Online vs In-Person Training

Here we are, 2021 and due to the pandemic, many of us find ourselves with limited options for training, and education. In person classes seemed to have disappeared and are quickly being replaced with many different online options. But which type of training is better, online or in-person? Well, it turns out that there have been studies on the subject and like everything else the answer isn’t as simple as the question. Better isn’t always best for everyone in every situation. There are a lot of different variables,. What kind of training are you looking for? Does it involve an exam like the food safety manager course or is it compliance training like harassment prevention? Some classes require hands on training such as cooking or equipment skills while others may only need to be one on one like a therapy session. Maybe the question should be, which type of training is better for you?

Most of the studies that I looked at use the Kirkpatrick Model which accounts for all styles of training but can be applied to our situation here. What I’d like to point out is that half of the model addresses the individual learners needs (satisfaction & comprehension) and the other half of the model addresses the businesses needs(application & cost benefit). Almost all of the studies I found online says that there is no clear evidence that between online learning and in person learning that one is more, or less effective than the other. It might be important to ask, what are we trying to achieve? Well, I’d say if you the employer much of the decision as to what is better is based on results and behavior and to the learner it’s more about how much you learn and how was their reaction.

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One of the most important aspects about these studies to me is that all of them mentioned satisfaction and repeatedly reported that people claim to be much more satisfied by in-person learning, whether it be one on one or in a group setting. And as an instructor myself, we offer an online study at home version of our training and an in person version of our training and those that chose to the online studying only pass our certification process at about a 60% rate. In the end here is what I suggest, if you are an individual who is deciding what is better for you the think about your learning style, ask yourself what your trying to achieve and go from there, know one knows you better than you. If your an employer and you’re trying to figure out what is best for your employee, just ask.

How Much Does A Food Safety Audit Cost?

One of the biggest complaints people have when it comes to keeping their food safe is the time and money involved. How do we know this? Because since 2011 when we started Western Food Safety the two biggest questions we get from our clients is how long will this take and how much will this cost. Generally we give a price and a time frame for our audits and classes and don’t really go into the costs of not keeping your food safe, but there is a much bigger picture.

When it comes to understanding costs of food borne illness you don’t have to look any farther than your local news, restaurants are being featured daily. Most health departments use a grading system like school grades, A, B or C. Food establishments in your area are receiving low grades and some are even being closed down due to their lack of practical food safety knowledge. How much does a B or C grade posted on the front window cost a restaurant? What does one customer who chooses not to dine there cost? And even worse, how many people could they tell? How much does it cost an establishment to shut the doors for a few day until the health department has a chance to come back around? And did you know that social media restaurant review sites such as Yelp post your health inspections on their website with a list of all your violations and no explanations? It doesn’t paint a rosy picture. How do you even quantify how much something like that costs you? And did you know you could be sued, not just for your actions but for the actions of those who work for you? There are many other costs as well but when you add all this up and compare it to taking a food safety class or getting an audit… its a no brainer.

A good audit includes a 2 hour inspection, We will go over your documentation, your facility and equipment standards. We will look at employee behaviors such as proper hand hygiene and prep processes. Temperature controls will be evaluated, storage units will be looked at and general cleaning and sanitizing practices will be reviewed. You can choose to receive a single audit that is designed to teach your managers what to look out for or you can have us do several audits to just “shake things up a little” and show your staff how important food safety is to you and your facility. Included in your audit you will receive a score based off of your counties inspection reports which includes a report with an explanation of violations. You will be given an action plan with recommendations of how to fix problems and a priority report of what should be fixed first. And finally you will have a resource to ask basic questions when you have uncertainty about keeping within the guidelines.

Organizations such as the National Restaurant Association, NEHA and the USDA all recommend that food operations start taking a more proactive approach to keeping their food safe rather than reacting to an incident after it occurs. Getting an audit, being proactive and taking charge of your own food safety by having a professional who you trust and is there giving you the strictest of audits with the interest of protecting your organization in mind you will prevent all of these costs. You will be better a business and you will be a trusted part of your community.

Coronavirus Restaurant Re-Opening Guidance

The following recommendations for re-opening your restaurants are based off of data that has been compiled from the FDA Food Code(2017), the National Restaurant Association and from the reopening procedures listed out on the Wynn Resort Hotels Las Vegas website.

If your facility has been closed due to the Coronavirus for an extended period you’re probably asking yourself if there is anything that you should be considering before you decide to reopen. So I thought it would be helpful to put together some guidance based on what I’ve been seeing other organizations doing to protect their guests and their employees.

First, it would be a good idea if you have coolers to do an inventory check. Go through all of your TCS/PHF items and dispose of anything that is expired, looks weird or has off odors. Remember, the maximum shelf life for anything you make or for anything you open that is perishable is 7 days and when in doubt just throw it out. Next, you should do a thorough cleaning and sanitizing of your storage areas with your standard sanitizing solutions. Pay attention to the floors, walls and shelves and whatever sanitizer you’ve always used for you kitchens will be just fine. Don’t forget, coronavirus is not a food borne illness so were not so concerned about it on our food and the harsh chemicals it takes to destroy it are nearly as dangerous for the food as the coronavirus itself. When I refer to sanitizing we’re talking about food contact surfaces but when were talking about disinfecting were talking about everything else. Right now just get your kitchens back up to the normal food safety standards per your health department and later in this guidance we can work on the coronavirus part.

Once you have all your storage areas ready to go you should turn your attention to cleaning and sanitizing every work surface, every utensil and every single bit of equipment in your prep areas, dish washing areas and service areas. Remember, any little bits of left behind food, grease or liquids could have been growing bacteria or hiding pest the entire time you’ve been closed and we don’t want little neglected hot spots in our kitchens to give someone food poisoning. You could even bring in a nice bright flashlight to poke around, under and behind equipment. At this point if you have an expo station or a bar you will want to do the same for these areas and it might be a good time to start minimizing the amount of stuff you may have because the more stuff you have the more hiding places for germs and its just more things you need to clean.

Okay now to some of the coronavirus stuff. I’ve read some pretty extensive procedural measures about managing guests and employees and will share some of those things but I think some of these extensive measures might be a bit of overkill for many operators. That’s not to say the threat of coranavirus is trivial because it certainly is not however, some things might be repressive, for example O’Charley’s restaurant in Tennessee is asking their servers to leave food on trays 6 feet away from the guests table and asking the guests to take and return plates on their own or the Wynn Resort and Casino listed on their website that they will put non-invasive thermal scanners at every entry point to scan guests body temperatures as they enter the building. Now, I’m not saying they shouldn’t do that but I think for most of us these measures would be impractical and probably even implausible.

It’s time to address the fact that the guidelines for dealing with employee illnesses in a restaurant are changing and you will have more responsibility. There used to be some leniency on allowing employees to work if their symptoms were not food born illness related such as sneezing or a minor cough as long as they were kept away from food but that has changed. Now, if your employees inform you of or display any symptoms of any illness they should be excluded from the establishment. When an employee is sick they should take a week off and don’t let them return until the symptoms are gone for 72 hours. You should also create and post job aids around the facility to display the importance of reporting their symptoms and encourage them to stay home when they feel ill in any way. It would be a good idea to get a temporal thermometer and check that nobody has a fever of over one hundred degrees. It is also a great time to revisit your policy for reporting illnesses.

You will also need to do your best to protect employees in tight areas in the facility where they regularly congregate. Talk about not crowding around host stands, POS stations, pass out windows and soda stations. Instead of doing a pre-shift meeting have a communication board or do one on ones and don’t be afraid to tell them that you are going to be monitoring these things and talking about it a lot to protect them. Makes sure employee break rooms are set up to meet physical distancing guidelines and even though they may not like it or may not even comply you are trying to protect your business as much as you are trying to protect them. Just think about how you will respond to a lawyer if someone were to get sick and the lawyer asks. “What were you doing to protect your employees”? Please don’t let that question catch you off guard.

Before allowing guests to enter you are going to need to disinfect your dining area. The EPA has plenty of disinfectants that are approved for destroying coronavirus listed on their website. You might be surprised to find they are pretty accessible from your chemical vendor and you may even be able to find them at your local grocery store. Make sure you disinfect all tables and chairs between guests usage and high contact areas such as door handles and handrails should also be disinfected regularly during business hours. Maybe assign this to a host or busser if you can’t have an extra cleaner to do these duties and create a cleaning schedule for areas that might be forgotten. Tables and chairs will need to be spaced strategically to allow for that 6 foot distance for all guests that don’t come in together and when diners are finished disinfect the entire area including tables and chairs when they leave. You are going to need to reconfigure things to fit in with the physical distancing guidelines so unfortunately you may be losing some seating. And when guests are finished ordering make sure to disinfect menus or even consider disposable and if at all possible switch to single service items such as disposable cutlery and single use condiments. All employees that will be coming into contact with your guests such as FOH staff should wear face coverings. Get creative and allow your staff to put their own style into them to keep things light or if they don’t have one of their own you will need to provide one for them.

Some operations are using a seating by reservation only to help manage guest distancing. Having too many people congregate in a waiting area or bar area creates an unsafe environment and may promote the spread of illness, remember crowds are what were really trying to avoid here. It might even be a good idea to create separate doors for entering and leaving the building. Place signs in sight of guests to remind them of coronavirus, and markings on the floor to help them remember how far apart we should be standing. If you have a cash register you can put up a plexiglass barrier to help prevent contact between guests and cashiers. If at all possible limit the amount of cash payments to cut down on how much contact you have with guests and I’ve even heard that places will take cash by allowing guests to place money in a container but will not give change. Credit card payments are good because your employees can have the guest slide the card themselves but make sure to disinfect touch surfaces between use.

I know this all seems a bit overwhelming but it seems that if we want to continue to operate we are going to need to take protective measures until we have a cure and a vaccine. This will all pass but as we grow as a culture we as an industry are going to need to grow along with it to protect our guests. I hope this guidance finds you well and good luck with your reopening.

Stomach Flu At The Olympics

1200 private citizens were removed from their security detail jobs at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang because 41 of them had a stomach bug, they were replaced by military personnel. Why would the Korean government take such drastic measures for such a seemingly innocuous issue? Well, the Korean government knows exactly what they are doing. This “stomach flu” or “food poisoning” is actually caused by an extremely contagious virus called Norovirus. The problem is this virus is not like other bacterial illnesses that you can just cook or sanitize away. Viruses aren’t alive like bacteria so they can’t really be killed, they also don’t reproduce like bacteria do on our food, they hijack our intestinal cells by convincing our human cells to make copies of themselves.

The disease is spread from people to people, most commonly through the fecal-oral route, which is why the Korean government quarantined not only those who were infected but also those who may have eaten the same food as those who were infected. Even though the cause has yet to be determined we will more than likely find that some cook was sick and did not report it and continued to serve food to the security personnel. From there it becomes easy to transmit because those people were all sleeping in the same quarters as one another, using the same bathrooms and eating in the same cafeterias. The Korean health officials should be applauded for these extreme measures because these are the last people we need rifling through the bags and patting down the onlookers at the Olympic events.

The good news is the symptoms of this disease come on rapidly and can be quite violent but they tend to also go away very quickly. 24 hours after all symptoms have subsided the security personnel should be able to return to their regular duties with no issues as long as good personal hygiene measures such as strong hand washing practices are followed. The Korean CDC is also passing around literature regarding the illness and its prevention but if I were in charge there I would also make hand washing stations highly visible and accessible to those working at and attending the games.

I Just Won’t Go Back-The Value Of Attention


Last week a family member and I were talking.  She was telling me about a meal she had out with another family member. She was giving me the details of the conversation and casually mentioned that there was a hair and a fly in her salad. So I get side tracked with the story, I am The Food Safety Guy and asked her about it. She said it grossed her out so much she couldn’t eat it. I asked her what she said to the server. She said that because of the nature of her meeting that she didn’t want to make a fuss.  So then I asked what the server said when they picked up the uneaten food. She said nothing, the server seemed like they didn’t notice.  I asked her when her meal was complete if anybody at any point said anything tho her about the inedible salad. She said no. I was appalled when I found out that she paid her check and left. She did however say one thing that struck me, “I just won’t go back”.

Now this is a busy corporate casual restaurant that we all know. I won’t mention the name because I am more professional than that. But, wow! How often is this happening in that restaurant. And how much is it costing them daily, weekly or monthly in lost visits from disenfranchised clientele? What about the damage it might do to their reputation through word of mouth… I won’t pick them first. And don’t forget Yelp and other social media. How many other people feel the same way? We all know of a restaurant or store we feel this way about and avoid even if we want to like it. It is just managed so poorly we feel as if we were taken advantage of every time we pay.

Lets look at how this could be prevented. First, train the server and empower them to do the right thing.  If they see a plate of food that wasn’t eaten they should know that means something was wrong.  they should be trained to ask the guest if their was a problem.  Next, give them the authority to have some control of their own guests experiences by offering a free replacement. I mean c’mon, whats the food cost on a salad. And even if your server offers to buy the whole tables food and you don’t agree support them anyway it is good leadership. Then take the opportunity later to teach the server how you would like it handled the next time.

My next question is, where was the manager? Someone should be walking around the dining room looking at guests plates and faces. Not only will problems like this be found but some guests will be more likely to stop a manager and let them know if there are any issues than they would a server. And even if the floor manager missed it, how about someone in the back of the house paying attention. If I saw a server bring back a full plate of uneaten food I’d immediately ask questions. Also, don’t be afraid to use disciplinary action if a server is not paying attention to that sort of thing.  It would affect business more to ignore this problem than to fix it by offering another salad or buying the dish.

In the end when a guest leaves your restaurant with the idea in their head that they “just won’t come back”, it costs a restaurant in many other ways than that one experience. If the restaurant paid attention to their guests and were more available during service they may have kept this customer. And who knows, maybe this guest runs a soccer team that would come in every Wednesday or does a lot of business meetings and you lost them because, you just weren’t paying attention.

Restaurant Self Inspection

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How much do you hate getting points knocked off of your health inspections for the same silly violations every single time? Did you know that for most restaurants that these reports are posted online and even on social media sites like Yelp? You should also know that something like not labeling a spray bottle shows up as “Standard Not Met: Toxic substances properly identified, stored, used”. Or for trash cans being to close to a food prep counters you’ll get “Standard Not Met: Garbage and refuse properly disposed; facilities maintained”  These things do not look good to the public and could be affecting your business.

Well when I managed restaurants I never batted an eye when the health inspector showed up because I had just been doing a self inspection 2 days prior. I never had a fear of what might be found because I had already found it and fixed it. This is why a self inspection is so important. Why would a business operator allow a single arbitrary visit from the health dept. to have such a potentially negative impact on their business and not do anything about it? These violations could appear on your reports for years for the public to see.

The beauty of a self inspection is that you not only protect your customers but you protect your business. It also shows your staff members how important food safety is to you.  It also is not as hard as many people might think and the piece of mind is priceless.

For more information on how to do a self inspection visit

E. coli: More Than We’d Like To Talk About


How does E .coli get into my kitchen?  Whether it is your home or your work it happens pretty much the same way.  E. coli is a germ that lives in the intestines of cows that help it digest its food. Unfortunately, E. coli is harmful to humans. To be clear the muscles we consume are not contaminated while the cow is alive. During the slaughtering process the germ from the cows intestines can be spread to the surface of the meat. It is inevitable, meat will occasionally have E.coli but the solution is simple. When meat is cooked correctly the germ can be killed. Also, prevent the spread of the germ in your kitchen by separating meats from ready to eat foods and food contact surfaces.

I think that most of you already knew this simple fact. Raw meat has germs so we cook it. But did you know this? You are just as likely to get sick from  contaminated fruits and vegetables. The problem is within the food system. The way we raise the cattle contaminates the water, soil and air used to grow the produce. Until 2011 there has been very little regulation to test soil, water, equipment or farm workers. Until this new law that has been passed, known as the Food Safety Modernization Act(FSMA), we have been using regulation(FDC 1938) that was designed to feed far fewer Americans than we have today.  This FSMA is still not fully funded or complete. The best thing you can do to keep your produce safe is to wash it correctly.  It is also important to get your produce from a reputable source.

Now that you know that it is on our meat and produce there is one more thing to be aware of.  When a human is infected they may carry the disease for up to a year after the symptoms have passed. This person may have never sought medical attention for a variety of reasons and never knew they had E.coli. If this person is not being hygienic they can spread the germs through their feces(see my article on hand washing). This is especially dangerous as a food worker who is handling the food of many people. So if an employee is symptomatic get them out of the facility and always practice good personal hygiene.

E. coli isn’t going anywhere, it’s a natural part of things. But, with a little information and a little effort we can cut down on the incidences of illness. Remember, there is a lot on the line besides a little diarrhea. This could mean your business and unfortunately for some it could cost their lives.

Treat Or Threat? The Easter Brunch Buffet



Many a time I’ve been in charge of setting up the Easter brunch buffet and over the years I’ve seen many things in that self service line that have been, well lets just say… gross.  How can you make sure that your guests have a nice Easter experience and don’t get “grossed out” by other guests or even get food poisoning from your buffet?  Well, here are a few simple rules.

The most important thing is to assign a buffet attendant. This person should be responsible for the guest side of the area.  They should be interacting with the guest like a host and monitoring for guests returning to the buffet with dirty plates or utensils and providing them with clean ones.  The attendant should also be shifting utensils around in the area to make sure the handles that the guests are touching are extended away from the food and if something falls on the ground,  the attendant will be there to replace it.

Children should be monitored closely in self service areas as well, schools report major incidents of children touching food and returning it to the lunch line and lunch workers are instructing them to keep the foods on their plates. It might even be viewed by parents as a nice touch to have the buffet attendant helping their children with their plates.


Don’t forget that time and temperature are also an important factor in keeping food safe in a self service area.  Even though keeping foods cold with ice or hot in warmers is the best way to keep food safe it is also acceptable to just use it up in a reasonable amount of time.  For the most part using food within four hours is the best way of using time to keep food safe but remember someone needs to be checking. Make sure that there are labels on food containers for foods that need to be used up quickly so the buffet attendant will know when the food was put out and when it needs to be thrown away.

And lastly, if you do an omelette station make sure those eggs are being handled correctly.  It’s recommended that the eggs are prepared ahead of time but when these eggs are pooled they must be kept cold with ice or in the refrigerator and can never be left out on the counter.

There is nothing better than a really great Easter brunch, especially with a nice mimosa. But it could easily turn into a disaster for your facility if you don’t take precautions to keep your customers safe or make they sure don’t get a negative perception because of what other guests might be doing. I hope that following these tips will help ensure nobody wakes up the next morning with food poisoning and that you don’t end up with a bad yelp review.

Happy Easter!

Valentines Day: Let’s Not Break Any Hearts


Valentines day is just around the corner.  Imagine making reservations, arranging care for the kids and taking the time to visit a new restaurant for a romantic evening with a loved one.  When you get home there are chocolates and champagne on ice for a romantic movie when your partner says their stomach is hurting, then they begin to sweat and finally have to excuse themselves to the bathroom where they stay for the rest of the evening. Not such a nice evening after all is it?  But what could have caused it?

Well lets rewind this scenario back to the restaurant, earlier in the day, during the lunch shift.  As the lunch shift winds down, the cook will set up for the night shift.  Part of the set up is to make sure all of the food is fully stocked.  But they are also required to change out all of the utensils for clean ones but in the chaos of the transition from lunch to dinner this important step was missed and all of the scoops that have been used all day continued into the night without being washed.

The problem with this is when the cook uses these implements they transfer a common pathogen that many humans carry, Staphylococcus aureus, to the utensils which are then left in the food products. In fact, this same pathogen staph is the same thing that causes people to get infected cuts or wounds.  The problem is when you allow this pathogen to grow on the food via our scoops it creates a poison that quickly makes people sick, within 1 to 6 hours.  Will this turn into a major food born illness outbreak? Hopefully not.  Could this happen to more than one customer? Absolutely, and their probably not going to call the health department but you can be sure these folks will never dine in your place again. And hopefully they don’t share their experience at you facility on Trip Advisor or Yelp.

One thing that we have to be aware of is that these busy holiday nights are not just an opportunity for a profitable shift but an opportunity to show people who might not have ordinarily dined with us how great of a place we are.  It doesn’t have to be a full blown disease like we had in the scenario above, it could be as simple as a stomach ache that turns them off. Heck, they might not even get sick but they happen to see a busy staff member doing some that just looks gross like wearing their apron into the bathroom or eating behind the bar.  These days need to be planned out carefully with thoughtful preparation and staffing because if you can’t get them right they can really hurt your business in the end more than the profits for the day are worth.

NOROVIRUS! Are You Going To Get It… Again?


About six years ago my family all stayed in a cabin together in our local Southern Californian Mountains for Christmas, it was a very nice time.  Winter even brought us a special dusting of snow just for the holiday. But, winter also brought an unwelcome guest, “stomach flu”.

It started off with Uncle  getting an upset stomach which quickly turned to diarrhea.  While Uncle was in “quarantine”, my kids started to feel ill and were also kept to their room but it was to late. Because the little cousins got it, then Auntie and Papa and after tearing through pretty much the whole family we were almost done with our vacation. Sound familiar?

Well that thing that woke you up in the middle of the night sweating and shaking, that thing that made you throw up every 15 minutes for an entire night or that random bout of diarrhea is not actually what you might think it is. It’s not the “stomach flu”, or the “24 hour bug”, there is no such thing.  It is a very common food born disease that we have all had and that we will all get again called Norovirus.

Some people tell me they have never had it which is understandable because vomiting and diarrhea aren’t exactly socially desirable activities. But, according to the CDC 21 million Americans get it every year, that is 1 of 12 people. Unfortunately, the most common method of transmission is through what is referred to as the fecal-oral route. Sounds nice doesn’t it?

So how can I prevent this from happening at my next family reunion?  It’s very simple, do the things that make civilized people civil, like hand washing, using toilets and cleaning.  It is important to understand that people transmit the virus through feces and vomit and when you have many people in close quarters such as a home with guests in it, the likelihood of transmission increases, which is why I never go on cruise ships.  When someone is sick don’t be afraid to stay away or not let them prepare food. And yes, some people will take offense and say things like, “I’ve been doing this for years and never gotten anybody sick” (that you know of). Because that’s always a nice conversation to bring up, “remember that turkey you made last year, well it gave me diarrhea and stomach cramps”.


Doesn’t cooking the food kill the virus?  Well, we need to be careful here. Viruses aren’t like other living creatures, they’re sort of like the zombies of the microorganism world which makes them difficult to destroy.  Plus, we don’t cook all of our food and drink so hygiene is the key to keeping you and your guests safe.

But what is really at stake? According to the CDC the estimates are as high as 3.3 billion dollars and 237 lives annually, and this is just for Norovirus.  Many other food born illnesses will be prevented by the same safety measures, some of which are more fatal.

So to recap, regularly wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap. Clean up after some one who has been sick and even stay away from the area. Finally, don’t be afraid to speak up when you feel something might be wrong, you’re not just protecting yourself.