Restaurant Food Safety: The Human Factor
Food safety is something many of us take for granted. We see certificates on the walls of our favorite restaurants stating that certified food safety experts are working to protect those who dine with them. For many years, I taught the National Restaurant Association’s Food Safety Certification program, ServSafe. That training, testing, and certification of restaurant leadership should put our minds at ease. Theoretically, it adds a layer of protection to the cycle of food as it enters the restaurant through the back door, is stored, prepared, heated, or held cold. Often, this is enough.
Where the most common food safety issues arise is in the handling after delivery. It’s here where your team has the most significant impact on the food your guests will eat. Staff turnover, limited inspections, and imperfect processes with no accountability add to the chances that your food will become contaminated. News of a foodborne outbreak will stick with a restaurant for years, affecting its reputation and sales.
Inside the walls of your restaurant, there are so many priorities that demand the attention of team members. To maximize food safety in your restaurant, you must make it a priority on all levels, and not just the occasional inspection or visit from leadership.
Shipment Deliveries and Restaurant Food Safety
Restaurant chains have the responsibility to work with ethical, clean and Food Safe-compliant growers and suppliers. In turn, it’s on them to train the staff member who checks those deliveries. Ensure those folks know to look for damaged items in both paper and food. Even the best and most reputable suppliers make mistakes. A wet or damaged box can allow insects or rodents into your restaurant. Once inside, they can breed and spread rapidly. Verify the temperatures of refrigerated and frozen items and note them on the invoice you’re using to check in the delivery. Ensure deliveries take place when it’s convenient for you and your team! If the shipment arrives and your team is too tied up to have someone check it in, you’re putting your restaurant’s food safety at risk. Don’t gamble with your restaurant’s reputation by not checking deliveries.
Rethink How you Train your Team
In the US, all 50 states require that a restaurant employs Food Safety Certified Manager. Some states require just one per location, while others require one per shift. This means there will always be more team members working than there are certified food safety professionals. Still, each team member is responsible for maintaining safe food handling procedures. If restaurant managers are the only certified people in the building, you risk contamination (for example) if a cook were to take out the trash, come back in and go immediately to prepping food. Unchecked, that food could go out to a customer, that customer could get sick, and the source could trace back to your restaurant.
Train every team member in restaurant food safety as if they are managers. Often, local health departments host shorter classes for all food handlers, which are typically less expensive than the national certification classes. Work with sister restaurants or other local places to plan a workshop and share expenses. You can use a library to host an in-person course or look into online options. Again, make your restaurant’s food safety a priority at all levels, not just management.
Know the Common Food Contamination Sources
According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the most common sources of contamination are toxic items stored near or above food, improper handwashing practices, and general hygienic practices. Properly managing your storage area is essential, as is maintaining food safety storage practices to ensure food does not become contaminated by cleaning chemicals. Whenever possible, store these chemicals in a separate area entirely. If that’s not an option, ensure they are six feet off the floor, but at the bottom of the shelving units, and never above food or paper products. Always use restaurant inventory management best practices to be sure you’re not serving food that’s past its expiration.
Make sure that team members come to work clean, both in uniforms and general appearance. They should have their hair put up to avoid getting it in someone’s food, and beard guards are required in most health districts. Be absolutely sure that each team member knows how and when to wash their hands! Don’t underestimate this. Train and remind, use job aids, create alerts on POS terminals at host stands, on kitchen stations, anywhere you can display a message that says “stop now and go wash your hands” is helpful.
Handwashing and Foodborne Illness
The most commonly spread virus from humans to food is directly related to employee health and hygiene: the Norovirus. If an employee is sick to their stomach or has symptoms of the stomach flu, do not let them work. They could risk making other team members sick, and having multiple team members out is worse than only having one out. It’s also a serious hazard to a restaurant’s food safety.
While not every incident of a foodborne outbreak results from an employee’s poor handwashing, many of the ones that make the news are. These are the incidents that range from making guests ill or immunocompromised to becoming infected and landing them in the hospital. The Centers for Disease Control defines an outbreak as “two or more people experience a similar illness after ingestion of common food where an analysis is able to implicate the food source.” Many cases of foodborne illness go unreported. People may identify their sickness as the “24-hour bug” that is miserable but passes. If it persists longer than a day or two, they may go to the doctor to get a test. A single foodborne outbreak traced to your restaurant can be devastating. It not only hurts business, sales, profits but also your employees. They’ll be affected by the lost hours from decreasing sales. And it’ll be difficult for your brand to rebound.
Ensuring Your Restaurant’s Food Safety
It’s simple: train and follow-up, rinse and repeat. Restaurant food safety is about personal responsibility and making sure that even when you aren’t filling out a checklist, the team members are following best practices. Your guests are trusting you with their family’s health. Protect that, and your customers will show their loyalty by writing glowing reviews and return visits.
Knowing how to identify food safety issues in your kitchen is crucial. Contamination doesn’t always come in the form of germs and bacteria though! Learn how to identify the signs of a toxic restaurant work environment in our article below.
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About the Author
Shari McCauley is the Product Training Specialist at QSR Automations, where she focuses on educating employees and customers on the benefits and uses of QSR technology. You can reach Shari at firstname.lastname@example.org.