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.
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.
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.
It may take a crisis to make a restaurant enhance its food safety practices ― but other operators can learn from the outcomes whether they experienced it or not. Case in point: A year after the death of a woman who ate a mislabeled baguette from the quick-service brand Pret-a-Manger, the brand developed a five-point allergy plan. The plan has involved revamping Pret-a-Manger’s labels using new technology to detail all ingredients, launching additional training for 9,000 staff, providing menu tablets in every store that detail product ingredients, removing allergens from products and publishing a quarterly food safety incident report. The plan has required making physical modifications to store preparation areas as well.
Consumers demand fresh food — but that can lead to food safety challenges, especially when fresh produce is a key feature of your menu. But there are steps you can take to protect the safety of your food supply and enhance safety protocol within your restaurant. As Restaurant Dive reports, a string of romaine lettuce contamination incidents led Chipotle’s new CEO, Brian Niccol, to attack food safety from several angles. First, the brand developed a field leadership team of food safety managers. They oversee five to 10 restaurants and train managers how to run a restaurant with an emphasis on food safety. The company also revamped its supply chain team, introduced quarterly food safety training, developed a “focus prep” team to limit the number of people preparing food, and transitioned more cooking tasks to a central kitchen where food safety could be more closely monitored. Finally, they focused on retaining employees so that food safety knowledge had a better chance of accumulating on staff. The efforts appear to be turning results around for the brand, which generated revenue gains of nearly 9 percent last year, according to earnings data.
Making do with less-than-adequate kitchen equipment can lead to a safety issue for your staff and guests, impact your restaurant’s performance and consume excess energy. Does any of your equipment require frequent servicing or parts replacement? Does your chef have to adapt his or her use of equipment to avoid injury? Is there equipment that can save space in your kitchen by accomplishing multiple tasks — or save on energy? (For example, a piece of kitchen equipment like a countertop food steamer that uses less water than a basic model could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the product.) Checking your tools against the NSF’s Certified Food Equipment list can help you identify effective and efficient replacements of kitchen equipment and tools that aren’t serving you as well as they could.
Hopefully, your employees know to wash their hands after using a restroom. But bacteria lurk in places all over a restaurant: Door handles, money, tablet and smartphone touchscreens, salt shakers and other tableware, computer keyboards, menus, and kitchen equipment and other items such as cutting boards and towels are key culprits. Outside of the restroom, make sure your team has a culture of regular handwashing with soap and water, then alcohol-based sanitizer (as a bonus, not a substitute for the first step). Then reinforce it regularly. It’s easy for even a careful employee to overlook handwashing during busy periods.
If your food safety values aren’t second nature to your team, there are steps you can take to improve your culture. A Fast Casual report by the president of Steritech advises operators first explain the why behind each food safety practice they preach — i.e. hearing that bacteria can spread more easily and cross-contaminate food when chicken is stored on the wrong refrigerator shelf is more compelling than hearing that chicken must always be stored on the bottom shelf. Next, celebrate wins. Five Guys, which has conducted research into communication practices that engage employees, offers monetary rewards and other incentives to stores that score highly on safety assessments. Chicken Salad Chick celebrates top performers at an annual banquet and funds parties for top-performing stores. Along those lines, focus significantly more on positive feedback than on negative. Harvard Business Review research found that reinforcing six things someone does well for every individual item that needs improvement leads to better overall performance.
The average person gets norovirus — a period of diarrhea and vomiting at once — five times in his or her life. The virus can live for several days on ice buckets, glasses, cash drawers, cell phones, remote controls, carpets and many other surfaces, and because it’s so easily spread (a pencil tip can hold the number of cells required to transfer it) it’s a big threat to the foodservice industry. Do you have norovirus procedures in place? (If not, you’re not alone: A poll conducted during a recent webinar for foodservice operators with food safety expert Francine Shaw found that 41 percent of participants had no documented procedures.) Shaw said 75 percent of norovirus outbreaks are attributed to infected workers. Proper handwashing plays a major role but it’s also important to ensure employees know what they need to do when they experience symptoms of a number of illnesses that can spread norovirus. Shaw advised using Form 1B during your employee orientation. It’s available through the FDA and explains the major illnesses that can spread norovirus, as well as what employees must do when they experience the onset of specific symptoms so they are not working in a food preparation situation when they experience them.
There is always a new food trend or cooking technique your restaurant may want to try. But whether you’re incorporating sous-vide cooking techniques or simply adding seasonal produce to drinks, you want to ensure your food safety standards keep up with your menu developments. At the recent Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium, microbiologist Brian Nummer reminded the audience of the acronym FAT TOM, which lists the top factors that contribute to bacteria growth: food, acidity, time, temperature, oxygen and moisture. He said when restaurants incorporate new trends into their cooking, it can be easy to neglect safety. But that is less likely to happen if chefs are trained in the science of cooking as well as the art. When that happens, Nummer said, chefs more naturally tweak dishes to ensure safety (say, adding extra lemon to a dish so it reaches a pH 4, which kills bacteria).