Are you prepared to take control of food safety in your restaurant? Forget about resolutions for the new year. Today is the perfect day to start a food safety program that will protect your customers and your brand. Considering the multitude of high-profile foodborne illnesses associated with restaurants in the last year, there’s no time like ASAP to get started. But don’t feel overwhelmed—you can set daily and weekly goals for your team and food safety program so that success is attainable. Below are 7 ways to take control of food safety in 2019. But before we do that, let’s review some of the foodborne illness issues from 2018.
In 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law. It gave federal authorities more control in how foods are grown, produced and processed. It was supposed to make our food supply safer. Despite these tighter controls, there were many large-scale food recalls in 2018. These contaminated products resulted in many illnesses and damaged reputations of restaurants and food outlets.
This past year there were recalls or total product removals for eggs, romaine, beef and poultry. Before these products were recalled, they became the source of illnesses such as E. coli, Listeria, Cyclospora, Vibrio P., and Salmonella. They also resulted in multiple deaths. Salmonella was the most prolific bacteria of the year and was found in the following products:
It’s positive that the CDC and the FDA were able to identify these products as the source of outbreaks but monitoring and surveillance need to improve to remove contaminated products sooner. The impact to victims and businesses can be catastrophic.
These examples from 2018 show the importance of all restaurants, food retailers and food distributors to implement and execute strict food safety programs. You should always assume the product you are receiving is coming into your establishment already contaminated. The great news is that by following the important controls listed below, you can limit or stop altogether cross-contamination and the spread of deadly pathogens and foodborne illness.
Keep cold food cold and hot food hot—simple, right? Actually, controlling food temperature in the kitchen is probably the most challenging issue to overcome. But it’s very much achievable if you’re mindful of temperature control and implement consistent monitoring. This means keeping a daily temperature log and training employees on food temperatures. All meats should be fully cooked. For poultry, the magic number is 165⁰ F. Beef and pork should be cooked to 155⁰ F. In the first two hours, cool food from 140°F to 70° F, then 70° F to 41° F or below in the next 4 hours. That gives a total of 6 hours to go from 140°F to 41°F. Stay out of the danger zone: All potentially hazardous foods (for example, meats, pastas, cooked foods, cut tomatoes, melons, and cut leafy greens) must not be held between 41⁰ F–135⁰ F.
To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, store raw potentially hazardous foods away from ready-to-eat products. In food storage areas, organize food on separate shelves or racks from top to bottom this way:
For the racks below the top, remember: SWIM, WALK, FLY. This will help with properly storing raw meats in the right order:
Employee personal hygiene is a must for restaurants. Have a hand washing policy and train employees on the proper way to wash hands. They should wash with soap for 20 seconds and use running warm water in a hand-wash sink. Line cooks should wear gloves when handling food, and it’s essential to wash hands before putting on gloves. Employees should only be allowed to work when they are healthy. Every restaurant should have an employee sick policy in place. Finally, employees should not eat in prep areas.
All prep and storage areas need to be sanitized regularly, especially after working with raw products. Have a sanitizer bucket in each area that’s used to sanitize surfaces between tasks. Make sure to frequently check that the concentration of sanitizer is correct and the water is changed. Note that cleaning and sanitizing are not the same. Sanitizing involves using chemicals (such as quaternary ammonia or chlorine) or heat (165° F or hotter) to reduce harmful organisms on surfaces and equipment.
Use the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system when engaging in complex processes such as cooling and reduced oxygen packaging (ROP). Food Safety Nation has a great article summarizing the 7 Principles of HACCP for Restaurants. HACCP is an excellent way to support great food safety practices in your restaurant.
Fresher is better! Dating and labeling foods that are ready to eat, potentially hazardous, refrigerated and kept for more than 24 hours is the only way to keep track of food freshness. Each label should include the name of the food item, the date it was prepared and the name of the employee who prepared it. There should be a person designated to check the labels, dates and that food is rotated. Any prepared food older than seven days should be thrown away. There are some exceptions to date marking food, such as commercially processed dressings and cured meats, some cheeses and uncut melons.
Research farms and producers for recalls, clean audit reports and good reputations. Ask them if they have a food safety program. To protect your restaurant from liability, you should absolutely know about the food safety practices of all your suppliers and distributors. You should not do business with any that refuse to share this information with you. Make sure to confirm the food safety program through a third-party auditor to ensure you’re getting accurate information.
By following these important food safety controls, you will not only stop the spread of deadly bacteria but also reduce liability. This will help to protect your brand and your customers—the lifeblood of your business! If successful, your community will reward your efforts by repeat business and a good word-of-mouth reputation.
If you need help developing a comprehensive food safety program, contact our sister company Respro Food Safety