Food contact surfaces can harbour a multitude of harmful micro-organisms and other substances which can contaminate food.
It’s important to understand what is considered food contact surfaces and the requirements to prevent food contamination.
There are many different types of food contact surfaces. More than you might realise!
One specific type of food contact surface is often missed as such by food handlers. Can you guess what it is?
What is Considered Food Contact Surfaces (Definition)?
Food contact surfaces mean any surface with which food (especially unpackaged food) normally comes in contact.
Food contact surfaces also include those surfaces from which food may drain, drip or splashback onto surfaces normally in contact with food.
Simply put: Food contact surfaces are ANY surface food comes in contact with.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What comes in contact with your food products?
- What facilities like utensils, surfaces, equipment or tools do you use during food handling?
- Does any of the above have the potential to contaminate your food products and ingredients?
Examples of Food Contact Surfaces
For the purpose of this exercise and to simplify things, we will use a restaurant or catering setup to identify some examples of food contact surfaces.
This list is comprehensive but might not include all food contact surfaces in your food handling enterprise.
Hands, Clothing and Gloves
Did you know that hands, clothing and food handling gloves are considered food contact surfaces?
These food contact surfaces are most probably the biggest sources of food contamination if good hygiene practices are not followed.
Food containers are made of various different types of materials, for example, plastic, metal, glass, acrylic, brushed stainless steel, ceramic, canisters, etc.
Food containers are used for storage, display, serving, processing and preparation of food products for short or extended periods.
Examples of Food Containers
- Plastic containers
- The food trays used in serving units
- The food trays used in display units
- All types of packaging material – this is the one food contact surface often missed by food handlers and considered not important to Food Safety.
- Baking trays
Another example of food contact surfaces are utensils used during food handling.
Utensils are normally items small enough that you can hold in your hand during food processing, preparation and serving.
There are food preparation utensils and eating utensils. Both are considered food contact surfaces. Sometimes the same item can be used for both food preparation and as an eating utensil. For example, a spoon or fork.
Examples of Utensils
- Cutting boards
- Forks, spoons and knives
- Hand mixers
- Serving spoons
- Pots and pans for cooking
- Glasses, cups and mug
- Measuring cups and jugs
- Mortar and pestle
- Ice paddles used for cooling hot food quickly
There are thousands of different types of equipment used in the food industry.
Food equipment is generally used to prepare, process, cook, handle, store, and package food and food products. It can range from small to industrial size items.
This category can pose a real risk to Food Safety and even the safety of staff. It is more difficult to clean and sometimes need more specialized and/or alternative cleaning methods.
Food processing and preparation equipment are normally mechanically / electronically operated, but you do get hand-operated equipment that doesn’t need a power source, for example, a hand-operated mincer.
Power, water and people don’t go well together if the person cleaning the equipment are not well trained. Anyone cleaning power-operated equipment must be well-trained in the cleaning processes and methods used.
Examples of Food Processing and Preparation Equipment
- Preparation equipment used for skinning, sorting, grading, cleaning or peeling of food products.
- Mechanical processing equipment for cutting, chopping, forming, crushing and grinding of food products.
- Mixing and blending equipment.
- Heating, cooking, and hot or cold holding equipment.
Food Preparation and Processing Workstations
These normally include any surfaces you might use during the preparation or processing of food products for example, countertops.
Not all food is put in containers when they are placed on a countertop.
For example, when making sandwiches and putting fruits and vegetables directly on the countertop.
Food can also fall from cutting boards on the countertop and be placed back on the cutting board.
Food Washing Facilities
We should always wash/rinse fruit and vegetables before use.
It’s not allowed in the food industry to wash or rinse food products in the same basin where you wash your dishes or your hands. Separate food washing facilities must be available.
Food washing facilities are considered food contact surfaces and can be a source of food contamination if not cleaned properly and regularly.
Single-use items can also fall under the utensils and container categories. These are any items that can only be used once during food handling and serving.
You are not allowed to reuse single-use items. They are not designed for cleaning.
Single-use items are normally associated with the fast-food industry.
Examples of Single-Use Items
- Gloves used during food handling
- Plastic / polystyrene cups
- Polystyrene food containers
- Plastic utensils for eating (spoons, forks, knives)
- Drinking straws
The Characteristics and Requirements of Food Contact Surfaces
There are specific requirements for food contact surfaces. The characteristics and requirements of food contact surfaces are regulated by food laws.
Food contact surfaces must be:
- easy to clean and sanitise;
- in a good condition and well maintained (for example, no chips, cracks or worn parts);
- cleaned regularly and as often as necessary to avoid food contamination and cross-contamination;
- made from approved food contact (food grade) materials.
Food contact surfaces should not have any open joints, cracks, or crevices where contaminants can accumulate.
You are not allowed to use any containers that previously held chemicals for any food handling, including food storage.
Non-food items should never be used during food handling.
Never reuse single-use items. It’s important to protect single-use items from contamination because you cannot wash or clean them. Proper packaging and storage of single-use items are the preferred choices of protection against contaminants.
Well documented policies and procedures (instructions) should be in place for the condition, maintenance, cleaning and sanitising of food contact surfaces.
Food handlers need to identify all food contact surfaces and understand the specific requirements for cleaning and sanitising these food contact surfaces.
Food handlers also need to know how to prevent cross-contamination between the different food contact surfaces; and between food contact surfaces and food products.
Food surfaces are a real threat to Food Safety and can become easily contaminated and in turn, contaminate food products.
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