Food safety is an important issue in any foodservice establishment. Many believe that when food safety is mentioned, it’s referring to the time that TCS (temperature control for safety) food items spend in the temperature danger zone. While this is true, it’s only part of the equation—many other factors are involved in food safety as well.
Cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation are among the most important of aspects in foodservice operations. There are three main types of hazards or contaminants that can cause unsafe food: biological, chemical and physical. Biological includes microorganisms; chemical includes cleaning solvents and pest control; and physical means hair, dirt or other tangible matter.
I personally do a tremendous amount of traveling, so I eat out often. When I’m in restaurants, hotels, cafeterias and other venues, I often see things in the kitchens that upset and frustrate me—as a consumer and as a food safety professional. I’ve seen kitchen employees wearing single-use gloves while wiping the counter with a dirty cloth then wearing those same gloves to prepare food. I’ve witnessed team members “fixing” a ponytail or touching their face and continuing with the food prep process without washing their hands and changing gloves and soup being stored in old five-gallon chemical buckets. Knowing what I know about food safety, it can be scary to dine out.
Most of the time when I initially meet an executive of a foodservice corporation for auditing, training or other services, they’ll say, “We’re in good shape!” Then, as I conduct the first round of audits, I’ll discover that their facilities weren’t quite as sterile as they thought, and their procedures could use some refreshing.
When is the last time you looked underneath the hand dryers in your restrooms? How often do you clean the grooves of the gaskets in your refrigeration equipment? Have you ever gotten down on your hands and knees to look under your equipment with a flashlight? I have, and often it’s disgusting! Do you regularly empty your ice machines to clean and sanitize them? I find mold in nine out of 10 of the ice machines I check during a food safety inspection. That’s an alarming statistic!
After spending over 20 years in foodservice operations myself, I know firsthand how easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day activities and overlook some details of the business. The person in charge has a tremendous amount of responsibility, i.e. labor costs, food costs, human resource issues, marketing plans, delivery schedules, etc. The list never ends. Perhaps there’s a small dirty spot on your wall that you’ve been too busy to deal with. Before you know it, that small soiled spot becomes an entire dirty wall and you don’t even notice it. Why? Because you’ve walked past that same spot every day as it has continued to grow. Then one day someone walks in and points out the filthy wall that is evident to everyone else (maybe even your guests) and you’re astonished that you didn’t notice. You can use the same analogy for any piece of equipment in your facility. Many times, key management personnel are stunned by the things consultants find when examining their facilities.
There are hidden contaminations as well. Warm, moist environments promote bacterial growth. Troublesome pathogens hide in the least expected places; they linger on processing equipment in crevices and gaps not visible and/or easily accessible for cleaning. The breeding of bacteria and adherence of contaminants and those troublesome pathogens all have the potential to put a company out of business if a consumer contracts a foodborne illness from its merchandise. The risk of contamination from inadequately cleaned equipment cannot be disregarded. The cost of a single recall could potentially shutter a facility.
You don’t need to do everything yourself to ensure a clean facility. Delegation and holding your team accountable is the key to success. Provide proper employee education and training on an ongoing basis. Also, insist that your managers monitor and document cleaning and sanitation tasks using cleaning charts (shift, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually and annually) and follow up on all activities. Keep maintenance and cleaning logs. Document, document, document.
At Food Safety Training Solutions Inc., we provide these top five sanitation tips to prevent foodborne illnesses in foodservice and retail businesses:
• Proper personal hygiene, including frequent hand and arm washing and properly covering cuts
• Proper cleaning and sanitizing of all food contact surfaces and utensils
• Proper cleaning and sanitizing of food equipment
• Good basic housekeeping and maintenance
• Food storage for the proper time and at safe temperatures
Regardless of how great your service is, how appetizing your food may be and how creative your dishes are, consumers won’t want visit your establishment if it’s not clean. If you have (or get) a reputation for being dirty, it will be extremely challenging to recover from that. It’s much smarter to invest the time and energy to keeping your establishment clean in the first place.
Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including food safety training, food safety auditing, food allergy training, responsible alcohol service training, writing HACCP plans and more. The Food Safety Training Solutions team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, casinos and convenience stores. The company has helped numerous clients, including McDonald’s, Subway, Marriott, Domino’s, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America, Dairy Queen, Five Guys and Omni Hotel and Resorts, prevent foodborne illnesses. Additionally, they work with restaurants of all sizes, schools, medical facilities, convenience stores, hotels and casinos.