What is Food Safety?

This is part one of a four-part series on building a food safety culture in your establishment by Francine L. Shaw, president, Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.

Many operators tell me that they have established a food safety culture, but when I ask what that means, they struggle to give me a confident answer. So how do you build an effective food safety culture? During the next four weeks, I will give you key answers to this question.

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Food safety begins with understanding the importance of this issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 6 Americans gets a foodborne illness every year. When food safety policies and procedures are established, correctly followed and prioritized as part of a foodservice company’s corporate culture, mistakes are significantly reduced, profitability is increased, employee morale is amplified, employee turnover is lower, absenteeism is lessened and the company’s reputation remains secure.

If food safety is neglected, the risk of food contamination can cause foodborne illness outbreaks, which can not only critically damage a company’s reputation, but can also result in criminal negligence, expensive lawsuits and can even cause a company to go into bankruptcy.

A company’s culture is multifaceted. It’s about shared group values, attitude competencies, goals and patterns of behavior that embody a corporation. Building a corporate culture takes time and effort. Company leaders must have a desire to incorporate food safety into their culture, and must be willing to invest in resources, think strategically and assess the organization honestly when leading a culture change. Senior leadership must be willing to be a positive reinforcement in the cultural change (“walk the walk”).

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While it’s important to do well on health inspections, meet regulatory requirements and pass third-party audits and internal inspections, establishing a food safety culture surpasses these things. It involves a commitment to continually operate in a safe manner, being pro-active at eliminating hazards, training and educating employees, establishing clear and consistent food safety protocols, and protecting guests and the business–every day, with every component of every meal.

Each restaurant’s needs are going to be a bit different, and what works for one may not work for another. But everyone’s goal is the same–keep guests safe. To make this happen, management must implement a food safety management system, which will consist of food safety programs, procedures and measures that actively control risks and hazards through the flow of food.

Active managerial control, an example of a food management system, is a proactive approach to food safety and utilized by many companies nationwide. This system includes having a certified food protection manager on staff, defining standard operating procedures for critical steps, and monitoring effectiveness along the way.

These principals can also be applied to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), a system based on the idea that significant biological, chemical, or physical hazards can be prevented, eliminated or reduced if they’re identified at specific points within the products’ flow through the operation. The success of a HACCP plan depends on educating and training all levels of the organization, and emphasizing the importance of employees’ roles in producing safe foods, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

I was working with an organization whose senior leadership insisted, “We’re doing HACCP,” yet the employees were not properly trained in basic procedures, the company was using outdated training materials and their temperature logs were not correct! It’s imperative that foodservice leaders understand food safety and its importance. If you’re going to attempt to implement a HACCP plan, you must understand it and know how to do so, otherwise it’s of no value to your business.

After you’ve decided what food safety system you’re going to implement, your procedures should be monitored and constantly re-evaluated. As you’re creating and implementing your plan some important items to remember are:

  • Make training fun
  • Lead by example
  • Explain why
  • Follow up
  • Use job aids

As we continue this four-part series, I’ll be focusing the 2017 National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) campaign theme “The Culture of Food Safety.” We have seen some unbelievable food safety issues occur over the past few years. Most notably is Chipotle, which is recovering from yet another norovirus occurrence after an unprecedented run of foodborne illness outbreaks in 2015. To prevent these occurrences, we must all create a food safety culture within our work environments.

Have questions about how to get your restaurant or establishment on board with a food safety culture? Leave your questions in the comments below!

francine-l-shaw-headshot

Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers numerous services, including consulting, food safety education and inspections, crisis management training, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more. Her team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, hotels, casinos, and convenience stores. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, Food Safety News, and Food Management Magazine.

The Importance of Kitchen Design for Proper Food Safety Protocol

By Francine L. Shaw

Many of us enter a kitchen without thinking about the design, as far as food safety is concerned.  I visited a facility that was 95% finished before anyone realized that a three-bay sink–critical to proper sanitation of dishes and other equipment–hadn’t been part of the design plan. This facility had limited space, so it wasn’t possible to bump out a wall or expand the space. The sink had to be installed somewhere. The builders ended up placing it right beside a floor mixer, with the wash sink on the mixer end! They were literally inches apart, giving ample opportunity for dirty dishwater to splash into the dough mixer and contaminate the food. The restaurant team agreed not to wash dishes at the same time they were utilizing the mixer, which was inefficient and problematic in their day-to-day activities. The designer/architect should have done a plan review and consulted a food safety expert before beginning construction.  By doing so, they would have potentially eliminated this problem.ACF_2428(7-11-17)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contaminated utensils and equipment are a top risk factor for foodborne illness outbreaks. If equipment is difficult to clean, it’s more likely not to be cleaned properly (if at all). For instance, meat slicers and soft-serve ice cream machines are often difficult to clean, and some brands are better than others. There are soft serve machines that have hundreds of pieces that need to be washed, rinsed and sanitized regularly, which means your staff must be willing to commit several hours of labor to this task.

Meat slicers on the surface may look nice and shiny but look a little closer, behind the blade. Take off the piece that holds the sharpening stone, look in the crevices and around the dial. It is beyond gross and disgusting. Meats are, of course, perishable foods that easily breed many forms of bacteria and other microorganisms. Small pieces of meat or other sliced foods usually get caught in and collect between the blade and the slicing machine of a meat slicer. If left for a period of time, microorganisms will grow in and around the meat particles, posing a health risk for the foods sliced on the unclean machine.

Food Safety Training Solutions - Moldy Gasket

Moldy gaskets in a cooler.

Additionally, I’ve seen gaskets around refrigeration unit doors that were growing mold and other bacteria, making it unsanitary and potentially harmful to store foods inside.  They now make refrigeration units with a different type of seal (and no gaskets) that’s much easier to clean and maintain.

Cross-contamination and cross-contact are important factors to consider when designing a restaurant. One design flaw could have life-threatening ramifications.

When planning, designing and building a restaurant kitchen:

  • Plan the flow. The flow of your prep area should make sense for efficiency, as well as food safety. This will save time, money and reduce risk.  For instance, when your servers take food to your guests, they should never have to walk through the dirty dish area, which increases the food safety risk.
  • Ensure that hot water tanks hold a sufficient amount of hot water. If they don’t hold enough hot water to get you through your busiest rush period of washing and sanitizing dishes, you either need to get a booster or a larger hot water tank.
  • Purchase equipment that’s easy to clean, with minimal nooks and crannies.
  • Consider even the smallest details–like the amount of tile grout you use. The less tile grout, the less risk for chipping. Chipping–and cracks or holes in walls and floors–equal bacteria growth. Your best bet is to use a non-porous material that doesn’t allow bacteria to grow.
  • Ensure that your floors have drains so they can be deep cleaned regularly.
  • Make certain that areas that are impossible to reach for cleaning are sealed tightly. It is impossible for anyone to clean a quarter-inch gap between a wall and a counter space that the contractor neglected to close. This will eventually become an insect or rodent haven, which is obviously a food safety hazard.
  • Consider the placement of your sinks. Kitchen sinks must never be in an area where there is potential for contaminated water to splash on consumables, clean dishes or anything else it could contaminate. In tight areas, a barrier may need to be installed between the sink and a prep area.
  • Install multiple sinks for washing dishes, produce, poultry, hands, etc.
  • Designate certain equipment and prep space for allergen-free/gluten- free cooking to safely accommodate your guests with food allergies and intolerances.
  • Purchase or make your own allergy kits, complete with color-coded chopping boards and pans and utensils, which are kept clean, covered and stored away from flours and other potential allergens. Purple is widely used and recognized to ACF_2390(7-11-17)designate allergy-friendly equipment.
  • Designate an allergy-friendly fryer, which isn’t used for any common allergens, including breaded products, fish or shellfish, or foods containing nuts.
  • Wash and sanitize allergy equipment (and surfaces) between each use.
  • Design separate storage space for common food allergens (flours, nuts, etc.) to avoid cross-contact with allergy-friendly foods.
  • Design space in your food allergy area to hold different-shaped or different-colored plates, and use these dishes to serve allergy-friendly meals.
  • Ensure that your ventilation systems don’t spread flour dust, nut particles or other allergens throughout the facility, which could contaminate virtually everything. Also, once your kitchen opens, be sure that all flours, nuts and other common allergens remain covered to prevent cross-contact.

The seemingly minor details in a kitchen (grout, moldings, etc.) are truly a big deal in terms of keeping guests safer. And bigger issues–such as placement of a three-compartment sink–must be carefully considered at the start of a design project. While it’s critical to have a competent design and construction team for your project, don’t overlook the importance of having a food safety expert consult on the project from concept to implementation. Food safety experts bring a valuable perspective to the table, and can advise on all matters from big (how kitchen design impacts food safety and reduces foodborne illness risks) to small (the easiest gaskets to clean and keep sanitary).  By working collaboratively, your design, construction and food safety expert can maximize your future successes and minimize food safety risks.

francine-l-shaw-headshot
Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including consulting, food safety training, food safety inspections, norovirus policies for employees, norovirus clean-up procedures, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, 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 Paradies Lagardère, McDonald’s, Subway, Marriott, Domino’s, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America, Dairy Queen, and Omni Hotel and Resorts, prevent foodborne illnesses. Additionally, they work with restaurants of all sizes, schools, medical facilities, convenience stores, hotels and casinos.  Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, iHeartRadio, Food Safety News, and Food Management Magazine.

11 Tips to Accommodate Food-Allergic Guests

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This dish is beautiful, but could be deadly for a guest with a food allergy.

By Francine L. Shaw

A hot and important trend in foodservice is accommodating food-allergic guests. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), it’s estimated that an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies.

The foods responsible for 90% of all allergic responses are known as The Big 8: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, wheat, fish and shellfish. For this reason, food allergy training is slowly being implemented across the U.S., which is a positive thing for food-allergic customers, as well as the restaurants that serve them. Emphasize to your staff that if a food-allergic guest ingests even a trace amount of their food allergen, it can trigger a reaction, and in severe cases, even death.

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Eggs are considered one of The Big 8 food allergens.

In 2015, 16-year-old Scott Johnson died after eating two pancakes at a Minnesota diner. Allegedly, staff members confirmed that the flapjacks were dairy-free, and the cook even agreed to clean the grill before making them. There was a mistake somewhere in the diner’s protocol, and the teen accidentally ate dairy in his meal. Shortly after consuming the pancakes, Scott went into anaphylactic shock and died three days later.

Scott Johnson’s death shows why it is imperative that your staff know what ingredients are used in each menu item. One of the most important elements of proper food safety protocol is avoiding cross-contact, a relatively new term, in which proteins from foods containing an allergen are transferred to foods not containing that allergen. Make certain that your staff understands what cross-contact means and how to prevent it.

An example of cross-contact is chopping peanuts on a cutting board and then chopping salad greens on the same board. A peanut-allergic guest can have a reaction from eating the greens that came into contact with the peanuts during prep. Thermometers are also a common source of cross-contact because they are frequently inserted from one food item into another without being properly sanitized. I strongly recommend color-coded thermometers (and other equipment, as well) to designate allergy-friendly tools.

RCP color-coded - Full Line

Rubbermaid® Commercial Products’ (RCP) Color-Coded Foodservice System earned the ACF Seal of Approval.

Many people also believe using hand sanitizer is an effective way to manage food allergens. This is not accurate. Experts have proven that antibacterial gels are not effective in removing food proteins. Changing gloves and washing hands with soap and water are two effective methods to eliminate allergen exposure.

It is vital that everyone on your team understands how to properly handle an order for guests with food allergies and intolerances. Consumers are increasingly seeking out establishments where they can dine worry free, many of them driving an hour or more to eat safely. These establishments will earn brand loyalty increase profitability by catering to these diners.

Here’s some advice to make your restaurant safer for food-allergic guests:

  • Communication with guests and staff is critical. Train your front-of-house staff to ask every guest about food allergies and clearly communicate the food allergy to the manager and chef. Kitchen staff should be in constant communication during cooking, plating and serving to prevent cross-contact.
  • Create a separate work space in the kitchen to prepare allergen-free/gluten-free meals. Make certain  all work surfaces and equipment are properly cleaned and sanitized.
  • Store common food allergens in a separate area of the kitchen.
  • Utilize color-coded allergy tools to reduce the risk of cross-contact. Purple is the universal color for allergen-free kitchen utensils. Keep these tools clean, covered and stored away from flours, nuts and other common allergens.
  • Use separate fryers for foods that are common allergens.
  • Provide accurate information by directing food-allergic guests’ questions to the manager or the head chef. Front-of-house staff should never guess about ingredients or preparation of a dish — this can be a matter of life and death.
  • Be aware of multiple and complex allergies. Your team may have mastered cooking and serving a dairy-free or gluten-free meal, but they should also be able to expertly handle multiple and unusual allergies.
  • Serve allergen-free/gluten-free meals on different-shaped or different-colored plates so they can be easily identified by servers and guests.
  • Educate your entire staff about allergen “aliases” — for instance, whey and casein are dairy products, and semolina contains gluten.
  • Modify dishes for food-allergic guests using different sauces, sides or other components to accommodate their special dietary restrictions.
  • Train your team on food allergy protocols. There are numerous online classes, webinars, videos and live classes that can assist you with this endeavor.

 

francine-l-shaw-headshotFrancine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including consulting, food safety training, food safety inspections, norovirus policies for employees, norovirus clean-up procedures, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training and more. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, Huffington Post, iHeartRadio, Food Safety News and Food Management Magazine.

5 Key Traits for Success in the Kitchen

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC

What does a chef look for in a new hire? Certainly the foundational skills learned in culinary school or a professional kitchen apprenticeship program are essential. It is expected that a new cook will understand how to maintain their knives; cut vegetables with precision; set-up their station with a focus on mise en place; understand and practice the key elements of food safety and sanitation; know the required steps of foundational cooking methods; and be able to multitask with reasonable speed and dexterity. This is, after all, what formal training programs focus on, and any cook worth their salt will walk through the kitchen doors with this necessary repertoire. But is this what is most important to the hiring chef?

Although any hiring chef expects these basic skills from an applicant, it can also be taught on the job. A person with a willingness to listen, practice and learn can build a level of proficiency with these tasks in a reasonable amount of time. What about those traits that cannot be easily taught? What about the attributes of a successful person that must be innate; the attributes that define a person whom any chef would want to hire?  These attributes are honesty, trust, and dependability. Make no mistake–above all else this is what every chef wants from the individuals they choose to hire. Without these core attributes, the best technical cook in the world will fail at becoming an integral part of a kitchen team.

Honesty

The chef entrusts his or her team with valuable products and equipment. It is initially assumed that every player will treat this responsibility as if the business is his or her own.  There is no room for the likes of any employee who acts otherwise.

Trust

The responsibilities of a chef are far reaching and often take the chef away from daily cooking responsibilities, which is why the chef must be able to trust each employee to work independently, manage their time and handle the preparation of food consistent with the level of excellence that the chef and operation expects. Competent cooks must work with reasonable speed and dexterity, and minimal supervision.

Additionally, both the restaurant and the dining public place their trust in every cook to handle food preparation under the highest standards of sanitation and safety. The well-being of guests and the reputation of the business are in the hands of all cooks. These are significant examples of implied trust and are the standards that are expected of professionals.

Dependability

Woody Allen said “80% of life is showing up.” Chefs know that one of the most important attributes of a young cook who aspires to build a career is to show up on time, mentally sharp, dressed appropriately and physically ready for a hard day of work. Dependability is a trait that oftentimes outweighs many other skills.

But furthermore…

Freedom from Temptation

Accessibility is the downfall of those who suffer from a lack of willpower. Setting aside those negative examples that do exist, it is expected that cooks will not use alcohol or illegal drugs before work or on the job. The policy of “shift drinks” is frowned upon in modern kitchens because of the liability and the precedent of encouragement that should not be part of a kitchen’s method of operation. Additionally, cooks are exposed to costly, high-end ingredients that are not up for grabs. Chefs want cooks who are honest beyond reproach.

Cost Consciousness and a Spirit of Ownership

Those who make a living in restaurant operations understand that profit margins are very slim, products are highly perishable and portion control is essential if a restaurant is to succeed. Chefs look for cooks who are cost conscious, have a keen eye on minimizing waste, portion ingredients accurately, rotate perishable items in storage, maximize the shelf-life of ingredients by managing temperatures and ensure that every other teammate stays as focused on these important contributors to success.

Nearly everything else in the kitchen can be taught through experience, but the aforementioned attributes must be part of a cook’s make-up as a person. This is what a chef seeks in individuals and what leads to a successful business and the foundation for successful careers.

As a cook, ask yourself: “Am I bringing these traits to the table every day when I walk through those kitchen doors?”

This is your brand.

Allergens & Cross-Contamination: Education vs. Ignorance

Chef Danielle M. Gleason C.H.E., C.S.C.

This article originally appeared in Food Safety Magazine.

Approximately 15 million people live with food allergies, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) group. Restaurants today are filled with guests who have become more educated but who are also sometimes fueled by media-fueled misinformation. Employees are sometimes just as guilty of being uneducated or misinformed. Both need to become more educated so each is on the same page when necessary.

Food Allergies & Intolerances Explained
Let’s clear up some differences between allergies, intolerances, sensitivities and irritations as they relate to food. An allergy can be mild-to-severe, causing symptoms ranging from mild hives to breathing issues, and may result in death in severe cases. An intolerance or sensitivity can cause mild-to-severe discomfort, and medical attention is sometimes needed. In the case of an irritation, it is often an annoyance and may cause discomfort, but medical attention is rarely needed.

What are these sinister food items causing all the trouble? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refer to the most common food allergens as the “Big 8”—milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts. Recently, corn and sesame have also been raising concerns.

In the case of an allergic reaction, physical symptoms are often apparent, and employees must be aware of these indications. Warning signs every foodservice employee should be aware of, and may need to call 911 about, are:
• Hives

• Itching

• Swelling

• Stomach pain

• Nausea or vomiting

• Diarrhea

• Sneezing

• Coughing or wheezing

• Shortness of breath

• Difficulty breathing or swallowing

• Swelling of airways

Restaurants always appreciate being provided with special dietary needs information ahead of time. By giving staff time to prepare, the wait will be lessened and the food will be handled properly. If a kitchen is limited on equipment or space, items may not be efficiently cleaned. Restaurants may not all carry products that meet a guests’ needs or exceptions. For severe allergies, guests must understand that cross-contamination cannot be avoided.

What Needs to Be Done?
Training and education are key. All hospitality organizations must make it a priority to train and educate their staff in sanitation and safety, including food allergy education. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) leads in training with the nationwide use of ServSafe, which certifies food service employees in safety, handling and sanitation. Organizations may choose—or may be required—to use a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plan, or they may create an allergen assessment risk program. With either program, the risk must first be assessed and all unintentional cross-contamination must be noted. Then solutions for dealing with the risk must be decided. After setting management guidelines for possible contamination, the solution must then be communicated to employees, and a correction made. It is crucial that this be repeated and reassessed throughout the flow of food handling.

Handling & Avoiding Cross-Contamination
Some food products can be contaminated before they are handled by employees. This should be labeled by the manufacturer. Common examples are products processed in a plant with other products containing wheat or nuts. It is our obligation to notify our guests that such products are used. This can be done with a menu note, tabletop advertisement, and/or relayed by the wait staff.

Most allergen contaminations happen due to mishandling and mislabeling of food products. As food handlers, there are important steps we can take. These steps are recognized by CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and NRA as ways to avoid cross-contamination:
• Use proper sanitary receiving guidelines (can be found at www.servsafe.com).

• Implement a personal hygiene program. Cross-contamination is possible from surfaces and people.

• Use reputable suppliers, and check all permits and licenses.

• Store all prepared food in areas separate from contaminants.

• Properly handle, clean and store products in areas away from contaminants.

• Wash and sanitize all equipment and small wares (use separate area or equipment when possible).

• Required training programs for front- and back-of-house employees.

• Inform guests of “secret” ingredients.

• Use visible disclaimer of possible allergens on menu.

Outcomes of Food Allergen Cross-Contamination
Food allergies are a major discomfort for those who have to deal with them. The guest may have symptoms noted previously, and they also have a financial commitment to doctor bills and medications, not to mention work missed. This is all very unfortunate, but have you considered the loss for the establishment that may have caused the cross-contamination that leads to the reaction? An establishment may experience lawsuits, monetary loss, loss of customers and reputation, negative media coverage, insurance liability, stakeholder liability and possible business failure—all because the night cook stored the rice near the shrimp bisque.

By training employees, they have more accountability in keeping guests with allergies safe, and they gain a level of confidence for having added knowledge when a guest asks about specific menu items.

How Do We Begin?
Each person involved must have a responsibility to the establishment and to the guest for food handling safety. With this knowledge, outbreaks can be minimized and avoiding them can be a part of the daily sanitation protocol.

I cannot express how many times I have heard, “What you teach your students isn’t the real world.” My response: “Well, yes, it is the real world—you have to make it that way. Set an example and follow through.”

“I don’t have the time or the pockets to do extra training for my staff. They should already know what to do.” Me: “There has to be time and money, just figure out when and where, because the outcome of a real issue will be much more expensive.”

Finally—best things last—“It is common sense! Just clean as you go!” Me: “Have you looked around lately? Common sense is not so common.”

As industry leaders, we must keep a clean, safe environment for all guests, regardless of their dining needs. It is crucial that we continue to educate both our staff and our guests.

Chef Danielle M. Gleason C.H.E., C.S.C. has been an instructor at Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies in Louisville, Ky. for 13 years. She is a ServSafe-certified instructor/proctor and also teaches online sanitation courses. She sits on the board for the Salvation Army in Louisville and is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International.

Source: Allergens & Cross-Contamination: Education vs. Ignorance