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Recipe for Success: How to prevent a food safety disaster

As an operator, one of our greatest fears or cause for panic is when the local health inspector walks in. Why is that? Most foodservice workers I speak with tell me that they are unrealistic in the requirements, and what they expect is impossible to achieve.

My first response to them is this: Why?

I get all the standard responses — I have too much to do, I wasn’t trained, I don’t have the tools, they don’t understand how hard it is to run a restaurant, I’m short staffed, the boss won’t fix anything. Perhaps my favorite is “it doesn’t matter our score, people will come in because they love us.”

I listen, then I remind them that one of a health inspector’s top priorities is to prevent people from getting sick. I recount an experience I had with a local restaurant where someone “had the sniffles” and was allowed to work because they were short staffed that day (the manager’s words when I spoke with him). I paid my check and left immediately. Not long after, I came down with the flu, which compounded into pneumonia. I was hospitalized for 5 days; my entire life came to a grinding halt.

This was an event in my life that could have been prevented had the manager only taken his responsibility to the public more seriously.

There are some very basic items that we can focus on throughout our shift to lessen the anxiety that our team feels, and to therefore improve our standards according to health codes. They are:

FOOD STORAGE

  1. Is food stored in proper containers and protected from contamination?
  2. Are hazardous substances clearly labeled (such as cleaning chemicals) and stored away from food products and food utensils/small wares?
  3. Are perishable cold foods stored in appropriate refrigerators below 41 degrees Fahrenheit?
  4. Are equipment and food contact surfaces clean, smooth and in good repair?
  5. Do all refrigerators and freezers have calibrated and working thermometers?
  6. Are all products stored a minimum of 6 inches off the floor?

FOOD HANDLING PROCEDURE

  1. Are all hands clean, hats on, and uniforms clean?
  2. Are all hand sinks stocked with soap and paper towels?
  3. Are food handlers washing their hands up to their elbows for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and hot water prior to beginning or continuing their shift, touching any foreign object (from money to the phone), a visit to the restroom, smoking or at any other time during a shift?
  4. Are employees refraining from eating, drinking or smoking in food production areas?
  5. Is all food handled in a safe, sanitary manner while wearing disposable gloves or using other protective barriers (wax paper, tongs, etc.)?

CLEANLINESS OF EQUIPMENT AND SMALL WARES

  1. Is there a red sanitizer bucket in each station with a towel fully submerged in the sanitizer solution?
  2. Are equipment and small wares of sanitary design and in proper working order?
  3. Are test strips available?
  4. Is the three-compartment sink clean, set up correctly and used solely for washing utensils, small wares and equipment parts and never used in the cleaning or production of food?
  5. Is clean linen stored properly and away from used, soiled linen?
  6. Are serving utensils stored either in food products with handles out (if in use) or stored properly in the designated space in the kitchen?
  7. Are single service utensils and containers used once and disposed of properly?
  8. Is there an adequate supply of hot water available?
  9. Are the proper cleaning supplies available and in use?

This, of course, is just a snapshot of what inspectors look for. We know that though, don’t we? We also know deep down that these inspectors really aren’t trying to give us a hard time or be difficult. We stress over it because our business is one of instant gratification. Each and every person that walks into our restaurant wants something now. We are pulled in so many directions. Because of that, we focus on the guest experience. After all, they are the reason that we are in business and ultimately stay in business. We need to at least meet their expectations, but focus training on exceeding their expectations.

The way to minimize the fear of inspection is to instill confidence. When it comes to the Health Department, the best defense is to have as many people educated in sanitation as possible. Per the health code, we are required to have one person on every shift certified as a QFO (Qualified Food Operator). If we can surround that QFO with a team of educated people, health inspections become less daunting, less fearful. You have a team that are all working towards a common goal, keeping people safe from harmful bacteria.

AUTHOR BIO

Mark Moeller is founder and president of The Recipe of Success, a national restaurant consulting firm. For more information, visit recipeofsuccess.com.

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