Page 3 - ServSafe Manager Study Guide for the ServSafe

Safe Food Handling

Foods are vulnerable to contamination at various stages within a foodservice establishment. Understanding safe handling practices keeps foods, staff, and guests safe.

The Role of Food Handlers

Foods risk contamination through human error. A minor slip, like touching hair or scratching skin then touching RTE foods, can cause contamination. Even well-meaning food handlers are capable of passing pathogens if they aren’t following the correct procedures. Managers should understand and identify every way contamination might happen, and train staff to prevent it.

Risky Situations

Food handlers risk contamination when they: come to work sick, have wounds, sneeze or cough, have had contact with someone sick, don’t wash hands after the restroom (risking fecal-oral contamination), experience vomiting, diarrhea, or jaundice, or are sick without signs of illness. Carriers can spread illness weeks before exhibiting symptoms.

Risky Actions

Food handlers could cause foodborne illness by spreading pathogens from their hands, and should avoid: scratching their scalp, fingering their hair, wiping their nose, rubbing ears, touching pimples or wounds, wearing dirty clothes, coughing or sneezing into hands, and spitting inside the facility.

Personal Hygiene

Managers should implement a personal hygiene program and participate in it. Staff should be trained on hygiene policies regularly and the manager should model the behavior (clean clothes, restrained hair, gloves, etc.) Food safety procedures should be monitored at all times and modified or changed as science changes.


Handwashing is the most important step in preventing pathogens. Managers should set up proper handwashing stations and never allow handwashing in other sinks. Proper handwashing should be part of the hygiene program. The entire process of washing hands should take a minimum of 20 seconds, include warm running water, a rich lather for 15 seconds, a thorough rinse, and a single-use towel or hand dryer. Staff and managers should wash hands every time possible contamination occurs, when changing tasks, and before touching food contact surfaces. See our Food Handler study guide for more information on proper handwashing.

Using Gloves

Gloves must never be used in place of handwashing, but can provide an extra layer of protection after washing and before touching glassware, plates, flatware, etc. Gloves must be worn when touching RTE foods, if staff has false nails, or when a wound has been covered with a finger cot or bandage. Gloves must be approved for foodservice, disposable (single-use), latex alternative if possible (for latex allergies) and should be provided in various sizes. Gloves should be discarded and changed once dirty or torn, after interruptions, and after hours of use.

Personal Hygiene

Proper hygiene protects against spreading pathogens. Your personal hygiene program should include bathing before work, wearing clean clothes, covering facial hair, wearing minimal jewelry (only approved pieces), and clean aprons. Staff should never eat, drink, or smoke while preparing or serving food, working in food prep areas, or areas where things are being washed.

Health Policies and Monitoring Staff

Your personal hygiene plan should also include policies on reporting illness. Staff should sign statements stating they will report when they’re experiencing symptoms to provide managers with written evidence of food safety training in case the regulatory authority asks for proof. Signs should also be posted on the significance of reporting illness to management.

Reporting Illness

If an employee experiences vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, sore throat and fever, or an infected weeping wound or boil, they must notify management before coming to work. They may need to work in restricted areas or be excluded from work all together. Staff must notify management when they’ve been diagnosed with: norovirus, hepatitis A, Shigella spp., Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Salmonella Typhi, or nontyphoidal Salmonella or if they live with someone who has been diagnosed (except nontyphoidal Salmonella).

Monitoring Staff Health

A manager should watch for signs of the above symptoms in their employees.

Staff Restrictions and Exclusions

Staff can be restricted from working with food if they:

  • have an uncovered wound

  • have a sore throat with fever (unless they work primarily with high-risk populations; in that case, exclude them from work)

  • have persistent sneezing or coughing

Staff should be excluded from work altogether if they:

  • experience vomiting, diarrhea, or jaundice (one or all)

  • have been diagnosed with one of the illnesses listed above (under Reporting Illness)

When staff is diagnosed with one of the illnesses listed above, it should be reported to the local regulatory authority.

Additional Terms and Concepts to Study:

  • Allergens

  • Serving Food Safely

  • Preparing Food Safely

  • If Cross-Contact Occurs

  • If an Allergic Reaction Occurs

  • Personal Hygiene

  • Other Hand Concerns

  • Wearing Appropriate Things

  • Other Safe Practices

  • Handwashing

Flow of Food Basics

The cycle foods travel is called the Flow of Food, and foods must be kept safe at each step. The steps are: purchasing, receiving, storing, preparation, cooking, holding, cooling, reheating, and serving.


It’s the manager’s job to monitor foods along the flow of food, and to know how foods might become unsafe at any step. For example, the freezer truck that delivered your food might not have been cold enough. The manager must be able to spot signs of temperature abuse at the receiving step and reject unsafe food. A server might come to work sick, risking cross-contamination at the serving step. A certified manager must understand these concepts.


Pathogens are easily passed from staff, surfaces, equipment, utensils, etc. and cross-contamination can happen at any step in the flow of food. Managers must know where and how cross-contamination can happen, and how to prevent it. Like keeping raw and RTE foods apart, using separate equipment and prep times, cleaning well and often, and buying foods that don’t require prep (e.g., pre-shredded lettuce).

Time-Temperature Control

Time-temperature abuse causes most foodborne illnesses. Any time food is in the Temperature Danger Zone (TDZ) (41°F to 135°F) and spends too long in or around 70°F to 125°F, it is at risk for rapid pathogen growth. To prevent time-temperature abuse, foods must be cooked to the proper internal temperature, held at the proper temperature, and cooled/reheated properly.

Time and Temperature Monitoring

Time-temperature abuse must be monitored along the flow of food to prevent harmful pathogen growth with the correct thermometer for the job, and all data monitored should be recorded. Procedures should be in place for minimizing TCS food’s time in the TDZ, and for corrective action to take place in case procedures aren’t met.

Types of Thermometers

The most important tool in monitoring foods is the thermometer. There are bimetallic stemmed thermometers, thermocouples, and thermistors.

Bimetallic Stemmed Thermometer

The best for monitoring foods along the flow of food, these range from 0°F to 220°F and must be inserted up to the dimple in the stem. They can be adjusted via the calibration nut and are easy to read and use.

Thermocouples and Thermistors

These take temperature via a metal probe with a sensor on the tip and have a digital display. They don’t have to be inserted as deep as bimetallic stemmed thermometers, making them appropriate to use for thin foods.

Infrared Thermometers (Laser)

These take the temperature of surfaces and don’t have to touch the surface in order to get a reading, minimizing risk of cross-contamination. But they cannot measure air or internal temperature.

Other Temperature Devices

Maximum registering thermometers can be used for long-term monitoring of temperature or to show temps inside dish machines. Time-temperature indicators can be attached to packaging, and their color change indicator shows if the food has been temperature abused in transit. Some companies also use temperature-recording devices in their delivery trucks that can be checked during receiving.

Using Thermometers

A manager must know how to properly use the thermometers in their facility, as well as how to care for them using the guidelines below and the manufacturer’s instructions.


Wash, rinse, sanitize (with food contact surface safe sanitizer), and air dry all thermometers before and after use, and keep them in their storage case.


Calibrate thermometers often and any time they’ve been: dropped or bumped, exposed to extreme temperature changes, before deliveries, and before each shift. Some thermometers can’t be calibrated in-house and must be replaced or sent to the manufacturer for calibration. Always follow the manufacturer’s details for calibration.

Calibrate using the boiling-point method by placing the thermometer in boiling water and adjust it to 212°F, or using the ice-point method by placing it in ice water and adjusting it to 32°F. The ice-point method is fastest, easiest, and safest.


If used to monitor food, thermometers must be accurate within plus/minus two degrees Fahrenheit or plus/minus one degree Celsius. Thermometers used to measure air temperature for food storage (a hanging thermometer in the walk-in cooler) must be accurate within plus/minus three degrees Fahrenheit or plus/minus one and a half degrees Celsius.

Glass Thermometers

Glass thermometers, like candy thermometers, become a physical contaminant if broken. Only use glass thermometers enclosed in a shatterproof casing.

Procedure for Use

Before use, wash, rinse, sanitize and air dry the thermometer. Insert the thermometer probe into the thickest part of food (usually the center) when checking for internal temperature. Wait for the reading to steady for 15 seconds. Take a second reading in a different place to be sure.

Additional Terms and Concepts to Study:

  • Measuring Food Temperature

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