Will a turkey, roast or ham be the focal point of your holiday table? Your eye won’t be able to tell if it is cooked to perfection or if it could pose a safety threat to your guests, so put your trust in your food thermometer. According to the USDA, a turkey is cooked when the innermost part of the thigh and wing, as well as the thickest part of the breast, reach a minimum internal temperature of 165˚F. Beef, whether a roast, tenderloin or steak, must reach an internal temperature of 145˚F and be allowed to rest for at least three minutes after cooking. Fresh or smoked ham must be cooked to an internal temperature of 145˚F and allowed to rest for at least three minutes, while pre-cooked, reheated ham should reach an internal temperature of 165˚F.
When you receive food deliveries, does your staff know how to spot red flags that can indicate problems with the storage of foods before they were delivered? As Statefoodsafety.com advises, frozen foods should arrive frozen, and without any visible liquids, frozen liquids or ice crystals, which indicate prior thawing. Refrigerated foods should arrive under 41˚F, with the exception of eggs, which can be received when the air surrounding the eggs is 45˚F or lower. Hot foods should arrive at 135˚F or higher. To test the temperature of flat foods like bacon, place the thermometer between packages. Before you test the temperature of a new food item, clean and sanitize your food thermometer to ensure you get an accurate reading.
Protecting food safety at your restaurant isn’t merely about training. It’s about ensuring that food safety is as embedded in your values as the people you hire and the ingredients you purchase. When Francine Shaw, president of Food Safety Training Solutions, consults with restaurants about food safety, she pinpoints nine key pieces that build such a culture: First, start at the top. It must be clear to everyone that those running the business insist on safety. Then explain the why behind your rules – Why must we make sure poultry is cooked and served at the proper temperature? What could happen if we served it to a guest? Your training needs to be ongoing and involve everyone from your newest to most senior staff. Stock your kitchen with appropriate tools, such as calibrated food thermometers and separate cutting boards for different categories of food and allergens. Monitor and record the temperature of foods at different times. Conduct inspections – of food to ensure it’s safe upon arrival, and of employees charged with following protocols. Play it extra safe with allergens, double checking ingredients and using allergy-safe preparation tools. Finally, help employees appreciate how careless mistakes – like wearing an apron to the restroom or forgetting to wash hands – can cause a food safety hazard.
Certain foods that have been served to guests can be served again to other guests – but those foods need to meet strict criteria. As Statefoodsafety.com reports, food in an unopened package that shows no signs of contamination can be served again. So, undisturbed packets of condiments, creamer, sweeteners and crackers are all fair game. The same cannot be said of the bread basket that returns to the kitchen untouched.
In the midst of cold and flu season, is your employee health policy equipped to handle illness safely and also keep your business running smoothly? Make sure you have a clear protocol on different health conditions and which actions they require. This chart from Statefoodsafety.com may be helpful to post, though your policy might be more stringent if you serve highly susceptible populations. Set procedures for reporting illness, as well as a back-up plan for staffing when you need substitutions, whether you keep your regular pool of employees on standby in case you need them, or if you’re using services like Jitjatjo to hire substitute workers at the last minute.
In the wake of recent reports that the FDA and CDC knew of three E.coli outbreaks connected to romaine lettuce that infected nearly 300 people and killed six, a number of researchers in the food safety industry have gone on the offensive. The editor of Food Safety News, for one, declared that in articles it prints about the agencies in the coming weeks, it would attach warning language saying “both agencies have shown a reckless disregard for the public’s right to know, and their reliability going forward remains suspect.” Restaurant operators can decide for themselves how much trust to place in the agencies when it comes to their supply chains, but in the meantime, some are taking actions ranging from omitting menu items with poor track records on contamination to relying on product recall coverage to protect their business in the case of an outbreak.
If you offer grab-and-go foods, adhering to food safety procedures can be especially difficult. The food auditor Steritech found a number of common food safety issues in 3,000 recent reviews of fresh and prepared foods at grocery stores. Their lessons can also apply to restaurants offering prepared foods to go. Of the problems Steritech discovered, several stood out: One major issue across the board was unclean food contact surfaces, particularly when businesses offer a wide range of prepared foods that require the use of more utensils, equipment and prep areas. Further, contamination via chemical, physical and/or biological hazards was among the top food safety challenges in all departments except produce. Specifically, allergen contamination was a pressing concern for bakery items (demonstrating the need for clear labeling) and improper storage and placement of raw items was an issue in meat, seafood and deli products. Finally, cold holding was among the top problems for produce, seafood, deli and general grocery items – with the principal issue being the temperature of display cases for pre-cut and prepared foods. Make sure these foods are kept at a temperature of 41 degrees or below to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
As cold and flu season threatens to impact your staff, make sure you’re minimizing the spread of germs after handwashing. Statefoodsafety.com advises that after washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, it’s best to turn off the faucet with a paper towel and then dry hands with either a paper towel or hand dryer. Avoid using a cloth towel, which can contaminate your hands and spread germs.
As winter approaches, your restaurant becomes an even more appealing haven for pests. If pests are a recurring or ongoing problem in your facility, there is (of course) technology that can help. Internet of Things devices and cloud computing have extended to the pest management business, and for operations that need it, the technology can provide 24-hour-a-day monitoring. A restaurant can use sensors within its facility to identify current and emerging risks, collect data that can help minimize the risk of infestations, manage service records across multiple operations and automate reporting required for compliance purposes.
Staying on top of the maintenance of your facility and equipment can help you avoid accidents and costly repairs or replacements. But where should you focus your energy? In a recent NextRestaurants report, Warren Wu of UpKeep, a software firm that helps businesses manage their maintenance needs, identified four top priorities for preventive maintenance in restaurants: First, clean and sanitize your refrigerators each week. Wu advises that during those sessions, staff should check areas that are prone to failure such as door hinges and gaskets. Second, clean burners, grates and flattops daily to minimize grease buildup, which can cause fires and attract pests. Third, on a weekly or monthly basis, scan your facility for a pest problem or conditions that might cause one – like spills that aren’t promptly cleaned or food being stored improperly. Finally, if you serve beer, clean your keg lines no less frequently than every six weeks to prevent mold, bacteria and other residue from building up.