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

good-table

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

yelp page 2

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 http://www.westernfoodsafety.com

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

cartoon-e-coli

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

 

easter-egg

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.

buffet_dreamstime_16906377

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

heart

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?

Family-Dinner-Questions-List-1

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”.

mother-in-law

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.

What Are Expiration Dates On Packaging

Expiration dates come in many forms. There is the “best by”, “sell by” or “use by” dates and my favorite, the ambiguous random numbers stamped on the can.  In reality these dates are determined by the manufacturer and are part of a voluntary process.  These dates indicate to the store when the  foods are at their peak freshness and should be removed from shelves.  Basically, it’s another part of marketing, if you buy a food and it’s stale or not fresh you won’t buy it again.

When you look through the Food Safety Inspection Services (a branch of the USDA) web page you see the term “peak freshness or quality” appear over and over again when they describe what these dates mean. So when do the foods really expire?  Well for food service operations its different than for the home cook.  In the food service environment its simple, when the date on the label has passed it is expired, unless the food was prepared in house, then you have 7 days.  If the health inspector finds foods with expired dates they will mark it as a violation.

However, in the home it is different.  We can assess the foods by feeling their texture, smelling them or looking for discoloration. If any of these things seem off then throw them away, which means they can sometimes be used after the date on the label. The FSIS has also provided a chart outlining some guide lines for the safety of certain foods which you will see below.

Refrigerator Storage of Processed Products Sealed at Plant
Processed Product Unopened, After Purchase After Opening
Cooked Poultry 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Cooked Sausage 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 days
Sausage, Hard/Dry, shelf-stable 6 weeks/pantry 3 weeks
Corned Beef, uncooked, in pouch with pickling juices 5 to 7 days 3 to 4 days
Vacuum-packed Dinners, Commercial Brand with USDA seal 2 weeks 3 to 4 days
Bacon 2 weeks 7 days
Hot dogs 2 weeks 1 week
Luncheon meat 2 weeks 3 to 5 days
Ham, fully cooked 7 days slices, 3 days; whole, 7 days
Ham, canned, labeled “keep refrigerated” 9 months 3 to 4 days
Ham, canned, shelf stable 2 years/pantry 3 to 5 days
Canned Meat and Poultry, shelf stable 2 to 5 years/pantry 3 to 4 days
Refrigerator Storage of Fresh or Uncooked Products
Product Storage Times After Purchase
Poultry 1 or 2 days
Beef, Veal, Pork and Lamb 3 to 5 days
Ground Meat and Ground Poultry 1 or 2 days
Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, Tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings) 1 or 2 days
Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating 5 to 7 days
Sausage from Pork, Beef or Turkey, Uncooked 1 or 2 days
Eggs 3 to 5 weeks

Using Notes As A Manager

A food managers day is filled with all kinds of activities, big and small.  We have to get food counts so we can get the food order in, we have to make sure the bartenders aren’t over serving customers alcohol and we have to make sure we get the shift covered for our chef whose wife just went into labor.  All this while we have a full dinner shift running in the dining room. So how do we make sure we’re not missing anything? Notes!

Notes are a busy managers best friend. You can carry a pocket note pad or a big giant folder, you can use an electronic device or you can fold a piece of printer paper into quarters so it fits in your back pocket. Regardless of your method you need to be writing things down all day or you will forget stuff.  First, you should write down all of the tasks you intend to complete that day ( i.e. orders or special cleaning duties).  Also, you should be writing down observations throughout the shift. For example, you notice a server is late while you are in the kitchen taking temps on your service line.  Or it seems like some meat has gone missing. If you don’t write it down immediately you will forget it happened. So, take a second to pull out your note pad and write it down. If you do this for everything that happens throughout your day you will have a pretty good record of all the happenings during your shift. notes

Now what good does this do if your not going to do something with the information or put it somewhere permanent. At the end of each day take ten minutes to go over this indecipherable set of scribble that only you can read so you can leave any relevant information to the next manager or even your self for the next shift in a shared daily manager book.  I also would put performance information into a file for my staff members, this could be either on a computer or in filing cabinet. If you do this you’ll start create a record on your team members and find out if there are any positive or negative trends.

redbookBy taking notes and saving information you will be able to communicate with your team better and forget less often the things that are important to you and you operation. – thefoodsafetyguy

Towels, Towels Everywhere

towels

Have you ever noticed an employee in a food service establishment using the same cleaning towel for everything and wondered if it was ok.  Well if you have then your awareness is serving you well.  The towels we use in food service need to be handled carefully or they can be the cause of food borne illness by transferring bacteria from the place that was just wiped to the next place the towel is used.  And even worse, if that towel is not submersed in a sanitizer solution between each use the germs that are on that towel can grow out of control to unsafe levels very quickly. So if you ever notice the bartender that keeps that towel flipped over their shoulder or the server that leaves towels sitting around on counters then leave that establishment quickly with your hands waving above your head notifying the world that the place is trying to give you the squirts.

GMO’s Are Good!

Cavemen cooking food

Imagine for a minute, 2 prehistoric people sitting around a fire 500,000 years ago.  One of them puts their meat on the fire to cook it and explains to the other that when this is done the people who eat the food don’t get sick as often and the meat lasts longer so less people starve to death. This prehistoric person then goes on to say that they spend far less time chewing and eating so they get to spend more time with friends and family talking, exploring new ideas and solving other problems they have.

On the other side of the fire the man says, “Well, I tried this out on that wolf that comes around who is already sick and it didn’t get any better.  I think because of that we shouldn’t cook our meat because we don’t know what might happen to us in the future.”

We’ll it turns out that we do know what happened in this story.   According to Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, the prehistoric people who cooked their food evolved into homo habilis, an early predecessor of humans that became who we are today. Without cooking we might still be trying to figure out how to not be eaten by bears and lions as our everyday activities.

Compare this scenario to our newest food technology GMO’s. A GMO or genetically modified organism is a food that has DNA that was altered with the DNA of another plant.  This can happen through selective breeding, introducing species from different parts of the world to each other or introducing desirable genetic traits into a host by insertion, which it then absorbs naturally. This technology is our future and it is not going away. If we want to get past all of the hurdles our current food system is facing like water shortages, weed and  pest infestations or chemical issues then GMO is the best way.

Some people say that it is not natural so it can’t be good. That is why I gave the example of our early ancestors.  Imagine if cooking food, a seemingly unnatural process, was banned.  Then humans may have never evolved into the amazing creatures we are today.  We also may have never discovered the beautiful things that make us human such as religion, art, civilizations and science because we had to spend so much time just trying how to figure out how to find enough safe food.

The science that has been presented by opponents of GMO’s, such as the now infamous Seralini study, has been refuted by scientists on both sides of the GMO argument for being sloppy and poorly documented. I’m not going to site a bunch of sources but they’re out there, look them up.  As a matter of fact there have been more thorough studies done in Japan recently showing no negative side effects from GM soy beans on rats that use the same technology as our GM corn.

Well then what about the cancer it causes?  According to Kevin Folta, professor of horticulture science at University of Florida, “the basic science says there’s no plausible way these well-understood genes could cause or promote cancer”.

It’s easy to say we shouldn’t be using science to make a more nutritious, safer food supply for the world when you are not hungry.  But think about how many people will be affected by starvation this year due to malnutrition.  Well according to the WHO, “malnutrition is a significant factor in approximately one third of the nearly 8 million deaths in children who are under 5 years of age world wide”. How many of those children could be spared with a better food supply? How many of those mothers would say no to a plate of nutritious GM golden rice?

Genetic engineering is going to be a big part of our future just like cooking has been for 500,000 years.  The transition to acceptance is happening now and imagine all of the unknown possibilities the future  holds for us if we can figure out the problem of a safe food supply for all humankind.  We can’t even imagine what is to come, just like our ancestors, but it is time to close the door of starvation, disease and malnutrition and open the door towards a more advanced world.