Cross-contamination can happen easily in a busy restaurant kitchen with staff juggling a variety of food preparation tasks. Making it as easy as possible to keep certain foods – particularly raw meat, seafood, poultry and eggs – separate from other foods can help minimize safety risks. That includes having separate containers for these foods when shopping for them/collecting them, having dedicated space on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator for storing the foods (and enclosing them in sealed containers), and using a separate, color-coded cutting board when preparing these foods for cooking. Reinforcing with staff that they must avoid washing these foods is important too, since the splatters can spread germs around the kitchen.
Food safety training is never one-and-done, but you don’t want to have to review content because the same mistakes happen repeatedly. Food safety and training expert Brita Ball advises operators to consider the purpose of their training, including what they want staff to think, feel and do as a result of it. For example, a senior manager focused on the impact of food safety on the business may respond to a case study about the consequences of a food safety mistake, while a frontline employee may respond better to quick, inspiring lessons delivered in pre-shift team huddles over the course of several weeks or months. Then make the reinforcement of each lesson easy and positive – through signage and other prompts in your facility, consistent results tracking, and positive reinforcement through rewards.
About 60 percent of all foodborne disease outbreaks in the U.S. are caused by foodservice establishments. To change that figure in a more positive direction, restaurants might take some cues from robust food safety processes required elsewhere. While a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan is mandatory for many food production facilities, it is voluntary for restaurants – but a Process HACCP plan is tailored to foodservice businesses and could be helpful to establishments struggling with food safety. As a recent Food Safety Magazine report explains, a Process HACCP plan helps define the flow of food preparation in a kitchen for all products, much like the flow of food in a manufacturing facility production line. It includes every recipe from the stage of sourcing ingredients through receiving, storing, preparing and serving them, offering the opportunity to identify and prevent potential hazards at each step – before they become sources of foodborne illness for guests.
As you prepare for an uptick in traffic over the holiday season, you’re likely stretching your imagination with new menu items and promotions that will make the occasion feel special. At a time when labor will continue to be uncertain, ensure that your food safety standards aren’t stretched to accommodate your plans. Consider slimming down various parts of your operation – to include your menu and aspects of your service model – to either eliminate or bring greater efficiency to your most labor-intensive tasks. Scrutinize each menu item to make sure you’re maximizing profit, minimizing the labor hours required to prepare and serve it, and opting for the plan that you’re best able to execute with minimal staff. It may require you to forgo offerings that have been popular in the past, but preserving food safety even if you have a skeleton crew can help you ensure the experience you’re providing is one of quality.
As Thanksgiving and the holiday season approach – and consumption of turkey and other poultry climbs – give your team a primer on safe preparation. Salmonella is among the top causes of food poisoning in the U.S., leading to about 26,500 hospitalisations and 420 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chicken and turkey are responsible for about 20 percent of Salmonella infections, the most of any food category. As you anticipate serving up this season’s poultry, remember to separate poultry from raw and ready-to-eat foods. Thaw poultry safely – not out on the counter – and avoid keeping it at room temperature for more than two hours. Wash hands thoroughly and disinfect surfaces nearby, but don’t wash the poultry itself – it spreads bacteria around the sink and nearby surfaces. If you need to remove anything from the skin, use a paper towel to do so. Cook to 165°F, as measured with the thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh.
Your staff’s time is precious. When it comes to food safety, you want to be able to make the most of the time they put into it. It can help to deliver content in a mix of contexts – through classroom-style instruction and on-the-job training – and ensure the training material is best suited to those contexts. As The Rail reports, theoretical training – such as HACCP training or any training that needs to happen over an extended period – is best saved for the classroom. Brief demos of cleaning tasks or temperature measurement are best retained when presented on the job, where staff can observe the task in the context of their shift. Looking at your current training program, is the content delivered in the way it’s most likely to be absorbed and retained?
A Gallup poll found that as of last year, engaged, enthusiastic employees comprised about 30-35 percent of the workforce, while disengaged employees comprised about 15 percent. That left 50-55 percent of employees feeling indifferent to their jobs. In other words, the majority of employees felt so-so, at best, about their work. In foodservice, that means that employees’ attention to doing their jobs well, including maintaining safety standards, is likely suffering as a result. A Food Safety Magazine report advises foodservice operators to first focus on employee well-being before more tactical training when building a food safety culture. That involves asking whether staff have a manageable workload, with sufficient time away to recharge. It also requires operators to find ways to make work meaningful – to demonstrate why even seemingly mundane food safety tasks matter. Finally, in cases where results aren’t where they need to be, the team needs to be led differently, with new approaches that invite them to tap into new skills or improve existing ones.
If one of your guests were to get sick after eating with you, how quickly could you identify the source of the problem and, if necessary, eliminate it from your menu? Your ability to digitally trace each ingredient on your menu back to its source – and to do so quickly – can help you contain the problem before it impacts more guests and damages your restaurant’s reputation. As you work with suppliers day to day, ensure they can provide standardized data to trace ingredients with transparency. Understand how they will track an ingredient through the system, alert you in the event of a problem, and how easily they can be reached if you have an issue.
Beyond the dangers food allergies can cause to health and safety, allergic reactions can deliver unwanted publicity to restaurants – and that has been happening with greater frequency as food allergies have become more prevalent. According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team, the number of people with a food allergy in America has doubled in each of the last decades. Having systems to get accurate, up-to-date allergy information to your guests when they need it is more important than ever – and it can earn you a loyal following of guests who trust your brand with their health. Consider leveraging tabletop technology to provide detailed information about your menu. The full nutritional information of a dish can be accessible via a tablet and updated electronically and automatically across your locations. Receiving this information directly from the restaurant can also minimize the stress a guest may feel when a server has to check with the chef about allergy information and then relay the message back.
Where are your operation’s biggest slip-ups when it comes to food safety? Improving upon them may simply be a case of making the right behaviors more visible, obvious and easy to carry out. Wherever possible, bring food safety tasks out into the open, so everyone on staff can see others doing them – or be forced to ask if they are in doubt about what they need to do. It creates some positive peer pressure to replicate those efforts across the team. Line up your stations in the order in which tasks should be completed so your team doesn’t have to think about what comes next – ensure the next step is right in front of them.