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What is a Risk Factor?

When talking about food safety, the most important topic is the prevention of foodborne illness — Job #1 in any restaurant is to prevent foodborne illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are five risk factors that lead to foodborne illness in a restaurant. CDC reached this conclusion by analyzing the causes of foodborne illness outbreaks over a period of years. To reduce the occurrence of foodborne illness, food safety training that includes steps on reducing the five risk factors must be provided to restaurant employees.

  1. Unsafe Food Source
    Buy food from an approved source. All foods that are prepared for sale to the public must be bought from a safe, regulated source, such as local grocery stores or permitted distributors. Foods may not be prepared at home.
  2. Time and temperature abuse
    To prevent foodborne illness, some foods must be controlled for time and temperature (TCS foods). When food is not kept at the right temperature, either hot or cold, this is referred to as “time and temperature abuse.” Hot holding, cold holding, cooling, thawing and reheating can all lead to time and temperature abuse if done incorrectly. It is important to train employees about the Danger Zone — temperatures between 41°F and 135°F. The longer food is in the Danger Zone, the more chance bacteria can grow and foodborne illness can result.
  3. Inadequate Cook Temperature
    An inadequate cook temperature can also lead to foodborne illness. Cook to the proper temperature to kill the bacteria in raw foods. Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods. Do not judge doneness by how the food looks!
  4. Contaminated Equipment
    The fourth risk factor is contaminated equipment. Keeping equipment clean and safe from cross-contamination is a never-ending challenge in food establishments. Do not use the same cutting board for raw chicken and vegetables. Do wash, rinse and sanitize all prep equipment between uses. Change gloves when going from one task to another.
  5. Poor Personal Hygiene
    Good personal hygiene includes wearing clean clothes/aprons, keeping fingernails trimmed, wearing hats or hair nets to cover hair; and washing hands often! Hands can be a source of contamination leading to foodborne illness. Handling ready-to-eat foods with bare hands is a sure way to pass on a foodborne illness if an employee is ill. Handwashing is the most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of germs which can lead to foodborne illness. Employees should wash their hands after using the restroom; before and after preparing food; after handling raw meat and poultry; after handling unclean utensils or equipment; when changing gloves; when changing tasks; after eating and drinking; and after smoking. 

Many Health Department inspections are risk factor assessments. During these inspections, the inspector reviews the active managerial control methods the food establishment uses to reduce the occurrence of risk factors. Temperatures are taken of hot and cold foods. Cook temperatures are taken. It is observed whether employees are washing their hands when they should. Cleaning and sanitizing procedures are observed. If necessary, your inspector may give guidance on how to reduce the occurrence of the risk factors in your establishment.

By taking the necessary steps, a restaurant can reduce the likelihood of a foodborne illness outbreak and keep the customer truly satisfied at the same time! For more information on food safety in food service establishments, visit our webpage at

Read more in the full edition of the April 2017 newsletter PDF icon | español PDF icon

Current Newsletter

Food for Thought Spring 2017

Download the April 2017 issue pdf icon | español pdf icon


Prevent Cross-Contamination: Prevent Foodborne Illness (January 2017) | español
2016 Food Regulations Update (October 2016) | español
Warm Weather Is Here!
(July 2016) | español
Setting the "Gold" Standard (April 2016) | español
Celebrating 1 Year: AMC Recognition Program (January 2016) | español
Active Managerial Control is Catching On! (October 2015) | español
Meet the Most Recent AMC Honorees  (July 2015) | español
Active Managerial Control in Action  (April 2015) | español
Recognizing the Best
(January 2015) | español
Do You Have Active Managerial Control? (October 2014) | español
What is a Risk Factor?
(July 2014)|  español
Warm Weather is Coming! (April 2014) | español
What is FOG? (January 2014)
Be Cool About Cooling (October 2013) | español
Prevent Cross-Contamination: Prevent Foodborne Illness
(January 2013)
Warm Weather is Coming! (April 2013)
An Approved Food Source (January 2013)
What is Date Marking? (Spring 2012)
Employee Health Policy Recap
(January 2012)
How Cold Is It? (Summer 2011)
Employee Health Revisited (Spring 2011)
Do You Have an Employee Health Policy? (Winter 2011)
It's Summertime! (July 2010)
First Line of Defense (October 2009)

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