Your ice machine may be a key source of contamination in your restaurant if you don’t take proper precautions. A study by the BBC in 2017 found that in 30 samples of iced beverages collected from three quick-service restaurants in the U.K., more than half were contaminated with fecal bacteria because of dirty ice. Since ice machines vary, take care to note in your food safety procedures how and when your machine’s manufacturer advises you to clean and sanitize your machine. QSR Magazine suggests operators inspect their machine each week for the buildup of slime or debris on interior surfaces in particular. Have a vendor or team member double-check the quality of a cleaning and use a flashlight to illuminate any dimly lit or hard-to-reach areas. Finally, don’t wait for slime to develop – if you see traces of it, increase the frequency of your cleaning to avoid the likelihood of contamination.
Even if you have a winning menu and friendly staff, your restroom could be turning people off of your restaurant. A Harris Poll survey of more than 2,000 adults found that 86 percent of respondents said a clogged toilet would negatively affect their perception of a business – and 76 percent of respondents had experienced this situation in a public restroom. While you may not have the capacity to monitor your restrooms regularly during the day, you can take steps to minimize bathroom clogs, odors, bacteria and other problems that can impact your restroom’s condition and your brand. QSRweb advises operators buy toilet paper that fights clogs and activates environmentally safe microorganisms when it touches water, helping to keep pipes clear. Opt for paper towels for better sanitation – air dryers can blow bacteria around a restroom – and use touch-free faucets and dispensers to help limit the spread of germs.
If your dishware and utensils aren’t as clean as they could be, they could sicken a guest (or at least leave them with a negative impression of your operation’s cleanliness). Make sure you maintain and clean your dishwasher to ensure it performs as it should. Ecolab advises to first avoid overcrowding the washer, since overlapping dishes can impede water flow. Then monitor the functioning of the unit by checking your gauges’ minimum temperatures, chemical concentrations and pressure measurements against those shown on the data plate. Clean the unit’s wash arms and jets regularly as they may become clogged with food or sediment buildup. Finally, Ecolab advises regular de-liming of the machine, since just one-quarter inch of lime scale can make a heating element use 39 percent more energy.
If your business needs a fresh start on protecting food safety, the start of a new year is a perfect time to recalibrate your organization and reinforce expectations. QSR Magazine advises that you start at the top, ensuring your company leaders are demonstrating a strong commitment to food safety. Explain the “why” behind the “what” so employees grasp the importance of protecting food safety and understand that even mistakes that seem minor can sicken or perhaps kill a guest. Provide the right equipment and offer training on a continuous basis. Enforce the importance of keeping temperature logs and maintaining records. Inspect food to make sure it is safe upon arrival, and give employees the authority to refuse foods they believe could be unsafe to consume. Follow food allergy protocols and conduct your own inspections on a regular basis to ensure all employees are following food safety protocols.
If offering catering and preparing food for large groups is a growing part of your service strategy, be aware of how long you’re using utensils and equipment continuously. Statefoodsafety advises that if you’re preparing TCS foods, you should clean and sanitize equipment and utensils every four hours. Otherwise you may be opening the door to contamination.
Does your restaurant buy pre-washed produce? Remember that it still must be washed under running water during preparation. Steritech also advises that bacteria can be transferred from the surface of produce to its flesh when cut, so be sure to make sure your fruit and vegetables are washed thoroughly in running water prior to cutting them.
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.
Protecting food safety at your restaurant isn’t merely about training. It’s about ensuring that food safety is as embedded in your values as the people you hire and the ingredients you purchase. When Francine Shaw, president of Food Safety Training Solutions, consults with restaurants about food safety, she pinpoints nine key pieces that build such a culture: First, start at the top. It must be clear to everyone that those running the business insist on safety. Then explain the why behind your rules – Why must we make sure poultry is cooked and served at the proper temperature? What could happen if we served it to a guest? Your training needs to be ongoing and involve everyone from your newest to most senior staff. Stock your kitchen with appropriate tools, such as calibrated food thermometers and separate cutting boards for different categories of food and allergens. Monitor and record the temperature of foods at different times. Conduct inspections – of food to ensure it’s safe upon arrival, and of employees charged with following protocols. Play it extra safe with allergens, double checking ingredients and using allergy-safe preparation tools. Finally, help employees appreciate how careless mistakes – like wearing an apron to the restroom or forgetting to wash hands – can cause a food safety hazard.
Staying on top of the maintenance of your facility and equipment can help you avoid accidents and costly repairs or replacements. But where should you focus your energy? In a recent NextRestaurants report, Warren Wu of UpKeep, a software firm that helps businesses manage their maintenance needs, identified four top priorities for preventive maintenance in restaurants: First, clean and sanitize your refrigerators each week. Wu advises that during those sessions, staff should check areas that are prone to failure such as door hinges and gaskets. Second, clean burners, grates and flattops daily to minimize grease buildup, which can cause fires and attract pests. Third, on a weekly or monthly basis, scan your facility for a pest problem or conditions that might cause one – like spills that aren’t promptly cleaned or food being stored improperly. Finally, if you serve beer, clean your keg lines no less frequently than every six weeks to prevent mold, bacteria and other residue from building up.
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.