Staying on top of the maintenance of your facility and equipment can help you avoid accidents and costly repairs or replacements. But where should you focus your energy? In a recent NextRestaurants report, Warren Wu of UpKeep, a software firm that helps businesses manage their maintenance needs, identified four top priorities for preventive maintenance in restaurants: First, clean and sanitize your refrigerators each week. Wu advises that during those sessions, staff should check areas that are prone to failure such as door hinges and gaskets. Second, clean burners, grates and flattops daily to minimize grease buildup, which can cause fires and attract pests. Third, on a weekly or monthly basis, scan your facility for a pest problem or conditions that might cause one – like spills that aren’t promptly cleaned or food being stored improperly. Finally, if you serve beer, clean your keg lines no less frequently than every six weeks to prevent mold, bacteria and other residue from building up.
As winter approaches, your restaurant becomes an even more appealing haven for pests. If pests are a recurring or ongoing problem in your facility, there is (of course) technology that can help. Internet of Things devices and cloud computing have extended to the pest management business, and for operations that need it, the technology (Rentokill offers an option) can provide 24-hour-a-day monitoring. A restaurant can use sensors within its facility to identify current and emerging risks, collect data that can help minimize the risk of infestations, manage service records across multiple operations and automate reporting required for compliance purposes.
Plant-based proteins, to this point, have largely been branded as a nice-to-have option for flexitarians. But a looming pork shortage (or what some may consider a bacon emergency) could make plant-based proteins a more urgent need. An NPR report estimates that by the end of this year, China’s pig population could be cut in half, which will result in high pork prices in the U.S. The Spoon predicts that the conditions will be good news for the growing number of producers of plant-
based pork products – and bacon, in particular. Restaurant operators should also have sufficient bacon alternatives to offer on their menus.
Inadequate cleaning of food-contact surfaces remains the top food safety problem at restaurants. That’s according to a recent review of 250,000 food safety inspection assessments from the past year by the Steritech Institute, which administers food safety training certification. Chris Boyles, vice president of the Steritech Institute, told Fast Casual that the most problematic areas of restaurants tend to be the inside of ice machines, as well as soda fountain nozzles and cutting boards. To prevent the growth of bacteria on these surfaces, have clear training and monitoring procedures for cleaning and sanitizing. For example, any equipment that must be disassembled to be cleaned and sanitized each day should be left to air dry and then checked by the opening and closing managers to verify that the item has gone through the proper procedures.
A food thermometer is the only trustworthy way to determine whether or not food is cooked to a safe temperature. Just make sure to take precautions to prevent cross-contamination when using them. Statefoodsafety.com advises operators to clean and sanitize food thermometers between uses, which can be especially easy to neglect when you are using one thermometer to monitor the temperatures of different foods in quick succession.
Chicken causes more foodborne illness than any other food, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To safeguard your operation, make sure your kitchen team washes their hands for 20 seconds with soap and water (and then dries them with a clean towel) before handling chicken – and repeats this as soon as possible after handling raw proteins thereafter. Prepare other raw foods first and remove them from the prep area to avoid cross-contamination. Never wash the chicken as doing so can transfer dangerous bacteria onto your sink and around your kitchen. Cutting boards and utensils used for chicken should be kept apart from those used for other foods. Cook poultry to 165 degrees and use a food thermometer to make sure it has reached the right temperature.
As hurricanes become more frequent and powerful, know the do’s and don’ts about managing food and other items in your business that may have come into contact with flood water during a severe storm. In addition to discarding more obvious items like food and grains that were contaminated, Steritech also advises you dispose of single-service items, spices and seasonings, foils and plastic wrap, wooden cutting boards and jars or bottles that have screw or caps, or flip or snap tops. The same goes for fabric, carpets and any kitchen equipment that can’t be disinfected.
How easy is it for your employees to check their email via the POS device they use at your restaurant? This happens to be among the most common ways that malware can infiltrate a restaurant’s systems, according to Restaurant Nuts. As cybercrime grows in sophistication, attacks will become more difficult to prevent, but you can take some steps to protect your systems. First, make your expectations clear with employees regarding how they should be using your systems (including what, if any, personal use is allowed) and how to avoid accidental malware downloads. Assign each server a different login code so if a breach occurs, you can track transaction data and more easily identify if problems have occurred during a particular employee’s shift. Beyond your employees, use password managers and two-factor authentication where possible to protect online accounts, as well as firewalls that separate different functions of your business so if a breach occurs, you might be able to limit the damage it can do.
The assault on sugar continues. Food + Tech Connect’s latest U.S. Food and Beverage Startup Investment Report was released recently and reports on the continued decline of sweeteners in the American diet. It said that according to the USDA, per capita sugar consumption has declined for four straight years and is now at a 30-year low. What’s more, alternative sweeteners like stevia and monkfruit have not won over American taste buds. The trend is sparking startup activity as companies develop food and drink designed to replace sugary or artificially sweet items. It’s a trend to bear in mind as you develop dessert offerings and describe menu items. Ingredients that offer inherent sweetness – without any help from sugar, artificial sweeteners or even natural, low-calorie sweeteners – are more apt to win with consumers.
Foods such as cereals, rice, pasta and spices may seem benign when it comes to foodborne illness, but if these foods are cooled slowly without refrigeration, they can become prime targets for Bacillus cereus, a pathogen that forms heat-resistant spores and can lead to diarrhea or vomiting. The bacteria are found in soil and in foods that grow close to the ground. As the Food Safety Information Council reports, starchy vegetables, meat products, grain-based foods, sauces, puddings and spices are all culprits. While the spores Bacillus cereus produces are dormant, they can multiply when exposed to warmth and moisture. Cooking or reheating the food will not destroy the toxin, so to help prevent it, store cooked foods in shallow containers and refrigerate them promptly, don’t let frozen foods thaw at room temperature, and make sure any precooked foods are stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of two or three days.
When washing dishes or foodservice equipment, cleaning and sanitizing need to happen together – each on its own isn’t enough to protect your guests from pathogens. But even when sanitizer is used after cleaning, Statefoodsafety.com says it can fail to do its job or even spread germs if not used at the proper temperature and concentration for the appropriate amount of time. Chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonium compound sanitizing solution all have different temperature requirements. If a sanitizer is mixed with water that’s not the right temperature, it may be less effective. Use test strips to check you are using the appropriate concentration of each sanitizer as it might be dangerous at the wrong proportions. Finally, let each sanitizer work for the required amount of time to make sure it’s effective.
If you offer delivery, take note of what Postmates is doing to improve the benefits package of gig workers. The company recently announced that it will now be offering such benefits as occupational accident insurance, health care, and free access to online college courses and professional certifications. At a time when employee development has become critical to minimizing the high turnover across the industry, these new benefits are something that may be worth considering if you’re considering a third-party delivery company or, particularly, if you manage your own in-house delivery team.
Consumers demand fresh food — but that can lead to food safety challenges, especially when fresh produce is a key feature of your menu. But there are steps you can take to protect the safety of your food supply and enhance safety protocol within your restaurant. As Restaurant Dive reports, a string of romaine lettuce contamination incidents led Chipotle’s new CEO, Brian Niccol, to attack food safety from several angles. First, the brand developed a field leadership team of food safety managers. They oversee five to 10 restaurants and train managers how to run a restaurant with an emphasis on food safety. The company also revamped its supply chain team, introduced quarterly food safety training, developed a “focus prep” team to limit the number of people preparing food, and transitioned more cooking tasks to a central kitchen where food safety could be more closely monitored. Finally, they focused on retaining employees so that food safety knowledge had a better chance of accumulating on staff. The efforts appear to be turning results around for the brand, which generated revenue gains of nearly 9 percent last year, according to earnings data.
Making do with less-than-adequate kitchen equipment can lead to a safety issue for your staff and guests, impact your restaurant’s performance and consume excess energy. Does any of your equipment require frequent servicing or parts replacement? Does your chef have to adapt his or her use of equipment to avoid injury? Is there equipment that can save space in your kitchen by accomplishing multiple tasks — or save on energy? (For example, a piece of kitchen equipment like a countertop food steamer that uses less water than a basic model could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the product.) Checking your tools against the NSF’s Certified Food Equipment list can help you identify effective and efficient replacements of kitchen equipment and tools that aren’t serving you as well as they could.
Looking for alternatives to plastic for off-premise food packaging? Increasingly, it’s coming from plants. Corn is currently being used for plastic alternatives ranging from straws to containers, but according to a report in Scientific American, the disposal of the material poses challenges, along with leaving an environmental footprint. It is compostable and not recyclable, so if not sent to an industrial facility where it can biodegrade, the process can take between 100 and 1000 years (versus just a few months). Still, other promising and more easily biodegradable plant-based plastics are being developed from materials ranging from cactus to algae. Some are even designed to eliminate waste altogether. The Spoon reports that the startup Decomer is developing a plant-based capsule containing honey. It can dissolve in coffee, tea, or other liquids at a wide range of temperatures.
Placing a few bits of information on your TCS food storage bins can have a range of benefits: It can help you avoid serving expired product that could potentially lead to illness, give you a heads-up about when you’ll need to offer specials to get rid of excess items, save you money, and demonstrate to your health inspector that you’re managing your operation well. Upserve suggests you use a food rotation label that clearly lists the type of food being stored, the date it was prepared and added to the storage area, and the date it will expire. Then all it takes is a quick scan to make sure the first bin in is also the first one out.
You stick to strict cleaning procedures and take steps to avoid the cross-contamination of foods, but how much do you know about the quality of the air in your facility? You may have excess dust accumulating in the air that can contaminate food, or moisture from ovens that can generate condensation and lead to mold. Further, the simple act of cooking can make indoor air as dangerous to breathe as smog, according to new research from HomeChem. Asthma or other respiratory ailments on your kitchen team can signal you have a problem, but you can improve air quality going forward by maintaining appliances and ventilation units routinely, having your air tested for chemical or biological pollutants, replacing old cookware with models that are less likely to contaminate the air, and using natural building materials and decorative elements in your restaurant.
It’s the season for grabbing some prepared food to go, then enjoying it at summer picnics and other outdoor events. If you offer grab-and-go foods, double check that you’re following food safety procedures so you can avoid contamination hazards and other safety risks. Daymark Safety Systems suggests operators follow several steps to protect grab-and-go storage areas. Regularly clean any doors, shelves, machine dispensing areas and lights that are part of your food displays. If you have any automated kiosks with touchpads, clean and also disinfect those high-touch areas to kill any contaminants — you may need to leave the disinfectant on the surface for a few minutes before wiping it away. Check regularly for spills on the floor and within your display, and consider using an absorbent pad or mat to reduce the risk of slips when spills occur. Clean floors at least once a day, and ensure trash and recycling bins are cleaned inside and out and don’t become overfilled.
It may seem like common sense, but as long as restaurant employees make headlines for not following cleaning procedures (like the Burger King employee who recently was reported to have used a mop to clean a table moments after using it to clean the floor), it’s important for you and your staff to be on the same page about cleaning and sanitizing procedures. Bacteria can lurk on eating utensils or kitchen work surfaces even if they appear to be clean. Upserve suggests some tips
to help keep your restaurant tools and surfaces clean. First, wash hands thoroughly in a designated handwashing sink before you begin cleaning, prepping food or cooking. Develop a checklist for each station so everyone knows the proper procedure and is held to the same standard. Use the correct sanitation bucket to avoid cross-contamination or using the wrong chemicals on the wrong surface. Finally, wash all flatware, glasses and utensils in 171˚F water, taking care to not touch any area that will come into contact with food or a guest’s mouth.
July is National Ice Cream Month. If you serve ice cream, the International Dairy Foods Association suggests several tips to store and serve it safely. On hot summer days, be careful not to let ice cream soften and refreeze. To help, set your freezer between -5˚F and 0˚F and store ice cream in the main part of the freezer as opposed to on the door, where the temperature is more likely to fluctuate. Keep the ice cream container lid closed when storing it in the freezer to help prevent the formation of ice crystals (after you’ve opened a container, you can also place plastic wrap or waxed paper over the ice cream before refitting the lid). Keep ice cream separate from any uncovered foods in the freezer, as odors can alter the flavor of ice cream. Finally, if you’re serving a lot of ice cream at once, Statefoodsafety.com says you can store the ice cream scoop in a container of running water between uses.
When you hear the terms “crops” and “climate change” in the same sentence, it’s generally not good news. But perhaps for that reason, entrepreneurs are developing tech to change it. Keep your eye on Calyxt, a company that, the Spoon reports, uses a higher-tech, more efficient form of genetic modification called CRISPR, to improve the nutrition and pest-resistance of crops, while also making them grow faster and bigger as climate change becomes a more significant challenge for producers. Calyxt, whose parent company is the French pharmaceutical company Cellectis, has developed a soybean with fewer unhealthy fats and is now working on a high-fiber wheat.
When large portions of food are cooling down, they can be havens for bacteria. Cool these foods in smaller containers so they aren’t in the temperature danger zone for too long. That goes for large
cuts of meat too. As Statefoodsafety.com reports, leftover meat needs to be cut up into smaller portions so that it can cool down quickly. Otherwise, it’s too easy for bacteria to thrive and make the food unsafe for consumption.
Hopefully, your employees know to wash their hands after using a restroom. But bacteria lurk in places all over a restaurant: Door handles, money, tablet and smartphone touchscreens, salt shakers and other tableware, computer keyboards, menus, and kitchen equipment and other items such as cutting boards and towels are key culprits. Outside of the restroom, make sure your team has a culture of regular handwashing with soap and water, then alcohol-based sanitizer (as a bonus, not a substitute for the first step). Then reinforce it regularly. It’s easy for even a careful employee to overlook handwashing during busy periods.
As new food trends are identified each year, it seems there is always room for restaurants to use spices to innovate and bring global flavors to a menu. One company to watch is McCormick & Co. Its long history and traditional profile masks a tech-savvy strategy. The Spoon, which included McCormick on its Food Tech 25 list of companies making the greatest impact on food this year, reports that the spice brand’s new partnership with IBM Research AI will help it predict new flavor combinations and enhance old ones. The results may help you enhance your own menu offerings in a cost-effective way.
Your food inspector isn’t the only person scrutinizing your safety practices. Your guests evaluate you too — and there are a number of areas in your restaurant that, if mishandled, can alert people to the possibility of more serious problems. The Food Network talked to dieticians for tips on what to watch out for. In addition to the more obvious signs of a problem — dirty bathrooms, tables and menus, for example — be extra vigilant if you have a salad bar or buffet where foods are sitting out at room temperature. Any hot foods should be served hot. Finally, your staff can send the wrong message if they don’t take allergies or food sensitivities seriously, or if they are careless about handling money and food.
E. coli and leafy greens can be a common pair. Outbreaks tied to romaine lettuce contamination made headlines throughout the past year, and according to the FDA, similar outbreaks were linked to leafy greens an average of three times a year between 2009 and 2017. Foodservice operators can help limit the risk of contamination during preparation by taking several precautions. Statefoodsafety.com advises food handlers wash leafy greens thoroughly, serve only pasteurized dairy products and juices, and avoid cross-contamination via hands or preparations areas. That means cleaning and sanitizing work surfaces, particularly after working with raw animal proteins, and if you wear gloves, wash hands and put on a new pair of gloves when preparing a different food.
Finally, be mindful of the temperature of meat you prepare. Ground beef should maintain a temperature of 155°F for 15 seconds before serving.
June is National Iced Tea Month – and a prime time to make the most of a beverage in the midst of a renaissance. While tea has traditionally been considered a comforting beverage, modern drinkers like its wellness benefits, as well as the many dozens of tastes it can add to a menu. Ice it and serve blended or garnished with summer fruit, combine it with almond or oat milk in a cool matcha latte, or experiment with health-focused ingredients like ginger, turmeric and ginseng. The plant-forward trend has come to the tea category too: Mintel reports that some tea companies are more prominently promoting produce in their infusions. Ingredients ranging from basil to onion to tomato are appearing in teas.
As a guest enters your restaurant, you likely want him to focus more on your list of specials than on his likelihood of contracting salmonella from your establishment. But the safety of your restaurant could well be on the minds of your guests, particularly as 33 percent of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. in 2016 were attributed to sit-down dining establishments (and that figure did not include additional illnesses linked to quick-service restaurants or catering and banquet facilities). If you have taken steps to strengthen your restaurant’s food safety practices — and your record reflects it — have you thought about promoting it? Foodable advises it as a good way to earn trust with the public and engage your employees. If you get a glowing inspection report, blow it up and post it — or announce your result on Instagram and thank your team for helping you to achieve it and for sharing your commitment to guest safety. Post photos of your team sweeping up or polishing glassware after an event. If you’re giving your restaurant a deep clean on a day when you’re normally not open and would be cleaning anyway, announce it. There’s no need to overdo it on the dirty details, obviously, but the occasional post about your commitment to running a clean operation can go a long way in building trust with your community (and ironically, making food safety less front-of-mind when hungry people pay you a visit).
Mine your delivery data
If you’re among the many restaurants transitioning to delivery service, your POS can help you reap rewards from the data you collect from each order — but make sure you track your progress in a way that helps you respond to patterns as opposed to one-off customer complaints. For example, Modern Restaurant Management advises you to turn to your POS to assess your results as a whole: Do you have one delivery driver who is consistently late? A line worker who often misses including requested condiments in orders? Or do your soup containers leak, generating regular complaints from customers? Which items are your most profitable and which are rarely ordered at all? Reviewing your POS for patterns tied to your food, personnel, packaging and service can help you see where adjustments are needed.
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