At a time when supply chain strains make it difficult to know if or when a key ingredient will arrive, there is even more reason for restaurant operators to turn to local suppliers for menu items. Just make sure to screen these suppliers for strong food safety practices, particularly if they are small or new businesses. Every supplier should be able to demonstrate its adherence to best food safety practices, including its protocols for preventing cross-contamination. Make sure you’re comfortable with their transparency and ability to trace a food item from its source to its delivery to you. Take care with deliveries and inspect every shipment for proper color, temperature and freshness.
Throughout the past year, restaurants that once had buffet lines, salad bars and other self-service stations have had to reinvent them for the current environment – and those changes may be permanent. This has also resulted in the introduction of more action stations and grab-and-go options, as well as changes in how employees are assigned to tasks within the operation. It’s a good time to make sure your team is up to date on current safety precautions. They should understand how to maintain proper temperatures for hot- and cold-held foods, preheat foods for hot-holding, prevent cross-contamination when bringing in fresh food or serving a guest, and when to discard food that has been sitting out for service.
Your cutting boards can be accidental sources of cross-contamination – even if you’re just cutting produce. Clean and sanitize your cutting board after each use by first clearing the board of food particles, washing with warm, soapy water, rinsing, sanitizing and then drying – either with a clean cloth or by air dying. StateFoodSafety.com advises that any glass, plastic or stainless-steel boards be sanitized either in the dishwasher or with an FDA-approved sanitizer like chlorine, iodine or quaternary ammonium. Instead of using a dishwasher to sanitize marble or wooden boards, which can be damaged in the process, sanitize marble with chlorine and wood with quaternary ammonium.
Are dangerous bacteria lurking in your kitchen towels? Prevent the spread of germs by sanitizing and storing towels correctly between uses. The most recent USDA Food Code advises towels to be held between uses in a chemical sanitizer solution in the specified concentration. Ensure the towels and solution are not soiled and don’t contain any food debris. Used towels should be laundered daily in a mechanical washer, a sink used only for washing cloths or a food preparation sink that has been cleaned and sanitized. Refer to the food code for a full list of procedures to keep reusable towels free from contaminants.
When Chipotle made headlines recently for reports that its workplace practices and employee incentive programs were setting the stage for food safety risks at certain New York locations, it came as a surprise to many: In recent months, the brand has been held up as a standard-setter for food safety following its food safety overhaul, which included hiring a new food safety director and introducing such detailed steps as having two employees confirm that produce including onions, jalapeños and avocados have been immersed in hot water for five seconds to kill germs on their peels, the New York Times reported. However, a report by Delish said 47 current and former Chipotle employees came forward and reported that the brand’s pay bonus incentive program is coming at the expense of cleanliness audits and food safety – and that the restaurant is a “highly pressurized environment” for workers. How does your restaurant motivate employees to uphold your food safety practices? Creating a set time for food safety reminders each day can help reinforce your commitment to your food safety culture – and finding some light-hearted ways to do it can help too. The National Restaurant Association’s Mick Miklos told Foodservice Director that operators can set the right example by starting shifts with a food safety pop quiz for staff, for example, then rewarding the top scorers with their preferred shifts or gift cards.
The USDA and CDC have long advised against washing chicken for food safety reasons. Still, a number of restaurant chefs disagree and wash poultry not necessarily with the intent of killing germs – which only cooking will achieve – but to remove any grit or sodium on the outside of the poultry and to help make its surface easier for spices and other seasonings to adhere. You do not need to wash poultry before cooking – in fact, any splashes generated by washing can contaminate nearby surfaces and utensils with dangerous bacteria for months. But if you feel you must rinse the outside of poultry to clean its outer surfaces, Argyris Magoulas, a USDA technical information specialist, told Today.com that it is okay to soak poultry in water, taking extra caution that juices don’t splash, and leaving it in the refrigerator for no more than two hours before cooking.
In recent months, E. coli contamination has been responsible for dozens of serious illnesses – and that’s in romaine lettuce alone. Could your menu choices help minimize your chances of purchasing contaminated produce? Every year, the Environmental Working Group releases updated lists of the produce most commonly exposed to pesticides and other chemicals, along with produce that has tested to be the cleanest. Food News reports that these items made this year’s Clean 15 fruits and vegetables: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms and honeydew melons. Can any of these ingredients be substituted for others on your menu?
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.
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.