It may seem like common sense, but as long as restaurant employees make headlines for not following cleaning procedures (like the Burger King employee who recently was reported to have used a mop to clean a table moments after using it to clean the floor), it’s important for you and your staff to be on the same page about cleaning and sanitizing procedures. Bacteria can lurk on eating utensils or kitchen work surfaces even if they appear to be clean. Upserve suggests some tips to help keep your restaurant tools and surfaces clean. First, wash hands thoroughly in a designated handwashing sink before you begin cleaning, prepping food or cooking. Develop a checklist for each station so everyone knows the proper procedure and is held to the same standard. Use the correct sanitation bucket to avoid cross-contamination or using the wrong chemicals on the wrong surface. Finally, wash all flatware, glasses and utensils in 171˚F water, taking care to not touch any area that will come into contact with food or a guest’s mouth.
July is National Ice Cream Month. If you serve ice cream, the International Dairy Foods Association suggests several tips to store and serve it safely. On hot summer days, be careful not to let ice cream soften and refreeze. To help, set your freezer between -5˚F and 0˚F and store ice cream in the main part of the freezer as opposed to on the door, where the temperature is more likely to fluctuate. Keep the ice cream container lid closed when storing it in the freezer to help prevent the formation of ice crystals (after you’ve opened a container, you can also place plastic wrap or waxed paper over the ice cream before refitting the lid). Keep ice cream separate from any uncovered foods in the freezer, as odors can alter the flavor of ice cream. Finally, if you’re serving a lot of ice cream at once, Statefoodsafety.com says you can store the ice cream scoop in a container of running water between uses.
Don’t set them and forget them. Regulator Robert Powitz told Food Safety Magazine he has seven rules for hygienic and effective storage of dry ingredients. First, date all foods and containers and rotate them regularly so the first one in is the first out. Keep the temperature of the storage area cool, between 50 and 70˚F (and note that every 18-degree increase in temperature cuts shelf life in half). Keep humidity to 15 percent or less and store foods in packaging that seals out moisture. Don’t store the foods in direct sunlight. Keep foods 18 inches away from walls and at least six inches off the floor to minimize contact with condensation and pests. Speaking of vermin, keep doors closed when possible, seal cracks in walls and floors, and monitor bait boxes regularly so you can clean up damaged ones promptly. Finally, your storage area should consider your volume per meal and number of meals between deliveries, along with the height and fraction of usable floor area you have available. The FDA and the Conference for Food Protection’s Food Establishment Plan Review Guide can help you calculate the amount of space that’s ideal for your operation.
The FDA’s position on antibiotic-resistant bacteria has been making news lately, especially in light of reports of a patient’s death in June that resulted from a fecal transplant containing drug-resistant bacteria. The Pew Charitable Trusts has called on the FDA to continue to strengthen its reporting of sales data regarding the volume of antibiotics sold for livestock feed and production, according to Feednavigator.com. The goal is to urge more controlled use of the antibiotics.
Hopefully, your employees know to wash their hands after using a restroom. But bacteria lurk in places all over a restaurant: Door handles, money, tablet and smartphone touchscreens, salt shakers and other tableware, computer keyboards, menus, and kitchen equipment and other items such as cutting boards and towels are key culprits. Outside of the restroom, make sure your team has a culture of regular handwashing with soap and water, then alcohol-based sanitizer (as a bonus, not a substitute for the first step). Then reinforce it regularly. It’s easy for even a careful employee to overlook handwashing during busy periods.
When large portions of food are cooling down, they can be havens for bacteria. Cool these foods in smaller containers so they aren’t in the temperature danger zone for too long. That goes for large cuts of meat too. As Statefoodsafety.com reports, leftover meat needs to be cut up into smaller portions so that it can cool down quickly. Otherwise, it’s too easy for bacteria to thrive and make the food unsafe for consumption.
If your food safety values aren’t second nature to your team, there are steps you can take to improve your culture. A Fast Casual report by the president of Steritech advises operators first explain the why behind each food safety practice they preach — i.e. hearing that bacteria can spread more easily and cross-contaminate food when chicken is stored on the wrong refrigerator shelf is more compelling than hearing that chicken must always be stored on the bottom shelf. Next, celebrate wins. Five Guys, which has conducted research into communication practices that engage employees, offers monetary rewards and other incentives to stores that score highly on safety assessments. Chicken Salad Chick celebrates top performers at an annual banquet and funds parties for top-performing stores. Along those lines, focus significantly more on positive feedback than on negative. Harvard Business Review research found that reinforcing six things someone does well for every individual item that needs improvement leads to better overall performance.
Identifying and halting foodborne illness quickly takes a 360-degree approach, with restaurants looking both internally and externally for signs of trouble. Chick-fil-A recently unveiled a system that uses social media and artificial intelligence (AI) to identify such threats. Venture Beat reports that the brand is using algorithms to scan social media sites for potential food safety problems at its 2,400 restaurants across 47 states. Every 10 minutes, the AI framework reviews data from 10 social media platforms, then scans it for 500 different terms, ranging from “food poisoning” to “nausea”, that can provide clues to a food safety issue at a restaurant. The terms are also reviewed by AWS Comprehend, Amazon’s natural language processing service, for sentiment and legitimacy. Managers are alerted to problems via push notifications and can contact customers directly via social media to investigate the issues. To date, the brand reports a 78 percent accuracy rate for the system.
It’s easy for cross-contamination to happen at the grill, particularly when you have produce, proteins and different marinades in close proximity and vying for a limited amount of cooking space. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends cooks start with a grill that is clean and free from any charred bits of food that may spread bacteria. Make sure you have separate plates, trays, tongs, basting brushes and other cooking utensils for cooked and uncooked foods, and wash them with hot, soapy water between uses. When using marinades, keep a separate container of marinade for use on cooked items and discard any marinade covering raw proteins. Finally, use paper towels or wipes — not dishtowels — to clean up any spills
If you’re operating a food truck or a food festival stall this summer, your food safety practices will be front and center for consumers. Make sure your preparation area is tidy and that you have your foodservice license or inspection certificate displayed. If you don’t have immediate access to a sink for handwashing, have a clear protocol for handling money and serving food separately, including the use of gloves and tongs. Be mindful of exposure to heat and make sure to monitor the temperature of any ingredients that need to stay at the proper temperature — particularly TCS foods like meat, dairy, sliced fruit and cooked vegetables — since foods can easily slip into the danger zone on warm days.