Hepatitis A has reached outbreak status across the U.S., with new cases ranging from Florida to Washington state, Food Safety News reports. The Centers for Disease Control say the liver disease can spread most easily through the ingestion of food that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person, as well as through uncooked (or not thoroughly cooked) food that has been contaminated. Many of the restaurants where the disease has been present have closed temporarily for employee vaccination clinics, but the best way to prevent the spread of the disease from the start is through – surprise – thorough and frequent handwashing, as well as by ensuring employees don’t work when they are ill. Be aware of such symptoms as jaundice, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, low appetite and fever.
When a food delivery order leaves your restaurant, how confident are you about being able to keep that food safe en route to your customers? A new survey found that nearly 30 percent of food delivery app workers sample food they are delivering – and even more than that are tempted to try. To alert customers that someone has tampered with their food, operators are increasingly using tamper-evident labels. A QSR Magazine report advises using ones that will adhere to the full range of your packaging materials and also have security slits that tear if someone tampers with the label. These labels are a good place to market your food safety values, so they’re also a good place to feature your company logo, website or other identifying information.
The complimentary bread-and-butter basket has become a relic from the past at many restaurants around the country, but according to recent menu trends research in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles by Flavor & the Menu, that’s just leaving space for bread to occupy a more important place on the menu. The report says some restaurants are elevating bread by focusing on creating small-batch varieties of butter – with such flavors as olive and lemon, bacon fat and malt to make the bread more special – while others are raising their bread game with homemade biscuits, cornbread and grilled focaccia. The showstopper in the trends research was a bread sharing platter at Chicago’s Tied House, where a bread course including locally made breads and a range of housemade spreads such as miso butter, crème fraiche with honeycomb, green tomato marmalade and chicken liver mousse sells for a cool $32.
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.
If you have new or temporary staff on your team, it’s a good time to give a refresher course on avoiding the spread of colds and flu, as well as other germs that can cause foodborne illness. The National Restaurant Association advises operators to provide a handwashing demo to staff, focus on the nail beds and under the fingernails where bacteria is easily trapped, and mention the need for scrubbing, rinsing and complete drying of hands to avoid cross-contamination. Hand sanitizer is a good final step after handwashing but does not replace it. Make sure your food handlers know when and how to report their symptoms of illness — and ensure your managers keep staff informed of the reporting requirements of foodborne illness symptoms, with emphasis on the need to report vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, sore throat with fever, or infected cuts or burns with pus on hands or wrists. Finally, build a culture in which your team feels comfortable reporting their illness symptoms. You can foster this environment by having regular conversations about how to report symptoms and what follow-up actions to take to prevent the spread of foodborne illness, as well as by placing posters around your facility to remind employees of their responsibility to be forthcoming about symptoms they or other staff experience.
Once holiday feasting is over, New Year’s health resolutions kick in. Do you know how to deliver the kinds of options your guests are looking for? The tactics that work for your restaurant may differ from those that succeed at the restaurant down the street. When you contemplate menu changes, focus less on fad diets than on accommodating lifestyle changes like gluten-free, dairy-free, low-carb or organic diets. Then, consider how your target market thinks. Next Restaurants reports that according to a Numerator survey, the average person who follows Weight Watchers is 65 or older, so building menu options around that plan may make sense if you serve that demographic. Forging partnerships with social media influencers and organizations committed to healthy lifestyles can help too. At a minimum, consider offering nutrition information to show you’re committed to helping guests make their own healthy decisions.
Don’t be a welcoming shelter for pests
As the weather cools and pests seek shelter indoors, take steps now to make sure you aren’t an appealing target. The FSMA’s new regulations make it critical to be proactive about preventing contamination from pests as opposed to simply reacting to it after it occurs. Food Safety Tech advises you inspect all incoming shipments for insects, droppings or damaged packaging that could indicate a pest issue. If you spot a pest, remove the contaminated item or isolate it in a contained area to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination. Maintain a log to track pest sightings and make it everyone’s responsibility to report pest activity if they see it. Finally, try to detect pests when you’re not around by placing insect light traps, pheromone monitors and glue boards in areas where you are receiving shipments.
Symptom-free is no guarantee
No symptoms of illness? You could still be carrying pathogens in your body even if you feel perfectly well, Statefoodsafety.com advises. As flu season approaches, remind your team to wash their hands thoroughly and often. To prevent cross-contamination, your handwashing sinks should be clean, easily accessible to your food workers and not used for other kitchen tasks, such as washing dishes or food items
Your guests may already be showcasing your creatively plated entrees on Instagram, but are you using Instagram Stories to your full advantage yet? They can help you tell a broader story about your business and your team. Via video, take guests behind the scenes in the kitchen, on a trip to a supplier or a farm, or show them how you prepare a healthy dish they can make at home. Modern Restaurant Management suggests operators use the forum as a test or experiment to see what engages your guests and drives awareness of your brand. And since posts drop off after 24 hours, it’s not a major problem if one of them flops.
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