process Charts

Using data from the Hazard Analysis, create the food process charts.  The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene offers four methods of creating charts.  I prefer to use method #2.  I feel that it is the easiest for food handlers to understand and follow along.   For every CCP identified in the Hazard Analysis you must list the critical limit, how monitoring will take place, what corrective action you should take if there is a deviation in the critical limit and how will you verify the monitoring took place.

Training

Congratulations!  You now have a HACCP plan.  Now we need to make sure that team members are on the same page.  That is where training come in.   Training should be job specific and ongoing.  Divide your facility into stations, for instance, prep, expo, servers, warewashing, etc.   Review your SOP’s and make sure you include all necessary points in the training.    Remember, everyone in your facility should be trained in personal hygiene and employee illness.  Training can be computer based, group, one on one or a combination.  I believe the best training starts with computer-based or group training and then one on one with a qualified team member providing the training.  During training, be sure to correct the team member when doing something incorrectly. This can be done gently and politely but now is not the time to worry about hurt feelings.

Monitoring and Verification

Our system would not be complete without making sure that it is working.  We do this through monitoring the critical limits established in the food charts and monitoring team members to ensure that all SOP’s are being followed as well.  Monitoring is an action, for instance, it could be a visual observation or actually taking a temperature reading of cooked food.   Verification occurs when monitoring is documented through charts and logs.  The team member performing the task documents the result.  Managers must review these logs and documents to ensure the system is working the way it should.

For instance, if a team member had to cook the chicken longer than the procedure states they would document this as a corrective action.  Managers then review the corrective action documents and can then investigate why the corrective action had to be taken.  Perhaps, they deep fryer is not working correctly, or the team member placed too much chicken at one time in the basket.  Management can make corrections by either repairing equipment or retraining the team member.

Revise

When you make menu, equipment or structural changes the entire system needs to be reevaluated.  Maryland requires your HACCP be revised every 5 years or when significant changes have taken place.

You think the last place you ate made you sick? Here is what to do.

Social media can be an excellent source to share information.  But when bad information is shared it can unfairly harm a business’s reputation.

I often see posts where someone claims that they became sick or got food poisoning from a restaurant.   The problem is most often you did not get sick from the last thing you ate.  It just may have been your bodies “tipping point” of when the vomiting and or diarrhea starts.

Take a look at this chart, it lists the top 6 pathogens as identified by the CDC1.  I have included estimated number of cases, transmission, incubation period, duration and symptoms.  Although this is just a quick overview of these pathogens it will help you see that each pathogen is different from each other.  Remember there are approximately 40 pathogens that can cause illness in humans.

 

Pathogen Mean estimated number of cases each year. How do humans typically get sick. Onset or incubation period before symptoms appear Duration of your illness Symptoms
Norovirus 20 million Ready to eat foods or by drinking contaminated beverages.  Touching a surface and putting your hand in your mouth could also be a source.  Only a few cells are necessary to cause illness. 12-48 hours 1-3 days Diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pains.  Sometimes fever and body aches
Campylobacter 1.3 million Most illnesses likely occur due to eating raw or undercooked poultry, or to eating something that touched it. Some are due to contaminated water, contact with animals, or drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk.

Only a small number of cells is needed to cause illness.  A single drop of poultry juice can contain enough cells!

2-5 days 1 week Diarrhea (often bloody), fever, cramping, nausea, vomiting
Salmonella 1.2 million Can be found in many foods, including sprouts and other vegetables, eggs, chicken, pork, fruits, and even processed foods, such as nut butters, frozen pot pies, chicken nuggets, and stuffed chicken entrees. 12-72 hours 4-7 days Diarrhea, fever, cramps
Clostridium Perfringens 1 million Beef, poultry, gravies, and dried or pre-cooked foods.  Especially those left out for too long during cooling. 6-24 hours 24 hours Diarrhea, cramping, usually there is no fever or vomiting
Shigella 500,000 Found in human feces, so any contact with feces from a person that had shigella can become contaminated very easily, even weeks after they are better.  This transmission could happen when changing a sick baby’s diaper, during sex or eating foods that person touched without proper hand-washing.   It only takes a small number of cells to cause illness. 1-2 days 5-7 days Diarrhea, fever, stomach cramping
Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph) 300,000 Ready to eat foods that require refrigeration that have been handled by someone that is a carrier of Staph.  25% of healthy adults are carriers in their nose or infected cuts.  Contaminated food is left at unsafe temperatures for too long.  Cooking will typically kill the bacteria but sometimes a toxin is formed and those cannot be destroyed. 30 minutes – 6 hours 1 day Nausea, vomiting, cramps, most have diarrhea but not always.

As you look at the data, you see that the only pathogen that causes illness right after eating is Staph.  There are 300,000 estimated cases a year.  That is still a large number of people getting sick from improper handling of food, but statistically you are more likely to be ill from another pathogen.

What does this mean?

Do NOT immediately blame the last place you ate and publicly shame them.   I am in no way dismissing your illness and how bad you felt.  But making false accusations can be very harmful to someone already in a grueling business.

What should you do?

First and foremost, take care of yourself.  If you experience symptoms of foodborne illness, such as diarrhea or vomiting, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Then report the illness, doing so helps alert the health department of a possible outbreak.

They will likely do an investigation including asking you what your exact symptoms are and what foods you ate in at least the last 7 days.  They may also ask you go to the doctors to be tested.  A doctor is the only sure way that your illness can be diagnosed.

If you don’t feel it is necessary to make a report here is the recommendations from the CDC2 of when you should seek medical attention:

  • High fever (temperature over 101.5°F, measured orally)
  • Blood in stools
  • Frequent vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration)
  • Signs of dehydration, including a marked decrease in urination, a very dry mouth and throat, or feeling dizzy when standing up.
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days

But remember, unless you have the illness diagnosed, understand the incubation period, think of what you ate that is typically associated with that illness during that time period and make a report, please do not blame a restaurant for your illness.  Remember, the illness could have come from your own home.  Be informed. Be smart.

 

  1. gov/foodborneburden/pdfs/scallan-estimated-illnesses-foodborne-pathogens.pdf
  2. gov/foodsafety/symptoms.html

Time as a control for food safety.

Do you use time as a control?

Are you wondering what that means?

Here are some examples of when my clients have successfully used time as a control on TCS foods;

  • Breading mixes that are in almost constant use. You may be breading items like fish or chicken every 15-30 minutes and refrigerating the breading isn’t practical.
  • Catering or displays of food.
  • A cold holding station does not maintain 41°F or below during peak times.
  • Cooked pizza displayed and being sold by the slice but 135°F is not being maintained.

These are just a few times when you may need to use time rather than temperature to control the safety of your food. Remember from the food safety training class you learned that food left in the temperature danger zone (41°F – 135°F) for more than 4 hours is discarded. This is because bacteria can grow to levels that can make the customer sick after this time period.

So, using this principle we can use time as a control, rather than temperature. This is sometimes called “time as a public health control”.

The following information is for Maryland retail food facilities, remember that your county/city may have different regulations and you should always follow those rules.  The basic rules that you will need to follow are:

  • You must obtain written permission from the local health department. This means it MUST be in your HACCP plan as a critical control point for that food product.
  • You must have verification procedures in place. Either have a log or time stamp the product container with the time it was removed from temperature control and the time it must be discarded.
  • There needs to be procedures in place to make sure the food is discarded at or before the 4 hours.

As you can see there may be valid times when using time as a control could be very beneficial.

If you have any specific questions about this topic or any other questions about food safety, please contact our office at 410-687-1015 and we will be happy to help.

The code this is based on is listed in COMAR 10.15.03.08 Use of time-only with potentially hazardous foods. The above information is advisory in nature only.