As the weather cools, rodents will be seeking shelter in warmer environments like your kitchen and storage areas. If you have put off regular maintenance and repairs in recent months, now is a good time to check your facility for cracks and crevices where pests might enter and to trim any vegetation surrounding your facility that could provide a shelter for them. If you find potential entry points, seal them with caulk or weather foam – as opposed to a less-permanent or half-baked solution that might alert a health inspector to a problem.
Poorly maintained appliances aren’t just energy drains but also food safety hazards – and if you aren’t using up-to-date technology to monitor your equipment right now, ensure you are manually checking it daily for signs of malfunction. The walk-in cooler, for example, is among the top sources of food inspection violations. Monitor your cooler’s working order by confirming there is no difference between the temperature of the air in the cooler and the food being stored. Look for traces of mold and ensure the door closes securely. Check for the build-up of grease on the exhaust fan, as well as any water dripping from it, which can pose a food contamination risk.
In a year of many extremes, extreme weather has become way of life for many parts of the U.S. this summer. From droughts to fires to floods, these events have a ripple effect on the food supply. Food Safety Magazine reports that rising temperatures alone may increase infections by food- and waterborne pathogens, push plant pests into new areas and potentially result in greater use of pesticides, increase the uptake of toxic metals in staple crops, make plants more susceptible to fungal infections, and expand the presence of algal blooms that threaten seafood safety. All told, the current situation requires foodservice operators to have a reliable means of monitoring new potential hazards and adapting the menu accordingly.
Your inventory needs a lot of workhorse ingredients these days – and it’s even better if those ingredients are shelf-stable for long periods or can otherwise deter the growth of bacteria and mold. Using a food dehydrator or your oven to incorporate some dried foods onto your menu can help, while also allowing you to find uses for excess fruits and vegetables you may have on hand toward the end of summer and into autumn. Just ensure that you treat fruits with an acidic solution like lemon juice and water beforehand (and blanch vegetables in a similar solution) to prevent the growth of bacteria while drying. Penn State Extension also advises that any unpeeled or uncovered produce be heated in the oven at 160°F for 30 minutes or chilled in the freezer at 0°F or below for 48 hours. Once you have packed dried items into air-tight containers, monitor them for condensation, which would indicate that further drying is needed.
The intense heat people are experiencing in many parts of the country this summer, along with ongoing labor shortages and supply chain challenges, require some extra vigilance when to comes to food safety. Trucks may be taking longer to get foods to their destinations, providing more opportunities for food to be exposed to the temperature danger zone – particularly in record-breaking heat. Take extra care right now in checking deliveries to ensure food is being delivered at safe temperatures, is labeled with expected use-by dates, and shows no evidence of damage or decay (e.g. unsealed packaging or evidence of pests or freezer burn). Also be aware of foods that may be dangerous to eat due to the temperature spikes in parts of the country.
As you continue to build business back up after the constraints of the pandemic, you may be feeling the need to cut corners and revert to manual processes that you had been delegating to technology. Food Safety Tech reports that restaurants that had been using operational software to monitor food safety processes may be slipping back to the pen-and-clipboard method in an effort to contain costs on tech. Or, those that had been integrating more smart devices into their operation – remote temperature sensors or Bluetooth temperature probes, for example – may be using not-so-smart methods to track food safety practices if and when those devices break or need replacement. While this may be unavoidable in the near term, it just means that some extra precision is required at each stage to ensure your food safety standards aren’t slipping.
Is your team always inspection-ready? If not, having interim inspections can help your team develop the procedures it needs to form better habits – and make the actual inspection not such a big deal. Get an up-to-date copy of your local health inspector’s evaluation criteria and use it to fine-tune your existing procedures and division of tasks during each shift. If you’re in the midst of onboarding new staff and concerned about having tasks fall through the cracks as you get everyone up to speed, it can also help to use task management software to generate lists of tasks for employees to carry out. This can keep people on track regardless of how long they have been with you and who is around to assign tasks.
Summer is salad season. But the abundance of leafy greens available means restaurant operators have to be extra vigilant about food safety. Germs found on raw produce cause a large percentage of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. and are a major source of E. coli infections, in particular. Increasingly, indoor farms are popping up around the country to enable year-round growing of greens. As these greens are grown in water instead of soil and also harvested and packaged indoors, they offer a lower-risk alternative to greens grown outdoors. Amid food safety risks related to extreme weather, supply chain vulnerabilities, pathogens and pesticides, does your restaurant have a plan to gradually transition to safer suppliers?
Sliced lemon (or lime) is a popular request in any restaurant, whether you’re serving a cocktail, a soft drink or a carafe of water. Just make sure your staff are being mindful of food safety when slicing, handling and storing these items. While various nonscientific studies of lemon safety in restaurants have made overblown headlines over the years, there are risks to be aware of. Research conducted in 2019 by the University of Florida’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Citrus Research and Education Center and Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences found that Salmonella can survive on lemon and lime garnishes and transfer into chilled beverages. Keeping the slices chilled on ice and in refrigeration decreases the growth of Salmonella on the fruit surface. It’s also important to minimize the risk of cross-contamination when preparing and handling lemon and lime as there is no step to remove or kill pathogens when they contact the fruit surface. Handling the slices only with clean tongs stored outside of the container can help.
Let’s face it: The optics of food safety have become much more important since the pandemic started. Food safety is not only important to protecting your business behind the scenes. It’s also become something to showcase to guests so they trust you’re committed to protecting them – and it can also help you attract business from competitors who don’t make their safety practices clear. If you haven’t already, consider making your food safety commitment a key part of your marketing. The National Restaurant Association’s ServeSafe Dining Commitment, for example, enables restaurants to place the SSDC logo on their front door, website, menu and other materials to show guests you’re doing your part to protect their safety.