The average person gets norovirus — a period of diarrhea and vomiting at once — five times in his or her life. The virus can live for several days on ice buckets, glasses, cash drawers, cell phones, remote controls, carpets and many other surfaces, and because it’s so easily spread (a pencil tip can hold the number of cells required to transfer it) it’s a big threat to the foodservice industry. Do you have norovirus procedures in place? (If not, you’re not alone: A poll conducted during a recent webinar for foodservice operators with food safety expert Francine Shaw found that 41 percent of participants had no documented procedures.) Shaw said 75 percent of norovirus outbreaks are attributed to infected workers. Proper handwashing plays a major role but it’s also important to ensure employees know what they need to do when they experience symptoms of a number of illnesses that can spread norovirus. Shaw advised using Form 1B during your employee orientation. It’s available through the FDA and explains the major illnesses that can spread norovirus, as well as what employees must do when they experience the onset of specific symptoms so they are not working in a food preparation situation when they experience them.
Does your kitchen team know where to start when cutting various proteins? Statefoodsafety.com advises that when cutting different types of meat in succession, start with the meat that has the lowest cooking temperature and work up to the one with the highest cooking temperature. For example, start with beef, veal, lamb and pork, then work up to poultry. It will help ensure that any germs the knife carries are killed during cooking.
There are ample financial incentives for restaurant operators to make their existing business practices more environmentally friendly — even if you don’t consider that consumers are loyal to such businesses. If you’re interested in either learning more about green business practices or about improving upon your existing efforts, check out this survey from the Green Restaurant Association. It asks a series of questions about your restaurant’s current practices when it comes to energy use, water efficiency, chemicals and pollution, sustainable food, and use of reusable and disposable products. Depending on your answers, you will be prompted with details about how adopting certain practices could help your bottom line, as well as what specific appliances, products, brands and other resources can help you operate more efficiently in various capacities. Your answers can also give you a baseline assessment to help you see what efforts might help you become a Certified Green restaurant if you’re seeking an industry designation.
A study by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service that observed participants cooking in a test kitchen found that 97 percent of attempts to wash hands failed. That resulted in 48 percent of participants cross-contaminating spice jars by transferring harmless microorganisms that act much like human pathogens. (The USDA reports that Campylobacter and Salmonella, bacteria found in poultry, may survive on food contact surfaces for up to four and 32 hours, respectively.) Another 5 percent of participants in the study transferred bacteria to salads they prepared. It’s worth a reminder: To adequately wash hands, wet them with warm or cool running water, apply soap and for 20 seconds rub hands together vigorously, washing both sides of each hand, between fingers and over fingertips and wrists. Rinse and then dry hands and wrists with a towel, which you should then use to turn off the faucet.
Conventional wisdom says to toss out any dented can to prevent the risk of botulism. The truth is more nuanced, however, and the risk depends on the size and location of the dent. A new report in The Takeout provides some guidelines. Of course, in the event of major dents or leaks, discard the can (the USDA defines a major dent as one in which you can “lay your finger into”). The same goes
for cans with dents along any seams of the can. However, a minor dent on the side of a can with no large edges or creases, or on the bottom of a can without a bottom seam is likely safe. If you aren’t sure about the risk of a can with a minor dent, Joe Schwarcz of the McGill University Office for Science and Society advises boiling the contents of the can to kill any microbes or toxins that may be present.
The lines between dayparts are getting fuzzy. As breakfast has grown in popularity as a meal to be eaten at any time of day, ingredients that have long been expected in later dayparts are now drifting onto menus earlier in the day. Mike Kostyo of Datassential told Supermarket Perimeter that ingredients or dishes like chicken or cocktails are now showing up on breakfast menus, while chefs are adding an egg to a wide variety of dishes and calling it breakfast. However, he said, guests still tend to look for higher-energy foods in the morning that can satisfy them until lunch and dishes that can help them relax and wind down later in the day, so bear those rules in mind if and when you reinvent menu items for different parts of the day.
A single foodborne illness outbreak could cause a quick-service or fast-casual restaurant approximately $2 million in financial damage, according to a 2018 study from Johns Hopkins University. Your restaurant’s ability to deliver safety training and respond to threats quickly in an environment of escalating costs and shrinking training budgets can make a huge difference. Modern Restaurant Management suggests digitizing and automating your food safety audits to drive food safety consistency and quality, in addition to making reporting and compliance a less time-consuming process. For example, instead of having to remember to manage certain tasks during a busy shift, you can schedule alerts, surveys and checklists to go out at specific times of day to team members via a mobile app. Instead of recording results with paper and pen or on a spreadsheet, you can report them on a dashboard-based system that can automate food safety standards and reinforce them across multiple restaurant locations.
Improper cleaning and storage of your knives can cause these tools to become blunt and worn prematurely or cause injury. Chefify advises operators to wash, dry and store knives immediately after each use. Soaking them with other tools may result in damage if the knives knock against those items, prolonged soaking can corrode the blade’s chromium coating, and the heat of a dishwasher may wear out knife handles. When storing knives, avoid placing them in a drawer with other utensils where they may become blunt or cause injury. Use plastic blade guards if you store knives in drawers or, better yet, store them on a magnetic strip or in a wooden block (blade side facing down).
Could your restaurant go cafeteria-style? According to new research from Datassential, cafeteria-style setups may be a modern reinvention of the buffet. In a recent survey of 1,500 consumers, 55 percent of respondents said they like or love cafeteria-style dining. These arrangements are especially popular with consumers who have young children and want a range of choices to suit the whole family. There could be other benefits to these arrangements too: Having a server dish out
prepared food in a cafeteria line could provide the labor-side benefits of a buffet and also help protect food safety, since guests aren’t serving themselves.
“If you’re gluten-free, why do you see menus where 80 percent of the items have gluten?” That’s what Kitchen United CEO Jim Collins asked during a restaurant technology event hosted by The Spoon last fall. The point makes sense: After all, why waste space on a menu by trying to sell a customer with celiac disease a lot of food he can’t eat, right? But it’s a typical occurrence. Even as restaurant brands embrace personalization and customization on menus, there is still a ways to go. The transition could be happening sooner than we think, however, particularly considering McDonald’s and its recent $300 million purchase of Dynamic Yield, the personalization startup company. The transaction is designed to make the brand’s in-store and drive-thru menus more technologically dynamic, changing up the food selection that pops up on menus depending on the weather, time of day, trending restaurant menu items, and current restaurant traffic, as well as suggesting additional menu items based on what the customer selects. This doesn’t sound that far off from what many restaurants with touchscreen ordering can already offer, though, so it begs the question: What’s in the pipeline? As restaurants embrace tech that responds to feedback from customers and other external factors, operators should consider how this is likely to play out. Could your restaurant technology help you lay the groundwork for offering guests the specific menu options they’re most likely to buy?
Restaurant work can be physically and emotionally grueling — but operators can take steps to make the environment a healthier one for staff. We Are Chefs offered some suggestions to set a positive tone. First, take charge of hydration: Have a water-drinking competition and award a point for each day a person reaches a set level, and replace energy drinks with body-friendly options like Emergen-C over iced soda water. Offer healthier options on your staff menu. Now that the weather is improving in many places, get staff outside, whether for just a quick stretch, to clean racks or to cook specials on a smoker. Challenge your team to walk or bike to work. Finally, keep your music and conversation upbeat and positive.
If your restaurant has a salad bar, buffet or other self-service food station, pay attention to temperature and cross-contamination risks. Hot foods should be at least 135˚F and cold foods should be 41˚F or cooler — and check those temperatures regularly. Statefoodsafety.com advises operators to clean and sanitize food thermometers between uses with other foods so germs or allergens don’t spread from one food to the next.
An apron can tell a story about a kitchen worker’s day, picking up traces of food but also dirt and bacteria. ServSafe advises you make sure your staff know to wear aprons when preparing food and removing them when they use the restroom or when they take out garbage. Have a convenient place to store aprons so your staff can access them easily between tasks.
Who needs meat? As menus become more plant-focused, chefs are taking cues from meat preparation so consumers are less likely to miss the carnivorous experience. Datassential points out that one trend to watch in the coming months is that cooking and preparation methods once reserved for meat are making the leap to produce. (Coffee rubs, once in the purview of barbecue, are now being used on root vegetables like beets.)
It’s easy for a buffet to become a breeding ground for bacteria, and the foods that a guest might not question if left out for more than a couple of hours — rice, sliced fruit or cut greens, for example — could spread illness if not monitored carefully. These foods are considered Time/Temperature Control for Safety foods. Statefoodsafety.com says these foods, which are high in carbohydrates or protein, slightly acidic or neutral, or contain moisture, are especially susceptible to bacteria contamination. While there are some foods on the list that are easy to guess, like meat, seafood and
dairy, make sure your kitchen staff are well aware of the others on the list that need to be monitored carefully and replaced regularly.
…Make some changes in your kitchen. As warm weather approaches, your kitchen and staff need to be able to adapt to the heat. Even if you’re careful about keeping your food preparation area clean and avoiding cross-contamination, the simple act of sweating can cause rapid multiplication of bacteria that can contaminate food. Make sure your kitchen is well ventilated, and train kitchen workers to wash hands and change gloves frequently, and to not handle food unnecessarily.
Environmentally friendly packaging is rapidly becoming the rule rather than the exception. Case in point: Some of the largest foodservice brands in the world — including McDonald’s, Wendy’s and others — have joined forces in an effort dubbed the Next Gen Cup Challenge to identify a cup that’s easily composted or recycled. Fast Company reports that most of the hundreds of billions of paper cups that end up in landfills each year are coated with a layer of polyethylene that makes them great for holding liquids but poor for the environment. Companies from around the world have submitted designs and 12 have been selected to share a grant that will enable them to test and mass-produce their cups. Brands will begin testing contenders in September, so watch them for clues as to what products are in the pipeline.
Having a food inspector visit can be an opportunity — not merely a necessary interruption in the midst of a busy shift. How you prepare for the inspection and implement action steps afterwards is critical. There is power in seeking outside input. The Caterer suggests hiring a food safety consultant who can design a food safety management system tailored to your business. You can also seek out foodservice businesses with strong records and ask to visit their facilities — they may help you identify ways to make improvements. Finally, partner with your health inspector and proactively ask questions between inspections. Investing the time and — in the case of hiring a consultant — money in soliciting feedback is less costly than doing damage control after a food safety violation or illness outbreak.
If you still use manual processes to track ingredients and recipes, be aware of how they can impact your operation’s food safety. For example, a team member who knows one version of a dish well may not know how a dish is altered to accommodate a food allergy if your processes aren’t automated. Restaurant Business advises you consider menu engineering technology to help automate these processes and keep your menu’s ingredient and nutritional information in step with modifications you need to make on the fly. For example, as you create dishes or adjust existing ones, technology can automatically update their allergens and nutritional values down to the ingredient level. It will help ease communication between your team and the guest, as well as give your chef time and freedom to focus on enhancing the menu.
Eggs are having a moment. Now safely in the realm of healthy foods, eggs aren’t just for breakfast anymore and are being embraced by consumers and chefs alike for their craveability and versatility. Runny yolks atop everything from avocado toast to burgers to pizza are adding an extra flavor layer to foods. Because they mix well with global ingredients, eggs have become common street food options too. Flavor & the Menu cites such examples as Queen’s Danh Tu, the Vietnamese street food vendor in Brooklyn, which offers bánh xèo, an omelette-crêpe served in a cone. It found a number of other creative egg applications at such places as Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans, which makes a crispy rice dish topped with a swirl of vibrant “yolk jam,” and at Mason Eatery in Miami, which offers an appetizer of lightly cooked beaten egg, sour cream, Muenster cheese and salt, served as a gooey mixture with bagel chips for dipping.
Looking for a loyal guest who will drive miles out of his way to eat at your restaurant? Boost your operation’s allergy awareness and communication. People with food allergies are a vocal and close-knit group, notes Francine Shaw of Savvy Food Safety, and they won’t hesitate to share their
experiences in restaurants with others. Shaw told Modern Restaurant Management that communication is paramount: Your staff should ask each party if there are allergies in the group, and if so, there should be constant communication between the manager, chef and server throughout the preparation, plating and serving of the meal. When guests have questions, direct them to the chef, who should have up-to-date information on allergens and allergen aliases. All employees need to be part of the effort, so have regular training sessions and refreshers on how to manage allergies in various scenarios.
Consumer taste trends change fast — often faster than operators are able to forecast themselves. Now, AI is helping food companies stay a step ahead of consumer demand. Food Dive reports that the tech startup Tastewise surveys billions of food and beverage data points including one billion food photos shared monthly, 153,000 U.S. restaurant menus and more than one million recipes. It then synthesizes that information to pinpoint up-and-coming, on-trend ingredients and other market opportunities to meet consumer demand. The insights are both local and national so they may help operators identify micro trends as well as more widespread consumer preferences.
The food you offer your guests has specific time and temperature requirements for serving and storing. Are your thermometers coming through for you? Thermometers should be calibrated if it is ever dropped, if it is used to register a wide range of temperatures, and if it is new. A thermometer used daily should be calibrated daily, but you can keep tabs on other thermometers using the ice point method. Statefoodsafety.com suggests filling a cup with ice water, letting it sit for a few minutes, and then placing the thermometer in the cup. Once the temperature reading on the thermometer stabilizes, it should read 32˚F. If it doesn’t, calibrate it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
On-the-job accidents and injuries are widespread in the foodservice industry. In quick-service restaurants in particular, a 2015 poll taken by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health found that 87 percent of employees had experienced a workplace injury the previous year. Slips, trips and falls are a key cause of these injuries and can be prevented with proper precautions. QSR Magazine suggests operators at a minimum have employees wear non-slip shoes, and non-slip mats are an additional help when placed in front of sinks, cooking areas and ice machines. Your floor-cleaning schedule should include protocol for deep-cleaning areas prone to heavy grease buildup and should enforce using separate mops for the front and back of the house.
As consumers are demanding their favorite foods whenever and wherever they like, an important trend has taken shape that may be here to stay: The barriers between meal times are becoming more fluid. NPD Group expects that afternoon and evening snacking will continue to grow in popularity, and industry analysts are looking at the trend as a reason for operators to offer all-day menus and extend their hours to make better use of their real estate. Skift Table reports that Taco Bell has made a push to claim lucrative late-night business, McDonald’s has won over customers
with its all-day breakfast, and Starbucks has even shifted its employees’ administrative tasks to closing time so they have more opportunity to engage with guests in the afternoon and give stores a more homey feel that encourages snacking.
Guests make inferences about the cleanliness of your kitchen based on the condition of your restroom. And if your staff share restroom facilities with guests, those inferences tend to be correct. A Modern Restaurant Management report said that in addition to putting a business at risk of negative word of mouth, a dirty restroom can result in a lower food hygiene rating during
inspections. Make sure you have waste bins large enough to avoid overflow, that you have staff monitor the cleanliness of your restrooms at regular intervals, and that you keep the restrooms well stocked with toilet paper, towels and soap. If guests have to chase your staff down for toilet paper in the middle of the dinner rush, they may get the message that you’re overlooking other details of the guest experience in your restaurant.
If your restaurant prides itself on its ability to cater to guests with food allergies or other special dietary needs, new opportunities are becoming available to help you connect with those consumers quickly. For example, Fast Casual reports that the food sensor company Nima has developed an online tool that displays gluten-free and peanut-free items available at chain restaurants. Consumers simply visit the site, register their location and the site shows a map of nearby restaurants with allergy-free items. There are now 250,000 restaurant locations contained in the site’s database. At a time when consumers can indulge their cravings with just a couple of clicks, the ability to quickly direct people with allergies to their best options could become a key differentiator for restaurants.
Wage dispute claims are rampant in the foodservice industry. In 2017 alone, the Department of Labor heard more than 7,000 wage and hour claims and recovered more than $483 million in back wages for employees — nine times more than any other industry. The threshold is low for workers looking to file suit. A QSR Magazine report says foodservice operations are vulnerable if they don’t have clear policies around such topics as compensation for time needed to change into uniform, rounding employee hours, calculating overtime, or taking additional breaks. To help, the report advises you have detailed written information describing your wage and hour-related policies, as well as about meals and break periods — and that you review timecards carefully to ensure staff take their breaks. Consult an employment attorney to make sure your policies are clear and then reinforce them with staff.
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