Food & Fitness

Lessons from a food handler course

safe food

Did the person who last handled your cutlery wash their hands first?

Yesterday I took an all-day food handler course for my work with Fruit Share, which resulted in an exam at the end of the day (I passed with 98%. Awesome :)). I learned some important things about handling food, and throughout the day I made several observations which I thought I might share with you…

1) Food should always be rapidly cooled and kept out of the danger zone. The danger zone is room temperature. That’s when bacteria grows the fastest. Sad as it is, I had no idea. Whenever I cook things, I always leave them on the counter to cool off before putting them in the fridge (if I’m not eating them immediately). Apparently that’s completely wrong! I’ve been consuming piles of potentially harmful bacteria without knowing it (yummy?).

2) Bleach is a good sanitizer. Apparently, you can soak dishes in chlorine bleach for a few minutes to get all bacteria off, and then when it air-dries, all the bleach just vanishes into thin air and your food is perfectly safe when you use the dishes again. I’ve got to admit, I’m skeptical on this one. I mean, bleach? The government always tells us things are harmless and then 20 years later we find out that we’re all getting cancer from using x ingredient. I find it difficult to believe that bleach really just dissolves off the dish and leaves it safe for cutting raw meat and stuff on. But that’s just me.

3) The instructor sometimes doesn’t have the best practices. Case in point, after she told us that under no circumstances should chemicals ever be placed above food in a kitchen, she left the bucket of water/chlorine bleach on my desk. That desk was where I worked all day, and also ate lunch. Hmmm. Maybe it was a test?

4) Poultry was spelled wrong on a sample of the material of government-approved cutting board. The “u” was missing. That bothered me all day long and I really wanted to scribble it out and take a marker and spell it properly. What can I say; strange things irk me.

5) There’s more to think about than just pesticides. I’m fairly cautious about chemicals getting on my food, but I tend to think less about bacteria or viruses getting on my food, or physical objects (insect parts, bandages, and all the other gross stuff that people occasionally find in their food). It was interesting to see this whole other view. For example, at one point the instructor said she’d advise against using any kind of sprouts, or at least to cook them at a very high temperature to get rid of bacteria because they often are contaminated. I pointed out that the nutrients get lost if you cook sprouts, and she agreed. Normally I just rinse my sprouts briefly and then have at it. I don’t worry much about salmonella or E. coli and all that because… well, I’m not sure. I guess added chemicals bothered me more in the past since they’re deliberately added to food when we know it’s harmful to our bodies? Anyways, it all depends on your perspective as to what you prioritize with these kinds of things – but we should definitely think about all types of potential contaminates to our food.

6) I felt kind of like I was back in drivers ed in high school again. I remember watching videos in my driver course that said things like, “country kids get killed on country roads” in an ominous tone when we learned about the hazards of driving. With all the talk of foodborne illnesses and deaths resulting from them, it was very similar to that. I think everyone was a little frightened by the end of the day 😉

Have you ever taken a food handler course? What interesting things have you learned about the food industry and health inspections?


  1. fd

    interesting! i do the same, leaving food to cool on the counter, because it creates a spike in energy consumption for the fridge if you introduce hot things into it, and i had heard, its not great for the other stuff in the fridge. *shrugs*. seems like a lose-lose situation.

    a close family member in our house contracted hepatitis from unwashed vegetables, so in our house, veggies are washed, rinsed, washed, rinsed and washed again 🙂 and our house is almost all organic. i have always struggled with how exactly to wash sprouts… like you, i’m personally still more worried about the pesticides etc.

  2. Sarah

    fd I was going to make exactly the same comment. I’d heard it was bad to put warm food in the fridge, but also bad to leave it on the side to cool. You can’t win. I tend to leave it on the side till its mostly cool then transfer it to the fridge/freezer.

    I was a little worried recently after the health scare re salad here in the UK, ecoli or something coming from German beansprouts I think and contaminating other salad… washing apparently wont kill the bacteria so what are you to do… not eat salad? Hmmm. Tricky one.

    1. Sagan Morrow

      Very tricky indeed.

      I tend to think that how we do things at home and how they’re done in a commercial place such as a restaurant require different practices… maybe since it’s just family and you’re used to sharing each others germs and that sort of thing, we aren’t as susceptible to getting sick when we leave things out on the counter at home, but a restaurant environment is different because of so many different people being there all the time? Not too sure, but I know that I’ve never gotten sick from my own cooking, even though I’ve apparently been doing a number of things VERY wrong as far as food safety and temperature abuse goes!

  3. the Bag Lady

    Sagan – I’m glad you took that course! I have had my food safety certificate for a couple of years now (had to have it to work as a cook) — not sure if it’s exactly the same as the one you took (ours was 2 days) but it’s a real eye-opener.
    (And I’m totally with you on the spelling mistake – that kind of thing drives me absolutely crazy, especially on a government document!)

  4. Jody - Fit at 53

    Very interesting Sagan! Thx for posting about this. Like others, I would leave hot meat out to cool a little before putting it in the fridge.

    On a side note, I once knew a lady that became a food inspection person for restaurants. She lost a ton of weight after that because she would not eat out AND just some of the stuff she saw made her sick to her stomach. Scary!

  5. Geosomin

    Interesting thinga bout the bleach – any industrial kitchen I’ve worked in it was wash things, then soak in bleach water then rinse. Bleach doesn’t dissappear, so much as react with the oxygen in the air and become inert.
    I too was surprised about the coolign in the fridge. My mum had always said to cool things off before putting them in the fridge…apparently you get less harmful bacteria when you cool food in teh fridge as opposed to cool somewhat on the bcounter and then put in the fridge. It’s wierd. I tend to put things in shallow containers so they cool faster…btu then I work in a lab and see what muck grows in food…
    The spelling thing would have driven me mad. 🙂

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