As hurricanes become more frequent and powerful, know the do’s and don’ts about managing food and other items in your business that may have come into contact with flood water during a severe storm. In addition to discarding more obvious items like food and grains that were contaminated, Steritech also advises you dispose of single-service items, spices and seasonings, foils and plastic wrap, wooden cutting boards and jars or bottles that have screw or caps, or flip or snap tops. The same goes for fabric, carpets and any kitchen equipment that can’t be disinfected.
Yale University’s produce purchases have increased by more than 68,000 lbs. since last year, according to a recent report in Produce Business. That’s roughly equivalent to the weight of 10 elephants. Like many foodservice operators around the country, Yale Hospitality, which the report says serves more than three million meals annually, has been experiencing a surge in demand for plant-based foods well beyond the salad bar. The demand has heightened the importance of having produce suppliers you can trust, since an operation’s food safety is only as good as the food safety practices of suppliers. The produce distributor FreshPoint advises operators to check for verification audits confirming the supplier has passed safety inspections (GAP) and sells food that is protected against accidental contaminants on the part of the vendor (GMP). Beyond that, look for a food defense program that protects against intentional contamination of the food supply, as well as Global Food Safety Initiative certification to demonstrate it is subject to third-party audits. To make sure food is handled safely before it reaches you and stored at the proper temperature before and during delivery, check for an ongoing food safety program for employees and up-to-date refrigerated warehouses and delivery vehicles. Finally, if a recall occurs, what process do they have in place to trace the problem and report it to you? You need to feel confident that if a food safety incident occurs, you will know about it immediately
As the bounty of local summer produce begins to wane in many areas, your cooler can help you store favorite items and draw out the season. Make sure you’re storing ingredients in a way that maximizes your available space and keeps the contents fresher for longer. FreshPoint suggests that you make the most of the cooler space you have by storing items not in the cardboard boxes they arrived in but smallers containers that fit more snugly in your cooler. Order splits instead of full cases, particularly if you have a smaller cooler. Remove items that don’t need to be refrigerated, such as onions and root vegetables. Finally, the cold air in your cooler flows from the back to the front, making certain areas of your cooler colder than others, so make sure you store items where they are happiest – berries and carrots at the back, cucumbers in the middle and apples and melons at the front.
Foods such as cereals, rice, pasta and spices may seem benign when it comes to foodborne illness, but if these foods are cooled slowly without refrigeration, they can become prime targets for Bacillus cereus, a pathogen that forms heat-resistant spores and can lead to diarrhea or vomiting. The bacteria are found in soil and in foods that grow close to the ground. As the Food Safety Information Council reports, starchy vegetables, meat products, grain-based foods, sauces, puddings and spices are all culprits. While the spores Bacillus cereus produces are dormant, they can multiply when exposed to warmth and moisture. Cooking or reheating the food will not destroy the toxin, so to help prevent it, store cooked foods in shallow containers and refrigerate them promptly, don’t let frozen foods thaw at room temperature, and make sure any precooked foods are stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of two or three days.
When washing dishes or foodservice equipment, cleaning and sanitizing need to happen together – each on its own isn’t enough to protect your guests from pathogens. But even when sanitizer is used after cleaning, Statefoodsafety.com says it can fail to do its job or even spread germs if not used at the proper temperature and concentration for the appropriate amount of time. Chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonium compound sanitizing solution all have different temperature requirements. If a sanitizer is mixed with water that’s not the right temperature, it may be less effective. Use test strips to check you are using the appropriate concentration of each sanitizer as it might be dangerous at the wrong proportions. Finally, let each sanitizer work for the required amount of time to make sure it’s effective.
Having a sustainable seafood strategy is becoming even more important: Mercury levels are increasing in some of the most popular fish in the American diet, according to a new study out of Harvard and published in the journal Nature. The research found that from the 1970s through the 2000s, methylmercury levels in Atlantic cod climbed 23 percent as a result of overfishing. The model used in the research also predicted mercury levels in Atlantic bluefin tuna would increase 56 percent between 1969 and the present as a result of higher seawater temperatures. Because overfishing and changing seawater temperatures are causing fish to alter their diets – often to include fish that are higher or lower in mercury content -- people who distribute and serve fish need to understand how environmental factors are impacting the food chain. (E.g. As Healthline notes, Atlantic cod had high levels of mercury until their main food source, herring, were overfished. Then as herring returned, mercury levels in cod increased again.) If you or your guests feel strongly about having tuna and cod on the menu, use suppliers that lobby for tighter regulations on fishing and make efforts to stop climate change and reduce pollution.
Knowing the right temperatures to cook proteins isn’t necessarily intuitive. As Statefoodsafety.com reports, it may sound odd to a new kitchen employee that ground meats, for example, need to be cooked to a higher temperature than whole meats, save for poultry. When training your team, emphasize where pathogens exist and what conditions will make them multiply. In ground beef, pathogens aren’t only on the surface but inside the meat too. Similarly, sausages, stuffed meats and whole poultry need to be cooked all the way through. In steak, chops and other whole meats, dangerous bacteria is primarily on the surface of the protein. Cooking to the proper temperatures will ensure that pathogens – wherever they’re lurking in a protein – won’t survive and sicken a guest.
Does your kitchen team use gloves when preparing and serving food? They can give people a false sense of security when it comes to cleanliness, so make sure your employees follow the proper steps when wearing them. As Statefoodsafety.com says, gloves are not magic – they can become contaminated just like hands can – and they are never a substitute for hand washing. Change gloves every four hours (at least), after returning from a break and when moving to a new task. Wash hands before donning a new pair.
Consumers with food allergies are a loyal group. If you strive to improve your restaurant’s allergy awareness, you might take note of some of the restaurant brands around the country that consumers have recognized for their allergy safety practices. AllergyEats, which bills itself as a destination where people who have food allergies or intolerances can find restaurants to accommodate them, recently compiled a list of the top-10 allergy-friendly restaurant chains based on consumer rankings. The list included such large chains as Maggiano’s, Chipotle, Longhorn Steakhouse, In-N-Out Burger and Bertucci’s, as well as smaller chains including Burtons Grill, Flatbread Company, Clyde’s Restaurant Group, 110 Grill and Weber Grill.