When Covid hit and we learned more about how the virus was transmitted, more operators began to experiment with the use of UV-C lights used to kill the airborne virus and make indoor dining feel like a safer option during outbreaks. The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) recently began using a system of UV-C germicidal bulbs at its four locations in response to Covid. In a recent FastCasual webinar, "Emerging Trends in Restaurant Health,” David Behnke from the CIA discussed the safety benefits he has seen from the technology. The use of these lights could have the side benefit of reducing food waste as well. A decade ago, Middleby Bluezone, the supplier of the UV-C model used by the CIA, used this technology to address the challenge of getting fresh produce to U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It placed one of its UV-C light models in shipping containers to the Middle East to destroy mold and bacteria en route, enabling the technology to extend the shelf life of produce.
Even before summer hit, many areas of the country experienced surprising spikes in temperature this year. As you prepare for outdoor events this summer, take extra precautions with food safety. An especially warm day will shrink the window of time when foods remain safe to consume. Any perishable foods can be left out for only an hour in 90-degree heat and other items should only sit out for two hours. When transporting food, ensure you’re able to keep cold foods at 40°F and hot foods above 140°F, and make additional provisions to keep foods cold or hot if the weather is likely to pose a challenge.
Personal protective equipment has become a common sight in restaurants in the Covid era – and it serves an important purpose. However, the gloves and tongs your team use to distance themselves from foods may serve to make contamination less front-of-mind in the midst of a hectic shift. After all, if you have a glove between your hand and the raw chicken you’re preparing, you may be more likely to mindlessly touch a surface that can then be contaminated. Make sure your kitchen staff change gloves between tasks, wash hands frequently with soapy running water, and sanitize food preparation surfaces routinely to minimize the risk of spreading contaminants around your kitchen without knowing it.
At a time when you’re likely working with a smaller staff and/or onboarding new employees on a regular basis, it’s especially important to be able to deliver food safety training that keeps pace with a wide range of training needs. Technology is of critical help here. Are you currently able to use digital tools to provide your team with short training videos or on-demand guidance from any device – as well as track employees’ progress in meeting training objectives? Doing so is an efficient way to ensure you stay in compliance with regulations and protect food safety. Ask Team Four for help in using technology to deliver targeted training that helps protect your food safety program.
Ongoing supply chain and labor challenges mean that many restaurants are trying to accomplish more tasks with fewer resources, but your food safety is one area where you can’t cut corners. As you try to operate in the leanest way possible, food safety tech can help you offload processes that are necessary and also require more labor hours when done manually. Looking across your operation, are there any remaining paper-and-pen processes that could be converted to digital? Are you receiving text or email alerts about the need to complete tasks on time? Can you log photos or other evidence of compliance as needed? Talk to Team Four if you need help in assessing where and how digital processes may help enhance your food safety. Difficult as the current environment is for restaurant operators, it could also be an ideal time to press the reset button on your food safety program – and to reinforce your commitment to it as you onboard new staff.
Covid-19 has made consistent food safety training both more critical and more difficult as operators have tried to adjust to evolving regulations and procedures, as well as increased employee turnover. If your training practices have suffered due to Covid-19, you’re far from alone: A recent study of quick-service operators by NSI International found that more than half of operators said they had had to cancel or delay training due to the challenges of the pandemic. The lack of on-demand training, as well as inconsistency in the quality of courses, has created the conditions for increased food safety risks, it found. If you’re still relying heavily on manual training aids and in-person coaching to onboard staff, ask us how you can better automate these tasks this year – or deliver real-time training updates remotely in case of absence.
The pandemic has heightened consumer consciousness of the origins of restaurant food, as well as the safety practices used to protect it. If you’re among the growing number of operators running a ghost kitchen or similar space that keeps your back-of-house operations behind the scenes, it’s all the more important to find ways to be transparent about your food sourcing and safety practices. Your website and social media channels are the virtual windows overlooking your kitchen. Update them with lists of local suppliers, allergy information, health inspection grades, news about digital tools you adopt to monitor food safety, and photos of your safety practices in action.
Your staff may be familiar with the key foods that tend to pose the greatest risk of foodborne illness, but if your menu is changing to accommodate more plant-based ingredients, your team may need to brush up on the pathogen risks of plant-based foods. This is especially true if the foods aren’t cooked prior to service and therefore provide a more fertile breeding ground for bacteria. Items like tofu; rice; cooked pasta, chickpeas, beans and lentils; herbs and spices; nuts and fresh produce all carry foodborne illness risk. Make sure your staff knows how to prepare and store these items, as well as what signs indicate that something needs to be discarded.
Restaurant delivery is a tempting option on cold, dark winter nights – but less so if that order arrives lukewarm. Any hot food you send out the door and into the cold risks entering the temperature danger zone if not protected. Make sure your delivery providers are taking care to shield food from the elements in sealed, insulated bags – and are delivering within a reasonable time frame. On your end, it may also be helpful to include reheating instructions with delivery orders to help ensure your food is eaten at the proper temperature following delivery.
While Covid variants continue to be front-of-mind for restaurant operators, it can be easy to forget about the other seasonal illnesses that can impact a restaurant, particularly norovirus (which, although it can strike at any time of year, is known as the “winter vomiting bug” for a reason). Norovirus causes more foodborne illnesses than all bacterial pathogens combined. You can prevent its spread in your restaurant by having a food safety plan that considers your entire facility, including restrooms, your dining room and supply areas in addition to your kitchen. Reinforce with employees the need to wash hands even more frequently than usual with soap and water, and keep stations well stocked with soap and paper towels. Conduct training with staff on cleaning and sanitizing surfaces, including the proper solutions to use, as well as the amounts, applications and schedule of use. Finally, schedule frequent restroom cleanings and give staff a refresher on what procedures must be used when cleaning up after someone has been ill in your facility.