Temperature Abuse: Challenges in Food Safety
What is Temperature Abuse?
Temperature abuse happens when the raw materials or food products are not stored, refrigerated, thawed, and handled properly at the right temperature range. When it comes to temperature abuse, foods are highly exposed to food safety risks that might cause serious foodborne illness. Cross-contamination and potential biological hazards might occur which are non-compliance with the food safety management system (ISO 22000, HACCP).
Temperature Abuse and Temperature Danger Zone
The temperature danger zone is the temperature range that stimulates harmful bacterial growth. The USDA claims that foodborne bacteria survive and grow rapidly in the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F, doubling in number in a minimum of 20 minutes. Food should not be left out of refrigeration over 2 hours. If the temperature is above 90 °F, food should not be left out for more than 1 hour. Particularly, high moisture and protein-rich food such as meats and dairy products encourage the growth of biological microorganisms the most.
Types of Temperature Abuse
1. Inappropriate storage temperature
To minimize the opportunities of bacteria growth, raw materials should be stored in the freezer room, chiller room, or dry storage respectively with proper temperature and the predefined danger zone. Any perishable foods should not be left out at room temperature for too long. Otherwise, food starts to decay with fast-growing molds or other microorganisms. No matter what type of food, the way it is stored affects its taste easily.
2. Improper thawing
Food should never be thawed in hot water or left out at room temperature for more than two hours, especially perishable foods. The safe methods to defrost the frozen food are refrigerator thawing, cold water thawing, and microwave thawing. If there is insufficient time to thaw the frozen food, it is safe to cook from the frozen state. The cooking will take approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed food.
3. Incorrect cooking, reheating and cooling of food
According to Minnesota Department of Health, the cooking temperature varies depending on different types of food. It is stated that
- Eggs and all ground meats must be cooked to 160°F
- Poultry and fowl must be cooked to 165°F
- Fresh meat steaks, chops, and roasts must be cooked to 145°F
Hot food should not be placed in the cooler or freezer immediately after cooking, as it may lose its nutritional value. In the freezer, food should be kept freeze-dried at the recommended freezer temperature (0°F or below). Putting the food at low temperatures inactivates the molecules of bacteria. However, the bacteria can be reactivated if the frozen food is being reheated or is placed at room temperature.
How to Prevent Temperature Abuse?
Many companies require their workers to monitor the temperature panel and record the temperature manually from time to time. However, this traditional way of avoiding time-temperature abuse is not recommended as it is subject to worker responsibilities and awareness. In recent years, a growing number of companies invest in and utilize Internet of Things (IoT) to ensure food safety. IoT temperature monitoring system enables users to monitor the temperature of logistic, storage, and cooking area in real-time. Users can thereupon set the temperature danger zone. An email or push notification will be sent if the alarm is triggered when the temperature drops to the danger zone.
Temperature abuse occurs not only in food, but also in other substances. For instance, vaccines are sensitive to temperature fluctuations. IoT temperature monitoring system helps to monitor the vaccine cold chain temperature and maintain the temperature of vaccine storage in real-time. These are crucial to make sure the temperature is within the optimal level until all the vaccines are administrated.