Chipotle’s series of 2015 pathogen outbreaks has galvanized attention on food safety, but the subject is always important.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, major outbreaks of foodborne diseases including Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria have more than tripled during the last 20 years, and have also become bigger and more deadly. A wide variety of foods were involved, ranging from vegetables and fresh fruits to eggs, beef, and chicken.
Contaminated foods sicken an estimated 48 million Americans annually, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and roughly 3,000 deaths, according to the CDC.
According to Food Safety Training Solutions, the five most common causes of foodborne illness in food service establishments are:
Purchasing food from unsafe sources
Failing to cook food adequately
Holding food at incorrect temperatures
Using contaminated equipment
Practicing poor personal hygiene
Implementing standard procedures to address all of these weak points, and then training staff to relentlessly follow them, is key.
Food safety begins at the back door, with strict attention to product safety and handling:
Develop relationships with trusted suppliers who demonstrate food safety best practices and can provide traceability; many operators choose to employ centralized sourcing, rather than leaving it to individual unit personnel, and/or to work with fewer vendors who follow standard safety protocols
If possible, make site visits to establish and ensure compliance
Make sure qualified staff is onsite to check in all deliveries, and that food is properly handled at all times
Did You Know? With the official launch of Minor’s® four-year, multimillion-dollar Ready to Flavor initiative, the brand’s bases, flavor concentrates, and sauces can now be safely used in both hot and cold applications, without the added step of cooking. For more information on the supplier collaboration and innovative new technology that went into this initiative, click here.
Cook and Hold Properly
Hot food hot, cold food cold. Cook all foods thoroughly and maintain safe temperatures at all times. It should be simple but if it were, there wouldn’t be so many problems—and this is especially true when serving food off-site. It takes diligence and constant monitoring. Particular care should be taken when handling fresh produce (PDF).
The Integrated Food Safety Delivery System website provides many useful resources, including a Hot and Cold Holding Temperatures Fact Sheet (PDF).
The Clean Fight
Cleanliness and sanitation are vital not only in the fight against foodborne illness, but also for attracting and keeping customers. Implementing Standard Sanitary Operating Procedures is critical, but a food service operation is made up of many moving parts, all of which need to be kept scrupulously clean.
Local health departments can help operators keep up with state and municipality requirements, as well as serving as a resource for technical information.
Food safety is a team effort. This includes not only station cleanliness but also health and personal hygiene, as detailed in this comprehensive FDA handbook.
Handwashing is the single most important step employees can take to avoid contamination. Management should also implement and encourage policies that prevent sick employees from coming to work, particularly if they serve at-risk populations, such as the elderly, or have symptoms of foodborne illness themselves.