Does your kitchen team understand their responsibility to prevent foodborne illness and when to report to management any symptoms they experience that could be connected to it? As the FDA’s Employee Health and Personal Hygiene Handbook details, it’s important your staff appreciates the relationship between their job and the potential risks of foodborne illness, as well as how their health relates to it. If they experience symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, sore throat accompanied by fever, a diagnosed illness caused by a big-five pathogen or simply exposure to such a pathogen, or an exposed or infected cut or wound on their hands or arms, they need to report their symptoms to a manager immediately. (If their symptoms are from a non-infectious condition, such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel disease, some liver diseases or pregnancy, they can continue to work if they show medical documentation that their symptoms are non-infectious.) Your team should also be aware of how restriction or exclusion from working with food can prevent foodborne illness and how proper hand hygiene and no bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food can prevent foodborne illness.
Planning on serving turkey at your holiday gatherings? Make sure your kitchen staff doesn’t wash the turkey during preparation. As the Safe Plates Food Safety Information Center reports, washing a turkey in the sink can spread harmful bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter up to three feet away. To prevent the spread of bacteria, clean and sanitize any utensils and surfaces used during preparation, wash hands before and after handling raw turkey, and cook it to a temperature of 165˚F.
In the midst of cold and flu season, is your employee health policy equipped to handle illness safely and also keep your business running smoothly? Make sure you have a clear protocol on different health conditions and which actions they require. This chart from Statefoodsafety.com may be helpful to post, though your policy might be more stringent if you serve highly susceptible populations. Set procedures for reporting illness, as well as a back-up plan for staffing when you need substitutions, whether you keep your regular pool of employees on standby in case you need them, or if you’re using services like Jitjatjo to hire substitute workers at the last minute.
In the wake of recent reports that the FDA and CDC knew of three E.coli outbreaks connected to romaine lettuce that infected nearly 300 people and killed six, a number of researchers in the food safety industry have gone on the offensive. The editor of Food Safety News, for one, declared that in articles it prints about the agencies in the coming weeks, it would attach warning language saying “both agencies have shown a reckless disregard for the public’s right to know, and their reliability going forward remains suspect.” Restaurant operators can decide for themselves how much trust to place in the agencies when it comes to their supply chains, but in the meantime, some are taking actions ranging from omitting menu items with poor track records on contamination to relying on product recall coverage to protect their business in the case of an outbreak.
If you offer grab-and-go foods, adhering to food safety procedures can be especially difficult. The food auditor Steritech found a number of common food safety issues in 3,000 recent reviews of fresh and prepared foods at grocery stores. Their lessons can also apply to restaurants offering prepared foods to go. Of the problems Steritech discovered, several stood out: One major issue across the board was unclean food contact surfaces, particularly when businesses offer a wide range of prepared foods that require the use of more utensils, equipment and prep areas. Further, contamination via chemical, physical and/or biological hazards was among the top food safety challenges in all departments except produce. Specifically, allergen contamination was a pressing concern for bakery items (demonstrating the need for clear labeling) and improper storage and placement of raw items was an issue in meat, seafood and deli products. Finally, cold holding was among the top problems for produce, seafood, deli and general grocery items – with the principal issue being the temperature of display cases for pre-cut and prepared foods. Make sure these foods are kept at a temperature of 41 degrees or below to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
As cold and flu season threatens to impact your staff, make sure you’re minimizing the spread of germs after handwashing. Statefoodsafety.com advises that after washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, it’s best to turn off the faucet with a paper towel and then dry hands with either a paper towel or hand dryer. Avoid using a cloth towel, which can contaminate your hands and spread germs.
A food thermometer is the only trustworthy way to determine whether or not food is cooked to a safe temperature. Just make sure to take precautions to prevent cross-contamination when using them. Statefoodsafety.com advises operators to clean and sanitize food thermometers between uses, which can be especially easy to neglect when you are using one thermometer to monitor the temperatures of different foods in quick succession.
Inadequate cleaning of food-contact surfaces remains the top food safety problem at restaurants. That’s according to a recent review of 250,000 food safety inspection assessments from the past year by the Steritech Institute, which administers food safety training certification. Chris Boyles, vice president of the Steritech Institute, told Fast Casual that the most problematic areas of restaurants tend to be the inside of ice machines, as well as soda fountain nozzles and cutting boards. To prevent the growth of bacteria on these surfaces, have clear training and monitoring procedures for cleaning and sanitizing. For example, any equipment that must be disassembled to be cleaned and sanitized each day should be left to air dry and then checked by the opening and closing managers to verify that the item has gone through the proper procedures.
New proposed legislation at both the federal and local levels that is aimed at restricting the use of plastics is also posing some unintended challenges to operators. For one, it’s raising questions about how operators can reliably protect food safety when they must wash and sanitize straws, for example, that they once discarded. Steelys Straws, which manufactures reusable straws, advises restaurants to take these steps when cleaning its stainless steel straws: Designate a small soaking tub with hot, soapy water to clean the straws, as well as a second tub with sanitizing solution. After a straw is used by a guest, place it in the soapy water to soak, and then, if it had been used to drink a beverage with pulp or other ingredients that could collect on the straw, scrub it with a thin cleaner brush. Rinse the soapy straws in clean, hot water and place them in a bulk utensil rack in the dishwasher. Finally, soak the straws for at least one minute in the sanitizing solution to ensure you’ve killed all germs.
As food allergies have become more prevalent, so has the use of the term “cross contact.” While it’s often confused with cross contamination, the terms mean different things, have different consequences and require different preparation procedures. As Francine Shaw, president of Savvy Food Safety, told Modern Restaurant Management recently, cross contact is dangerous only to those with food allergies. It occurs when care wasn’t taken during food preparation to prevent an ingredient from coming into contact with a food that is then accidentally eaten by a guest with a food allergy. Cross contamination, particularly when it involves food contact with raw poultry, eggs or meat, has more universal implications because it can make anyone ill, allergic or not.