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 severe weather becomes more common, the increased risk of power outages can threaten food safety. Make sure you monitor your TCS foods to prevent spoilage and discard items that have gone out of temperature range. Steritech advises that you monitor and document food temperatures as long as it is safe to stay in the building. Promptly after losing power, prepare ice baths for your TCS foods. Dry ice can also help you keep refrigeration temperatures at 41° F or below – just be cautious with it as it can produce dangerous gas in enclosed areas. Avoid opening cooler doors as much as
possible – a freezer in good condition may maintain its temperature for 24 hours if unopened. Test foods using a calibrated thermometer and throw out any TCS foods that have been warmer than 41° F for more than two hours.
At a time when the foodservice industry is embracing foods that promote health and well-being, those qualities don’t often come to mind when one thinks of the foodservice profession itself. But finding ways to protect your well-being and that of your staff can protect morale and promote retention. Beyond creating healthy routines around meals, sleep and exercise, Chefify suggests establishing boundaries – with your employer and staff. It can help you handle everything from negotiating sufficient time off between shifts to managing everyday problems more efficiently (and being selective about the ones you take on). Take stock of your day with staff to review what went well and what needs improvement. Establish clear working hours for yourself and your team. Don’t oversell your knowledge and experience – or be afraid to delegate tasks to others: Relying on other people helps make them accountable. Finally, don’t lose your connection with the outside world – keeping tabs on events happening outside of the foodservice industry can provide perspective and may help you conceive of new ideas that will keep your work interesting and fresh.
Clamoring to sell a plant-based burger than can pass for meat? There may be good reason to be a late adopter. Amid the rise in demand for plant-based proteins, a number of industry experts have questioned the more processed options available. (Case in point: The Impossible Burger has been criticized for its inclusion of the ingredient heme, which Food Dive describes as an iron-containing molecule made by fermenting genetically modified yeast.) Further, an article published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association by doctors, nutritionists and public health specialists advised that further research was needed to determine if plant-based meat alternatives designed to mimic the real thing were in fact as healthy and beneficial to the environment as they claim to be.
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.
Having a sustainable seafood strategy is becoming even more important: Mercury levels are increasing in some of the most popular fish in the American diet, according to a new study out of Harvard and published in the journal Nature. The research found that from the 1970s through the 2000s, methylmercury levels in Atlantic cod climbed 23 percent as a result of overfishing. The model used in the research also predicted mercury levels in Atlantic bluefin tuna would increase 56 percent between 1969 and the present as a result of higher seawater temperatures. Because overfishing and changing seawater temperatures are causing fish to alter their diets – often to include fish that are higher or lower in mercury content -- people who distribute and serve fish need to understand how environmental factors are impacting the food chain. (E.g. As Healthline notes, Atlantic cod had high levels of mercury until their main food source, herring, were overfished. Then as herring returned, mercury levels in cod increased again.) If you or your guests feel strongly about having tuna and cod on the menu, use suppliers that lobby for tighter regulations on fishing and make efforts to stop climate change and reduce pollution.
Your point-of-sale system is the nerve center of your business – and now, depending on which system you use, it might help you aggregate third-party delivery orders with other restaurants. The restaurant tech company Ordermark, which offers a hardware and software package that funnels third-party delivery orders onto one dashboard, recently announced a partnership with Omnivore, which integrates POS systems. As a result, a restaurant using a POS system such as Oracle Micros, POSitouch, Brink, Dinerware, among others, can now aggregate orders with third-party delivery companies. The companies say the move will “address more than 85 percent of venues in North America to bring every delivery service to restaurants in any zip code, to cost-effectively add revenue and marketing reach to their online presence.”
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.
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.
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