Chemicals abound in and around your kitchen. Just don’t let them create a food safety problem. To avoid cross-contamination, Statefoodsafety.com advises you store chemicals away from food storage and contact areas, label all chemicals clearly and wash hands after handling them. In case of spillage, discard the excess chemical — don’t put it back into its original container. Be aware of any pesticides used on produce you buy and wash those ingredients or use other approved methods for removing pesticide residues. Also note that chemicals that may be in your cooking equipment and utensils: Avoid using copper, lead and pewter cookware and utensils, which can leach harmful chemicals into foods.
Participating in a farmer’s market can help you connect with your community year round, promote your support of local ingredients and help you test out potential menu items. It’s easy to fall short on food safety in casual market environments, though, so take care to protect your customers and your business from claims of foodborne illness. Ensure that those serving food have clean hands and fingernails, that they use gloves or tongs when handling food, and that they aren’t handling money and food at once. Take care to avoid cross-contaminating any utensils used to serve samples and food orders. The state of your booth is a reflection of your restaurant, so keep food preparation surfaces clean and dispose of used toothpicks or other utensils left behind. Finally, mind the temperature danger zone so you keep hot foods at 140˚F or hotter, cold foods at 40˚F or colder and frozen foods at 32˚F or colder.
As the weather cools and people are spending more time indoors to escape the cold, rodents want to do the same. Now is a good time to make sure your restaurant isn’t a haven for them all season. Total Food Service suggests you conduct routine inspections to identify holes, cracks or gaps around the exterior of your facility. Seal any cracks with weather-resistant sealant, plug holes with steel wool, and use weather stripping on doors and windows to prevent warm air from leaking out and attracting pests from outside. Finally, if you have plants and shrubs surrounding your facility, make sure there is space between them and your building — having a two-foot strip of gravel between your building and your outdoor plants can make it less convenient for rodents to access your facility. (Contact Team Four to learn more about services to help you save on pest control costs.)
At a time when third-party delivery is evolving in futuristic ways — like delivery by robot, or, if Uber’s three-year plans play out, by drone — it can be easy to neglect the most important elements of a delivered meal: food that tastes good and is safe to eat following its journey. The National Restaurant Association is taking steps to change that. It is assembling a group of food delivery services and restaurants to develop a code of best practices for keeping food safe during its delivery to the customer. Watch this space for more information when the practices are released.
As Millennial customers become parents, you will likely be serving more babies in your restaurant. If you’re in need of new high chairs, note some pending federal standards designed to improve the safety of high chairs made and/or sold in the United States. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) approved the standards, which are intended to enhance chair stability, provide warning labels and improve restraint systems. (Between 2011 and 2016, there were an estimated 18,500 high-chair-related injuries treated in emergency rooms in the U.S., according to the CPSC’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Of that number, an estimated 1,600 resulted from incidents that occurred in restaurants.) While the new standards, which go into effect in mid-June, don’t require restaurants to use high chairs that meet the new standards, keep them in mind when replacing old chairs — and be able to answer questions guests may ask about them.
Are you in food safety denial?
In the U.S. alone, foodborne illness causes 76,000 illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths every year — and they’re all preventable. So why do they occur? According to food safety expert Francine Shaw, much of the problem comes down to denial. Some operators and employees deny there is a problem with the industry or that an operation’s safety protocols play a significant role in preventing it. Others can’t see beyond the up-front costs of technology and how it could offset the debilitating expense of a food safety crisis down the line. In her years in the industry, Shaw reports having seen widespread disregard for basic food safety protocols in restaurants, a desire by company leaders to have employees get just enough training to pass a test (without deeper thought about what it might mean to the consumer or the business), and an aversion to third-party inspections that could help a business commit to and sustain the kinds of practices that could prevent a foodborne illness outbreak. If any of this sounds familiar, Shaw says it’s important to revamp your corporate food safety culture, update your food safety plans and implement technology and other protective measures in your business. Technology can help simplify many processes, allowing you to deliver training, create a long-term record to back up your safety practices, and eliminate paper-and-pencil tracking systems that are easy to abuse and lose. There are now about twice as many food recalls as there were 10 years ago, and while many cite technology as the reason these problems can be identified quickly after the fact, technology could be used more readily to prevent them. But first, you need the food safety culture in place to reinforce your commitment to these changes.
If you offer food for take-out and delivery, or as convenience items purchased from a kiosk, make sure you are as clear about your ingredients as you would be if you were listing them on the menu in your dining room. Pret A Manger has just begun labeling its foods with allergen information following the 2016 death of a 15-year-old customer with a sesame seed allergy. The customer saw no allergen information on the packaging of a baguette she purchased, or on the display where the sandwich was sold, and she consumed the sandwich without realizing it contained sesame seeds. Researchers from Food Allergy Research & Education estimate that 15 million Americans have food allergies, including one of every 13 children under the age of 18.
If you’re serving up turkey dinners this Thanksgiving (or preparing them for take-out), remember some safety tips to prevent food handling problems or inadequate cooking, which often lead to poultry-related foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that you thaw your turkey in a refrigerator, in a sink of cold water changed every half hour, or in the microwave — and don’t leave it out at room temperature for more than two hours. If you stuff your turkey, add the stuffing just prior to cooking and make sure the center of the stuffing reaches 165˚F. Your turkey must also reach an internal temperature of 165˚F, so insert a food thermometer into the thickest parts of the breast, thigh and wing to make sure they have reached that threshold.
When using and storing chemicals for sanitizing and cleaning at your restaurant, make sure you take steps to minimize the chance for spills and contamination. Any chemicals you use should be in clearly labeled containers that are stored on low shelves away from food. Make sure your employees know when to avoid combining certain chemicals — chlorine and ammonia, for example, generate toxic fumes when mixed. Better yet, consider using automated dispensers for the chemicals you use. They can help ensure you’re using the appropriate amounts in the recommended concentrations and can also minimize your cleanup.
As another powerful hurricane season passes by, the dangers to your business don’t necessarily go away once the storms pass. In the wake of a natural disaster, remember to protect the safety of your water supply. A severe disaster can cause toxins, chemicals and other debris to contaminate the public water system, especially if a tidal surge or flood accompanies the storm. Until your area health department confirms that tap water can be used for drinking, use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. In the absence of bottled water, boiling your tap water will kill most disease-causing organisms that might be present. (Once the water has boiled, let it cool and store it in clean, covered containers.) If you have a well that has been flooded during a storm, the FDA advises you disinfect and test it once the flood water has receded. In the case you suspect your well may be contaminated, contact your state or local health department for specific guidance -- and in the meantime, do not use your tap water to wash dishes, wash and prepare food or to make ice. Finally, while it’s important to get your water tested following a major storm to help make sure you are using water that is safe for drinking, cooking and washing dishes, a test conducted today does not determine the safety of your water tomorrow. A point-of-entry water purification system can provide even greater assurance — immediately before you use your water supply each time — that the water you are using is safe.