Food freshness and safety go hand in hand. As many operators are leaning on smaller, local suppliers to shrink the supply chain, it’s still important to ask questions of these companies that can make the difference between receiving produce shortly after it is picked, or many hours later. A recent report from US Foods cited a key question that Michael Navarrette, executive chef at Café Luxembourg in New York, always asks any prospective vendor: Where am I on your delivery route? If produce is sitting on a truck in the heat of summer, it’s vulnerable to the spread of germs that subsequent washing may miss. Knowing how large the window is between the picking of the produce and its arrival at your door can make a difference in your food quality, safety and waste.
The hot months can strain your appliances and also make you ever more reliant on them functioning properly. When it comes to your walk-in refrigerator, having staff coming in and out at regular intervals can not only pose food safety risks but also strain your condenser, which has to work that much harder to function as it should. Consider having your refrigerator serviced before there is a problem that takes it out of commission. It also helps to reinforce with staff (with reminders or even physical obstacles like hanging flaps at the door) the need to minimize trips in and out of the cooler.
When Covid hit and we learned more about how the virus was transmitted, more operators began to experiment with the use of UV-C lights used to kill the airborne virus and make indoor dining feel like a safer option during outbreaks. The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) recently began using a system of UV-C germicidal bulbs at its four locations in response to Covid. In a recent FastCasual webinar, "Emerging Trends in Restaurant Health,” David Behnke from the CIA discussed the safety benefits he has seen from the technology. The use of these lights could have the side benefit of reducing food waste as well. A decade ago, Middleby Bluezone, the supplier of the UV-C model used by the CIA, used this technology to address the challenge of getting fresh produce to U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It placed one of its UV-C light models in shipping containers to the Middle East to destroy mold and bacteria en route, enabling the technology to extend the shelf life of produce.
Even before summer hit, many areas of the country experienced surprising spikes in temperature this year. As you prepare for outdoor events this summer, take extra precautions with food safety. An especially warm day will shrink the window of time when foods remain safe to consume. Any perishable foods can be left out for only an hour in 90-degree heat and other items should only sit out for two hours. When transporting food, ensure you’re able to keep cold foods at 40°F and hot foods above 140°F, and make additional provisions to keep foods cold or hot if the weather is likely to pose a challenge.
Personal protective equipment has become a common sight in restaurants in the Covid era – and it serves an important purpose. However, the gloves and tongs your team use to distance themselves from foods may serve to make contamination less front-of-mind in the midst of a hectic shift. After all, if you have a glove between your hand and the raw chicken you’re preparing, you may be more likely to mindlessly touch a surface that can then be contaminated. Make sure your kitchen staff change gloves between tasks, wash hands frequently with soapy running water, and sanitize food preparation surfaces routinely to minimize the risk of spreading contaminants around your kitchen without knowing it.
At a time when you’re likely working with a smaller staff and/or onboarding new employees on a regular basis, it’s especially important to be able to deliver food safety training that keeps pace with a wide range of training needs. Technology is of critical help here. Are you currently able to use digital tools to provide your team with short training videos or on-demand guidance from any device – as well as track employees’ progress in meeting training objectives? Doing so is an efficient way to ensure you stay in compliance with regulations and protect food safety. Ask Team Four for help in using technology to deliver targeted training that helps protect your food safety program.
In the heat of summer and amid the abundance of outdoor dining options, it can be easy to forget that Covid is lingering. As you prepare for managing business into the cooler months when we can expect to see spikes in infections, thinking about protecting and improving the air quality in your restaurant can make your business safer for guests. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said the presence of Covid-19 was 35 percent lower in rooms that had improved ventilation via opening doors or windows, as well as those using forced ventilation through fans near windows or fresh air intake via HVAC systems. Using those methods in combination with mechanical filtration was even more effective. Making big improvements in indoor air quality doesn’t have to be costly: A Hospitality Tech report advises the use of mobile air purifiers with HEPA filters as an economical way to improve indoor air quality, as well as monitoring the capacity of dining rooms and taking steps to minimize crowding.
If you’re hiring a lot of temporary staff over the summer months, it’s especially important to make food safety front-of-mind for them. While your ongoing training is an important piece of that, you can set your team up for success by giving them the right tools for safe food handling and storage, as well as proper equipment care. Keep sinks stocked with soap and paper towels, provide ample disposable gloves or other protective items for food handling, and post signage to remind staff of the times when washing is required and to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking around food preparation areas. Check shelving to ensure food items can be stored six inches off the floor, designate separate areas for cleaning solutions, and calibrate appliance thermometers to ensure food is being stored at the proper temperature. Make sure there is a sanitizer bucket with a submerged towel at each station, and a supply of test strips available to help staff keep equipment and preparation surfaces clean.