The purpose of this study was to evaluate the hygiene of food contact surfaces in 37 high school kitchens in order to identify the factors involved in the deficiencies found. The microbial status of kitchen surfaces (mesophilic aerobic bacterial count) and the hygienic sanitary knowledge (assessed by a questionnaire) of 158 food handlers were evaluated. The microbial count was determined by conventional plating methods and by a redox potential‐based testing method. Large differences regarding microbial count on food contact surfaces were found among the kitchens. In connection with the unfavorable results, the food hygiene knowledge level of kitchen workers was unsatisfactory. The microbial profile assessment of a catering unit largely depends on the efficiency of the food safety management system used, therefore the level of microbial contamination can be used as an indicator. The results showed that the hygienic‐sanitary knowledge of food handlers highly affects food safety standards in public kitchens.
The microbial profile of food contact surfaces is a suitable indicator of a food safety management system with objective results that are easily interpreted. Recurrent unsatisfactory results can indicate failures in some or all areas of the food safety management systems. This study shows that in most cases these failures are related to the food handler’s knowledge. The improvement of food handler’s professional knowledge is an effective way to improve food safety levels in catering units.