When monitoring the temperature of food, the only gauge to trust is a food thermometer inserted into the food in question. As Statefoodsafety.com reports, you can get an inaccurate measure if you rely on the temperature reading of the equipment used to heat or cool the food, or the thermometer reading of the water that may surround the food in its serving container. Make sure any hot-held food reaches at least 135˚F and cold food stays 41˚F or cooler.
If you’re operating a food truck or a food festival stall this summer, your food safety practices will be front and center for consumers. Make sure your preparation area is tidy and that you have your foodservice license or inspection certificate displayed. If you don’t have immediate access to a sink for handwashing, have a clear protocol for handling money and serving food separately, including the use of gloves and tongs. Be mindful of exposure to heat and make sure to monitor the temperature of any ingredients that need to stay at the proper temperature — particularly TCS foods like meat, dairy, sliced fruit and cooked vegetables — since foods can easily slip into the danger zone on warm days.
Even as plant-based meat companies continue to improve upon their offering and make it easy to be a vegetarian or flexitarian these days, are the committed carnivores in your midst likely to order an Impossible Burger? Or a plant-based steak or stack of bacon? Perhaps not. Cell-based meat may have some promise here. Despite its current high cost, and questions about how it will be regulated and about whether it is actually better for the environment than conventional meat, the deciding
factor may be taste. As reported in The Spoon, food tech companies are still in the midst of taste testing products ranging from cell-based sausages to shrimp, and the first public sale of cell-based meat is likely to happen late this year. Look for more companies to emerge (and for prices to start to fall) next year.
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 menu items with fresh chopped vegetables and fruit become more popular in warmer months, remember that as soon as you cut into them, they could well become time/temperature control for safety (TCS) foods. StateFoodSafety.com says cut leafy greens, raw sprouts, protein-rich vegetables, and sliced melons and tomatoes are some of the most common TCS foods. To keep them safe, they advise that ready-to-eat foods be eaten within four hours. Cold TCS food can be served for six hours as long as its temperature stays below 70˚F. Discard the food after four hours if you have not checked the food’s temperature at regular intervals.
If you had a norovirus outbreak at your restaurant, how would you make sure you effectively removed pathogens from your operation? A recent Food Safety Magazine notes that since there are not universal procedures for cleaning up after an outbreak, it can be an extra challenge for the 70 percent of foodservice operations that are independently owned and operated. Since affected surfaces need to be not just sanitized but also disinfected after cleaning following an outbreak, the usual cleaning protocols may not suffice. Use this chart as a reference to ensure you contain and properly disinfect the different affected areas of your establishment.
Barbecue season is upon us and with it comes rising consumer interest in burgers. It’s a good time to tune up your menu with some on-trend ingredients and approaches. A recent Forbes report advised new burger franchisors to offer more sophisticated options for consumers craving new tastes. For example, Restaurant Burger Magazine said that while cheddar is a longtime favorite as a burger
topper, consumers are demanding more variety. Consider mozzarella, Muenster or goat cheese, or try offering a series of limited time offerings that allow you to switch up your cheese, condiments and buns with regional or globally influenced options.
The bulky equipment in your kitchen may not be the most convenient to clean, but it’s important your kitchen team does it properly to avoid the risk of cross-contamination. For items that can’t be cleaned automatically, Statefoodsafety.com advises you first turn off and unplug the electrical equipment you plan to clean, then wash and rinse the outside of the equipment, followed by the area underneath and around it. Clean and sanitize any removable parts by soaking them or cleaning them in a three-compartment sink. Anything that cannot be removed and cleaned must be washed and rinsed in place. Finish by wiping everything down with sanitizing solution. To avoid contamination, air dry all equipment instead of using a cloth, and resanitize any surfaces that may have gotten recontaminated when you put the equipment back together following cleaning. Clean ovens weekly, refrigerators and freezers monthly, and sinks regularly between uses — especially if they are used frequently throughout the day.
When a London restaurant was informed in advance about a guest with a severe nut allergy coming to dine recently, the restaurant said the guest could either bring his own food and have the restaurant heat it (at a cost of $22), or eat food from the kitchen and sign a waiver acknowledging risk of cross-contamination. While this was a public relations mistake for sure, it demonstrates the pressure restaurants feel to lower the risk of preparing food for guests with allergies. How do your risk management practices measure up? Public health consultants EHA Group advise foodservice operators to assess a food’s path from warehouse to plate, which requires careful communication with your suppliers, distributors and staff. Use a production matrix that labels, tracks and dictates how to handle allergens so you can feel confident about managing them. Isolate allergens in storage and preparation areas, cook allergen-free foods first, change utensils after each item, wash hands thoroughly after handling allergens, change aprons or uniforms when there is a contamination risk, and clean preparation areas and equipment well after handling allergens.
Receive a shipment of fruit and the clock starts: You have a small window of time to either use the fresh fruit or freeze it, right? But an emerging company called StixFresh has developed technology that they say can extend the shelf life of a fruit by up to two weeks, helping people minimize food waste and save money at the same time. (The company says up to 52 percent of fruit goes to waste each year in the U.S.) StixFresh developed stickers made from an all-natural material that can slow the ripening process when stuck to fruit. The stickers work best on apples, avocados, dragon fruits, kiwis, oranges and pears and can also be used on such fruit as apricots, lemons and pomegranates. The StixFresh stickers will be available this summer.
As the weather warms up and guests are looking to cool down with chilled food and beverages, remember to treat your ice like food — or risk spreading harmful bacteria. Train employees to wash hands before handling ice and to not touch ice with their bare hands but use clean, sanitized scoops.
Statefoodsafety.com also advises that any ice used to chill food or beverages be made from drinking water to prevent contamination.
Chicken causes more foodborne illness than any other food, according to new data from the CDC. While this may be an indicator that new systems in place to identify threats are working — not that our food is less safe — it’s still important to respect chicken’s risks. Salmonella and campylobacter remain the most common causes of foodborne illness outbreaks and these bacteria are often found in chicken products. To protect your guests, avoid cross-contamination as a result of chicken coming into contact with hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils and other foods. Thaw it in the refrigerator, in cold water but covered (washing it can spread bacteria), or in the microwave. When cooking chicken, make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees measured at the thickest part of the thigh.
As vegetarian and vegan food continue to rise on lunch and dinner menus, it makes sense that breakfast would follow. (And operators would be wise to tap the breakfast segment if they haven’t already: Data from the National Restaurant Association indicates that breakfast accounts for 21 percent of all restaurant traffic — and guests are welcoming breakfast foods throughout the day.) So how can operators compete on breakfast? Skift Table reports that Just, a vegan food company that makes an egg protein substitute called Just Egg, is positioning itself as the leader in the category and has new partnerships with casual dining brands that will soon be offering the product on menus. Aside from eggs, breakfast bowls and protein bars — packed with almond or oat milk, chia seeds, quinoa and nut butters —provide a lot of opportunity for building creative, protein-rich combinations too.
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.)
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