According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), contaminated foods sicken an estimated 8 million Americans annually, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and roughly 3,000 deaths.
Furthermore, 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. CDC data points to a wide variety of foods that were involved, ranging from vegetables and fresh fruits to eggs, beef, and chicken.
There are five common causes of foodborne illness in food service establishments, as tracked by Food Safety Training Solutions. They are:
- Purchasing food from unsafe sources.
- Failing to cook food adequately.
- Holding food at incorrect temperatures.
- Using contaminated equipment.
- Practicing poor staff hygiene.
Implementing standard procedures to address all of these weak points, and then training staff relentlessly to 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
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.
Safe food prep takes diligence and constant monitoring. Particular care should be taken when handling fresh produce, which has been implicated in a number of foodborne illness outbreaks, according to the FDA.
State health departments can provide many useful resources, including hot and cold temperature holding guidelines based on the most recent FDA Food Code, such as this one (PDF) from the Minnesota Department of Health.
About Ready to Flavor™
With the official launch of Minor’s® four-year, multimillion-dollar Ready to Flavor initiative, many of the brand’s bases, flavor concentrates, and sauces are ready to use in both hot and cold applications, without the added step of cooking.
According to Minor’s Corporate Executive Chef Allan Gazaway, the advantages are many. “You can add these products anywhere that you want to boost flavor safely, without the step of heating. This is especially effective in using Minor’s flavor concentrates to produce flavored mayonnaise or aioli, and in preparing vinaigrettes that boost the flavor of a traditional salad. The ability to add the fresh, full flavor of proteins, fresh herbs, and chiles into signature cremas and spreads serves to double your ability to add excitement to menu offerings.”
For more ideas for using Ready to Flavor products, see below.
The Clean Fight
Cleanliness and sanitation are vital not only in the fight against foodborne illness, but also for attracting and keeping customers. 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.
Moving forward, one of the best ways to stay on top of sanitation is through thorough staff training, through such programs as the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe program (PDF).
Ongoing monitoring and vigilance is also necessary. Many operators use a checklist that details procedures for every area of a food service facility, and provides a means for management to conduct a self-inspection. While cooking equipment and storage areas are obviously important, there are many customer-facing areas that need extra attention. Don’t forget the little things, like salt and pepper shakers and door handles.
Dispensed beverages pose their own challenges. “Nestlé Professional systems are overengineered for handling simplicity and safety,” says Colin McConahay, equipment specialist with Nestlé Professional Beverages.
For example, the Nestlé® Vitality® Express Dispenser features a proprietary closed system in which the pump is attached to the product bottle itself; there are no hoses, tubes, or separate mixing chambers to trap bacteria. The beverage concentrate and water are mixed directly, to order, at the dispensing site, and when the bottle is thrown away, the pump goes with it.
Not only does this eliminate the need to flush and clean the system each time the bottle is changed, it also eliminates the waste that occurs when product is left behind in the tubes. According to McConahay, every two inches of tubing equates to an ounce of product, both before and after the bottle is used up. And product quality is improved because it does not sit in the tube between servings. “We are the only company in the industry that uses this technology.”
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 (PDF).
Handwashing (PDF) 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.
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