With industry leader, Chipotle, recently facing a string of food safety nightmares, there is no better time than today to look at your food safety practices. We all would love to make headlines, but never because someone got sick in our shop! SO today we discuss the real costs of a food safety mishap and what we can do to prevent them. Simple strategies like better hand washing procedures or serving condiments in their original containers as opposed to little cups, can lead to an overall better customer experience and reduce the chance of a food borne-illness outbreak.
Before we dive in, some of these food safety tips are undoubtedly going to take extra time or money to implement. So let’s start by weighing out the costs if you DON’T pay attention to food safety to see what’s at risk. Should you decide to skip on food safety the National Restaurant Association states, “a foodborne-illness outbreak can cost an operation thousands of dollars or even result in closure.” Beyond that, you’re putting human lives at risk with the potential of lost work, medical costs and even long-term disability due to a foodborne related illness. Here’s what else you’re risking:
Negative media exposure
Staff missing from work
Customers and sales
With all those risks, it’s no wonder more and more operators are looking to improve their food safety to provide an all-around better experience for their customers. There are plenty of ways you can decrease the chance of food-borne illness, below are just some of the tips recommended by the National Restaurant Association.
Proper Training – This one may seem like a no brainer, but none of your implemented food safety strategies will matter if you team isn’t properly trained to use them. Be sure you spend ample amounts of time onboarding new employees and training them on food safety and the importance of the strategies you employ.
Never Re-serve – Not the garnishes, not the uneaten breads and definitely not that plate that got returned “untouched.” You never know what could have gotten into that food while it was out of your hands, and even though it may feel like you’re wasting it by throwing it all away, you’re preventing a food safety nightmare.
Hand Washing – Again, this may seem like an obvious but hand washing needs to be a priority. Place signage up at each washing station that reminds employees how to properly wash their hands and make sure soap containers remain fully stocked. Don’t just stop at hands, if employees will be reaching into any bags or food areas, arms should also be washed as well.
Need a recommended length of time for hand washing? Teach employees to sing the ABC song in their head as they wash. The length of that song is roughly equivalent to the 15-20 seconds it takes to get hands really clean.
Proper Refrigeration – Refrigerators must maintain a temperature of 40 degrees F to curtail bacteria growth. This means you should keep a thermometer in your refrigerators and at the end of each night have an employee check that refrigeration has remained consistent. Additionally, do not over fill refrigeration units as this will cause the unit to work too hard to maintain temperature which could create hot spots in certain areas.
Cook to the Right Temperature – just like food needs to be store at a low temp, food needs to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature to kill any bacteria present. If you’re unsure of what temperature things need to be cooked to, use this handy chart from Foodsafety.gov. Also keep a food thermometer handy so you can double check your process.
Know When to Wash - It’s tempting to wash all produce as soon as it comes in, but if you’re not going to use it right away, the NRA actually recommends holding off on washing. When produce is washed there is often moisture left behind which can often promote the growth of mold. Instead, store produce and wash it right before it’s going to be used.
Clean Contact Surfaces – proper cleaning and sensitization of all your contact surfaces and utensils is an absolute must. Food often can become trapped in areas like counter cracks or in between the prongs of forks, so they have to be carefully cleaned. In addition to remnant food contaminating surfaces, it can also lead to pest problems if left alone, so keep things spotless.
Respective Surfaces – Cross contamination is one of the leading causes of food-borne illness which is why it’s imperative to keep each food type on its respective surface. This means cutting raw meat on a separate board from where you cut raw fruit or veggies.
Color coding cutting boards and cutting utensils is an easy way to keep staff from using the wrong tool for the wrong food item. Label vegetable cutting tools with green and meat cutting tools with red so it’s clear which tool goes with which food.