Category Archives: Food Safety

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 http://www.westernfoodsafety.com

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

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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.

NOROVIRUS! Are You Going To Get It… Again?

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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”.

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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

Towels, Towels Everywhere

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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.

How To Handle A Guest With Food Allergies

A guest in a restaurant, while placing their dinner order, informs the sever that they are allergic to [fill in the blank]… lets just say gluten, a scenario that plays out regularly in restaurants around the US. This is the crucial moment for the operation because here is where we determine if we get the customer sick, make them angry or provide them with a great experience.  Something we find more often than not is that server is not prepared to handle the request correctly and this could lead to a major problem. Continue reading How To Handle A Guest With Food Allergies

Sushi: Is Raw Fish Dangerous?

salmon sushi

The word sushi is actually a Japanese word that once meant “sour tasting” to describe the salt and vinegar mix that was used to preserve fish in ancient Japan, before refrigeration.  Today however, it is only used to describe the rice and fish combinations we currently eat at our local sushi restaurants. But this isn’t a history lesson so lets figure this out. Is sushi safe?

Sushi has three potentially hazardous components, the fish, the rice, and the sushi chef. Continue reading Sushi: Is Raw Fish Dangerous?

Do Bananas Need To Be Washed?

bananas

One of the things I run across in my classes is confusion about what types of produce need to be washed.  People ask questions about melons, garlic and lemons or sometimes about bananas. I think what is throwing people off is that these products have a peel  that we don’t eat so it seems that if we remove the peel then we are removing the contamination. Continue reading Do Bananas Need To Be Washed?

95% of People Wash Hands Wrong

Recently I came across a study on hand washing in the Journal of Environmental Health, it was lead by Carl Borchgrevink, Assosiate Professor at the School of Hospitality Business.  Professor Borchgrevink outlines in his abstract that he pretty much wasn’t convinced by the numbers presented by previous research on hand washing studies. They state that between 2009-2010, 94%-96% of people were washing their hands correctly after using public restrooms. Well, according to Borchgrevink the previous studies are flawed because hand washing is a “socially desirable activity” so when people are “asked” if they washed their hands they lied. Continue reading 95% of People Wash Hands Wrong

Chill Out! Cooling Food Is Important

Did you know that a major cause of food borne illness in the US is improperly cooling your food? What that means is that once your done making your rice or your chili you can’t just pop the hot food into the fridge. Putting the hot food into the fridge creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Bacteria grows when food is warm, not hot and not cold but right in the sweet spot, similar to the temperatures in which people are comfortable, which also means that it is not a good idea to leave it sitting out at room temperature to cool down either. So if you can’t put it in the fridge and you can leave it sitting out then what can you do? Continue reading Chill Out! Cooling Food Is Important