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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.

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.

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.