How well can you trust that your methods for labeling and storing food are helping you avoid cross-contamination and food spoilage? Check your inventory and make sure items are labeled correctly and that you’re following a first-in, first-out system for using ingredients. By labeling foods accurately and ensuring that you’re using them by their use-by date, you can minimize your waste and avoid triggering a potential foodborne illness or allergy.
Across your restaurant and any additional locations you operate, do you have standard record-keeping systems, training processes, operating procedures and compliance tasks that apply across the board? Identifying any areas of your restaurant that are out of sync with other parts of your operation can go far in helping your business. You will be able to better identify patterns in your food safety and pinpoint varying interpretations of procedures that may generate problems. Your staff will learn the same skills in the same way. This helps you provide a consistent experience for your guests, as well as ensure that your staff from one location can easily slip into roles in a different location when labor needs or development opportunities arise. Finally, you demonstrate to regulators that you run a business that is committed to doing the right thing — as a result, you’ll be in a good position to work in partnership with them to build upon your strengths.
When it comes to protecting your guests from pathogens, maintaining proper hand hygiene is the most important thing your staff can do. The most common cause of foodborne illness is spreading pathogens through touch and food can become contaminated quickly if those preparing and serving your food don’t maintain adequate hygiene or use personal protective equipment incorrectly. Hand washing, in combination with protective gear like food-grade gloves, are your best defenses. According to the CDC, thorough hand washing requires wetting hands with clean running water; applying soap; lathering both sides of the hands, between fingers and under fingernails; scrubbing hands for at least 20 seconds; rinsing hands under clean running water; and drying them with a clean towel or air dryer. Does your staff do a thorough enough job?
As seasonal illnesses return and threaten to keep you from being fully staffed, don’t let preventable hazards around your facility contribute to staff absence. According to Markel Insurance, the most common injuries for restaurant employees include injuries from objects; slips, trips and falls; burns; injuries due to overexertion; chemicals and cleaners; electrical problems; and cold temperatures. It could be a good time to do an audit of these hazards in your restaurant and plan some training around how to avoid them, particularly if you have had employee injuries and insurance claims related to these problems before.
As extreme weather becomes more common, more parts of the country that haven’t historically seen many hurricanes, floods or other extreme conditions must plan for the worst. Having an updated emergency plan can help you to keep your employees informed and safe, as well as protect the food you have in your inventory. Ensure you have an accurate list of emergency contacts including the Red Cross and other public health authorities, utility companies, your plumber, rental equipment firms, and suppliers of water and dry ice, for example, and ensure that your employees have access to it. The same goes for your emergency supplies. Have flashlights, batteries, tarps, first aid supplies and other emergency supplies on hand for during and after extreme weather events. If your facility has lost power but it’s otherwise safe to remain there, you’ll want to protect your inventory from spoilage. Know which items should take priority for placement in an ice bath, for example, and what might be safe left alone in the freezer for 24 hours. If your staff has been relying on digital tools to track and log the temperatures of foods and appliances, ensure they know how to manage these processes manually so you’re able to save as much of your inventory as possible.
Have you digitized your food safety management yet? The benefits of doing so become especially clear when you’re operating multiple stores. You can run your food safety program from a centralized system that applies procedures and training consistently across the different operations. In addition to helping you pinpoint and respond to hazards quickly, a centralized system ensures your guests have a consistent experience with your brand regardless of where they encounter it — a major bonus if your guests can currently taste differences in the food served at your various locations. It enables real-time data analysis and response across all operations, so an error you detect in one store is one you can quickly prevent in another. This automatically feeds into comprehensive reports that you can analyze across stores. You will more readily spot outliers that may need attention — something that also casts your brand in a favorable light with regulators when it comes to compliance.
September is Food Safety Education Month. Use the occasion to reinforce key messages in your food safety training, bring some additional focus to areas you need to improve, and use quizzes, contests and rewards to make this month’s training something that staff will remember and enjoy. It’s chance for you to reset your connection with your team: Research published by QSR Magazine found that nearly 70 percent of restaurant employees feel like they don’t receive enough hands-on training from their managers. This, in turn, can make it difficult for staff to develop skills needed to perform tasks correctly and safely, which often leads to a loss of interest in their roles. Try providing some extra safety training over the course of the month and watch for any resulting changes in employee engagement.
Making your food safety training sink in with your employees is as much about the “how” of your lessons as their “what.” In other words, your staff is more apt to engage with your training and remember it if you focus on the people impacted by the lessons you’re teaching – not just the nuts and bolts of safe food handling. Use case studies to reinforce the messages you’re trying to deliver. The Stop Foodborne Illness Toolkit provides a case study of a baby who contracted Salmonella, along with some discussion guides aimed at various parts of a foodservice organization. It may help you see how different groups perceive their food safety roles differently and where you may have to fill gaps in training and knowledge.
Before cooler temperatures encourage rodents and other pests to seek shelter in your restaurant kitchen, your staff can help you make your business a less hospitable place for them. Consider the perimeter of your property: Beyond repair work being done on your building to seal cracks and close other potential entry points, incentivize your waitstaff to keep pests at bay. They can be your eyes and ears around your restaurant, ensuring your outdoor seating areas are cleaned regularly, clearing finished dishes and cutlery promptly, wiping up spills, and identifying possible infestations for you before they become larger problems.
Restaurants that are less likely to experience foodborne illness outbreaks tend to have a couple of key traits in common, according to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It may come as a surprise, but their study found that factors such as a restaurant’s food safety training, sick leave pay, and policies to keep sick workers from reporting to work are less connected to the frequency of outbreaks. However, restaurants with a certified kitchen manager on staff, and food safety certification training provided by a state agency, local agency, or restaurant corporation were less likely to experience outbreaks. As you work to improve your food safety record, consider how working with a certified third party could help reinforce what your staff needs to know – and also empower your kitchen managers to lead by example.