It’s the season for grabbing some prepared food to go, then enjoying it at summer picnics and other outdoor events. If you offer grab-and-go foods, double check that you’re following food safety procedures so you can avoid contamination hazards and other safety risks. Daymark Safety Systems suggests operators follow several steps to protect grab-and-go storage areas. Regularly clean any doors, shelves, machine dispensing areas and lights that are part of your food displays. If you have any automated kiosks with touchpads, clean and also disinfect those high-touch areas to kill any contaminants — you may need to leave the disinfectant on the surface for a few minutes before wiping it away. Check regularly for spills on the floor and within your display, and consider using an absorbent pad or mat to reduce the risk of slips when spills occur. Clean floors at least once a day, and ensure trash and recycling bins are cleaned inside and out and don’t become overfilled.
You stick to strict cleaning procedures and take steps to avoid the cross-contamination of foods, but how much do you know about the quality of the air in your facility? You may have excess dust accumulating in the air that can contaminate food, or moisture from ovens that can generate condensation and lead to mold. Further, the simple act of cooking can make indoor air as dangerous to breathe as smog, according to new research from HomeChem. Asthma or other respiratory ailments on your kitchen team can signal you have a problem, but you can improve air quality going forward by maintaining appliances and ventilation units routinely, having your air tested for chemical or biological pollutants, replacing old cookware with models that are less likely to contaminate the air, and using natural building materials and decorative elements in your restaurant.
Placing a few bits of information on your TCS food storage bins can have a range of benefits: It can help you avoid serving expired product that could potentially lead to illness, give you a heads-up about when you’ll need to offer specials to get rid of excess items, save you money, and demonstrate to your health inspector that you’re managing your operation well. Upserve suggests you use a food rotation label that clearly lists the type of food being stored, the date it was prepared and added to the storage area, and the date it will expire. Then all it takes is a quick scan to make sure the first bin in is also the first one out.
Hurricane season is here, and if you haven’t done so already, it’s high time to review your emergency response plan to make sure you can manage potential business disruptions that may come your way. Statefoodsafety.com suggests listing potential threats, ranging from power outages to food or water contamination, so you can build a simple but useful response plan from them — your local authority can help you create it. Assign roles to key employees and ensure every employee knows who handles various tasks. Establish talking points so your team communicates the same clear, calm message to customers. Post a list of emergency contacts (and also provide it to employees) so your team knows who can help in an emergency. Finally, protect your food and water supply. Establish a plan to keep food cool by keeping the refrigerator door closed when you can, storing ice in the refrigerator or freezer to keep temperatures down, or securing access to a refrigerated truck. Consider keeping an emergency supply of water and developing a separate menu that requires less water for preparation so you can still operate when your supply is threatened.
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.