Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hurricane Irene – food safety in a power outage and more

Here is a reprint of a post by Dara Bunjon - Baltimore's Dining Examiner as Hurricane Irene approached.  She featured Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions in her story.  

Fingers are crossed that we won’t have to worry about Hurricane Irene and power outages BUT when Baltimore Gas and Electric voice mails everyone to be prepared for outages you have to pause and think. Juliet Bodinetz-Rich’s job is food safety for restaurants, her company Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions  teaches the states required food safety training for restaurant staffing.  Juliet remembered being left without electricity for a whole week after Hurricane Isabel.  Her local fire department was available with dry ice during the power outage.

But what should you know about food safety if power goes out. How long with your food last in the fridge and the freezer? Juliet recommends checking out the government’s food safety page which will guide you knowing what to do with the food in your refrigerator and freezer.  Food Safety in a Power Outage

The Restaurant Association of Maryland has put together a webpage focusing on Hurricane Irene with links and pdfs; National Hurricane Center, Federal Emergency Management, Maryland Emergency Management, Hurricane Preparedness, Post Flood Safety, Flood Emergency Response Procedures, Employee Communication Plan and more. 

 If you are open to suggestions, print off those pages of importance unless you want to try reading all this on your smart phone should power go out.

Another reminder, charge up your cell phones now and your laptops.  Make sure your sump pumps are clear, also check out the street drains and clear them of debris. 

Wishing you power, dry basements and no roof  leaks in the days ahead.  Be a boy scout and be prepared.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Health Inspections: Ugh or Yippee? … For Real

"Self-inspections are key to a successfully run establishment."  

Do I dare say, “Oh no! The health inspector is here!” I remember years ago, while working in restaurants, the health inspector used to come in and visit us. I would always get quite nervous. It was that same feeling as if I were 16 years old again; just having drunk a couple of beers and seeing a policeman across the street. You know that guilty, paranoid feeling as if you are about to get caught doing something wrong.  As the years have gone by, I have met more and more health inspectors and understand the overall picture better. I understand and realize now that Health Inspectors are our friends. 

I just taught a class on Monday where I was so impressed by the pride of the restaurant owner and the way he discussed his wonderful relationship with his health inspector. And he was absolutely right! In actuality, I do feel quite sorry for health inspectors as overall, most people are never happy to see them. Additionally, there is less funding, thus less of them with more duties and more of you. At the end of the day, the relationship you have with your health inspector should never be adversarial. I believe passionately, that if an owner of an establishment makes sure his place is managed pro-actively, then the health inspection process will serve as confirmation of a well-run establishment. If errors are found, this will be considered as a learning process on how to run your establishment better. This means a great manager will run self-inspections to confirm things are well managed. I feel no pity for an establishment who is shut down due to lack of refrigeration. Why would they wait till the health inspector informs them that their refrigeration is broken? For this reason, again, self-inspections are key to a successfully run establishment. 

As food operators, we have to remember that we are customers as well and we need to appreciate the role of the health department inspectors to confirm the food we eat out is safe. It makes sense that the inspection process happens when we are busy … as (nearly) everyone looks gorgeous when not busy. When the health inspector comes in they will identify themselves and offer you their badge. VERY IMPORTANT … if they don’t offer you their identification badge, ask for it politely but firmly. It is important to ask them for identification if they don’t offer it, as you need to confirm that is really an inspector and not a scam artist trying to rob the cash registers or to scope out the place for later. It also makes sense that you ask them the purpose of the inspection; standard inspection or due to a complaint? I have been at a client’s location, when the health inspector showed up due to a complaint from a competitor.

Alway cooperate fully when they show up. This does not mean that you ask them to reschedule because you are short-staffed because of some no-shows. If I were your health inspector ( I am not), I would doubly make sure to stay as this is most often when mistakes could happen to lead to foodborne illnesses.   

You should always accompany your health inspector. If they find something wrong, you usually have the chance to fix it right away and additionally, you should take notes if they inform you of something new … so you can train your staff to follow proper procedures. Taking notes – means you won’t forget something because you were too nervous to remember it properly.

You should also keep the relationship professional … which means no offers of food, drink (water is fine), gifts or monies for obvious reasons.

Look, let’s get real … at the end of the day there are good and bad people in all areas of the workforce (sometimes they make it onto our staffs for short periods of time). There are many good health inspectors, whose mission is to sincerely assist you to run and manage your establishment better. There are others in real life who are not so helpful and might be full of the power they have in their role as inspector. Additionally, no one can know everything. If during the inspection process, an inspector tells you to do something like put hot food in your refrigeration unit to cool it faster and you realize this is wrong, ask them about this. Understandably, this can put you in a confrontational role and you might not feel comfortable questioning your inspector. My suggestion in this scenario would be to call your local health department and ask them what are the standard procedures for that activity and then just LISTEN. Notify them if you were told differently. You have to do this at the minimum, so that this inspector can be corrected  so they can do their job properly. This is the biggest complaint from operators about the inspection process … consistency among inspectors.

How long do you have to fix something if something is found to be in error? Typically, right away, but in real life, it should be corrected in the time period allowed. Again, remember, your health inspectors should be considered your friends. Consider them as a business consultant to confirm and advise you on how to run your business better!

Juliet Bodinetz-Rich is the executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 25 years industry and training experience. Her team of instructors’ specialty is food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. Metro Area., or 443-838-7561. For Latest Food Safety Tips: Become a Fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS

Health Inspectors: Always Check ID’s ... For Real

"Never let anyone walk around your restaurant unaccompanied."

Last month we talked about Health Inspectors and the inspection process. I emphasized you must always ask for ID. I remember years ago teaching in Prince George’s County and I was informed by some of my students that there was a gentleman entering restaurants in their local area and claiming to be their local Health Inspector. He was dressed nicely enough in a work shirt and tie. A lot of the restaurant managers and owners would just let him walk about to do his “inspections” … alone! 

Never let anyone walk around your restaurant unaccompanied. It turned out eventually that he was not a local Health Inspector, but a scam artist. When no one was looking, he would take cash from the registers. Last I heard, some of my students told me that he had been caught and was in jail. While writing last month’s article, I wondered about him and Googled the details and I came across a few other scams that target restaurants in Maryland and nationally. 

Most recently some restaurants have been receiving phone calls from someone claiming to be a Health Inspector to schedule an emergency inspection appointment due to a customer complaint. The restaurant owners are given a special code and instructed to enter it later during an automated call to set up a meeting. It appears that if the owner enters the code on the automated call that those responsible for the scam are setting up a fraudulent account with an online auction service.

Also, another recent scam has been that the restaurant owners are again receiving phone calls, from someone claiming to be a health inspector to schedule an appointment or to relay new inspection procedures, but in the process are asking personal details about employees, i.e. their phone numbers.

An ongoing scam for many years has been that phony health inspectors have been entering restaurants and saying they are not in compliance by not posting certain posters and are offering to sell them these posters or to collect a fee or fine for not being in compliance.

For real, let’s make it clear … a health inspector will typically never schedule an inspection; they are not to ask personal employee details, nor are they allowed to collect monies. “None of it is real,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein M.D., Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) Secretary. “This is not how the state or your local health departments work with local food establishments.”

According to Federal officials, they report similar incidents have occurred in a number of states over the last two years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Baltimore District Office has relayed reports of the potential scams in Maryland to its Office of Criminal Investigations.

“All restaurant and food service operators in Maryland should know that this scam is still around,” said Frances Phillips, DHMH Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services. “If you have any doubt about an inspector who tries to schedule an appointment, call us or your local law enforcement immediately."

  • Under no circumstances will a genuine food inspector ask for a payment, either for posters, on-the-spot fines or any other services.
  •  This manner of operation (scheduling appointments by phone; using code numbers for identification) is not consistent with the current operating practices of food inspectors at the federal, state or local levels.
  •  When an inspector visits a food facility, the inspector should be asked to show their identification, as Federal, State and Local Jurisdiction inspectors all carry appropriate identification.

  • If there are any doubts about the identity of an inspector, the facility operator can contact its Local Health Department, the State Office of Food Protection and Consumer Health Services (410-767-8400) or the FDA Baltimore District Office (410-779-5455) to verify the inspector’s identity.
To reiterate last month’s article … Let’s get real: At the end of the day there are nice people and there are bad people everywhere. Please always remember that a real Health Inspector is one of the good ones … he will gladly show you his CARFAX, I mean PHOTO ID.

Juliet Bodinetz-Rich is the executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 25 years industry and training experience. Her team of instructors’ specialty is food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. Metro Area., or 443-838-7561. For Latest Food Safety Tips: Become a Fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Food Smarts: Safe Grilling & Cookout Tips ...For Real

Happy July 4th to all of you! This summer has been gorgeous so far, although very hot!  I recently went to a combination cook out to celebrate a graduation, Father’s Day and a Family Reunion. It got me thinking about safe food handling tips for those of you enjoying picnics and

As we always tell our students, food safety has to be practiced in every step in the flow of the food from purchasing through to serving. This applies to you at home or outdoors too! It does not matter the step you are dealing with the food, pathogens are happy to be in these hot temperatures. In general, bacteria double every 20 minutes in the Temperature Danger Zone (41°F-135°F), but from my research in the past, I understand that bacteria can replicate scarily fast in the most dangerous part of the Temperature Danger Zone, 70°F-125°F. That is why, it is imperative to not leave food out for more than four hours in the TDZ.  Although, the FDA states that we can leave foods in the Temperature Danger Zone for a maximum of four hours, I would recommend sincerely to be checking your food temperatures at least every two hours and consider discarding the food at two hours instead of waiting the allowable four hours in these extreme hot weather conditions.

Whether it is a professional kitchen, a home kitchen or cooking outdoors or at a catered event outdoors, we always have to avoid the three leading factors that contribute to foodborne illnesses.  No matter whether indoors or outdoors; we still have to: 

  • Control Time & Temperature
  • Avoid Cross Contamination
  • Practice Good Personal Hygiene

Here are our suggestions for Safe Outdoors Grilling & Serving Food:

1)   To control Time & Temperature:
  • Check food temperatures at the minimum every 4 hours if it’s being held.
  • Discard food at the minimum at 4 hours if the temperature is measuring inside the TDZ.
  • Use a thermometer! The food can be burnt on the outside but still raw in the middle.
  • Cook foods to the proper temperatures on the grill: 
    • 165°F - Poultry
    • 160°F - Ground Meats/Ground Fish & Marinated Meats/Marinated Fish
    • 145°F – Meats (any meat with no wings, i.e. beef, lamb, pork, veal) and fish … pork was recently lowered to the 145 degree standard
  • Keep Food on ice whenever possible or in a cooler.
  • Keep food under refrigeration until ready to grill.
  • Consider having the food displayed indoors for service to avoid being in higher temperatures outside.
  • While pulling out the pickle relish that you haven’t touched since last year, check the expiration date.

1)   To Avoid Cross Contamination:
·         Have clean hands! Wash your hands when dirty and before touching a new food.
·         Use color coded equipment. Besides color coded cutting boards, consider using color coded tongs. This can help you distinguish to use one set of tongs for raw food and another color coded set of tongs for the cooked food.
·         Don’t use the same plate to bring out the raw meats to serve the cooked meats.
·         Don’t use the same marinade to baste that you used to marinate meats and fish. Why not reserve a portion of your marinade separate, so you can use it to baste pre-marinated meats or seafood during the cooking process that has not been contaminated by raw meat juices in the marinating process? 
·         Don’t use the same ice that was used to keep food or drinks cold in your drinks.
·         One of my pet peeves at non-professional events: Don’t touch cake, lick your fingers … and keep serving with your hands!
·         Keep the food covered as much as possible. We don’t want flies leaving their business on our food. Use lids, plastic wrap/tin foil or consider purchasing the netted covers.

2)   Practice Proper Personal Hygiene:
·         Wash Your Hands.
·         Don’t drip your sweat on the food

We hope this information can serve as a mini-guide to safe cooking outdoors. And as we always say, “Stay Safe!” but please, just as importantly, remember to “Have Fun!” As per last month’s article, have a fire extinguisher handy if you are grilling outdoors!  Just in case. 

Juliet Bodinetz-Rich is the executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 25 years industry and training experience. Her team of instructors’ specialty is food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. Metro Area., or 443-838-7561. For Latest Food Safety Tips: Become a Fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Food Smarts: OMG, someone just said "our food made them sick!" For Real..

One of the worst fears we all have in the “food business” is for someone to say our food made them sick. Yikes! What do you do? You being the independent operator who doesn’t have access to the 9-inch thick corporate manual.

Well first, BREATHE, and stay, calm. I believe that though bad people exist, that most people are good. It’s most likely one of your loyal customers is contacting you because they sincerely believe that your food made them sick and they want you to know so you can fix the problem and improve your business.

Yes, scam artists are out there too, and you have to be just as careful with them as well. The scam artists think that if they accuse you of making them sick; you will give them free food or monies to avoid bad publicity. Whichever scenario it is, you have to stay calm and treat them both the same as you address the situation and investigate the claim. How you handle this situation can affect your business in the long run.

Make sure all the phone calls are directed to one person in the restaurant (the best person is the owner) and that no one else is authorized to discuss food-borne illness situations. One voice avoids misinformation and conflicting stories.

We all know that even just a food-borne illness claim can be the end of a business. If I were a restaurant owner and someone calls me to say that my food made them sick; I am not going to deny that my food could have made them sick just because I teach the Food Service Manager Certification courses and I know how to handle food properly.  Nor, am I going to suggest that it was something they ate somewhere else. The most likely result will be a very upset and angry customer. In a round-about-manner, I have just called that person a liar or a dummy. We could change this person from a good intentioned customer to a person seeking retribution in court.

Always give the guest sympathy. “I am so sorry to hear you are sick and hope you feel better soon.” DON’T EVER say, “I am sorry my food made you sick.” You could end up being the principal witness against yourself if the situation does go to court. Not the way to go.

Again, never DENY. All it will do is make someone defensive … and we all know that expression about making people defensive.

I suggest that you create a form to keep close to your office phone … with the following questions to ask first:

  • Name, address, phone number of the person calling and/or the person sick.
  • What did you eat and drink in our restaurant?
  • When were you in our restaurant?
  • Did you eat anything else before or after eating in our restaurant?
  • What did you eat? 
  • When did you eat? 
  • Where did you eat? (I have a client whose customers were certain it was her food that made them sick.  With calm, careful questioning, she was able to confirm these customers had eaten at another restaurant which turned out to be the cause of their foodborne illness.)
  • Always ask them to see a doctor to CONFIRM the illness. (This is a clear deterrent to the fake complaint)
  • Always record the time and date of this conversation and all further ones in a file you will create and keep
  • Be on the lookout for any other calls that will confirm the possibility of a problem
If your establishment is responsible for a food-borne illness or an outbreak you are going to have work with your local health department to confirm you have resolved all issues. This is also the time to provide some extra training to your staff to reinforce proper food handling procedures.

Whether you are guilty or not of causing an illness, the news media can jump all over a foodborne illness story as it does grab the audience’s attention. They can sometimes be in a rush to get a story out and can judge one guilty before all the details are known.  This stigma can be hard to get rid of.  I recommend that this is the time to hire and work with a Public Relations & Marketing firm to help you with crisis management and damage control.

If you are a member of your local restaurant association, it is time to make your dues work for you with a phone for recommendations and advice. If you hire an agency, let them advise you what info to say or what info to not say. You should get them to help you put out your story on your website, Facebook page, Twitter and where ever else you have a social media presence. I also recommend that you call your local health department as they can help you to fix the problems if you are the cause of an illness or an outbreak or to help protect you if you are not.

The last few months we have talked about taking temperatures, HACCP, which includes record keeping. If you do have a food borne illness accusation, your Time & Temperature logs can serve as written proof that you have handled the food properly should you have to go to court.

Juliet Bodinetz-Rich is the executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 25 years industry and training experience. Her team of instructors’ specialty is food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. Metro Area., or 443-838-7561. For Latest Food Safety Tips: Become a Fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS

Friday, April 1, 2011

FOOD SMARTS: For Real … ‘Wassup with HACCP?’ Part 2

 OK, now that you understand “Wassup with HACCP,” better, you now feel that you are ready to write a HACCP plan for your food establishment. Where to start?

Again, HACCP is a written plan, specific to each facility’s menu that identifies significant biological, chemical or physical threats. Procedural methods are then employed to reduce, prevent or eliminate these hazards. This means you all will have different written HACCP plans unless you have the same menu as another establishment. HACCP is based on seven principles:

  1. Conduct a Hazard Analysis
  2. Determine Critical Control Points  (CCP’s)
  3. Establish Critical Limits
  4. Establish Monitoring Procedures
  5. Identify Corrective Actions
  6. Verify that the system works
  7. Establish Procedures for Record Keeping and Documentation

The first principle of HACCP, Conducting a Hazard Analysis is basically identifying the dangers on your menu. The dangers on your menu are your Potentially Hazardous Foods; high in moisture content, high protein or nutritional value and low acidic foods (4.6-7.5).  Conducting a Hazard Analysis is two parts. One, identify your potentially hazardous foods and then, two, identify the control points you handle the foods until it is served.  One of our customers recently described it aptly as “a recipe on steroids.”  Let’s choose a basic recipe for Chili. Your recipe book might state simply: Brown the hamburger meat with onions and garlic, add vegetables, bring to a boil and simmer for a couple of hours, cool and reheat the next day.

Now let’s make it scientific. We can identify the potentially hazardous food in that recipe as raw hamburger meat and the control points we deal with this food item are:  Receive  è Storage  è Cook  è Cool  è Storage  è Reheat  è Maintain Hot
To take a phrase from Emeril Lagasse, “BAM!,” you’ve just conducted a Hazard Analysis.  Not so bad … so far … hmmm?!?

The second principle is Identify your Critical Control Points. The truth is that this can get tricky here because as my experience tells me that this really depends upon which jurisdiction you are turning in your HACCP plan. Normally, CCP’s are identified as those processes that make the food go up or down through the most dangerous part of the Danger Zone (70°F - 125°F), i.e. cooking, cooling and reheating. Let’s make it easy and say that all of the above are CCP’s because it’s “critical”/important to not lose control in each of those points you are handling the food. Always consult with your local jurisdiction for clarification.

The third principle, identify your critical limits is basically saying write down the minimums to keep the food safe in that point/step you are handling it. Using the Chili recipe, we know our critical limits would be as following: Receive raw hamburger at 41°F or below, Store at 41°F or below, Cook to 165°F or higher, Cool to 70°F or below within two hours and then an additional four hours to reach 41°F or below, Store at 41°F or below, Reheat to 165°F or higher within two hours, Maintain Hot at 135°F or higher.

The fourth principle, establish monitoring procedures just means, how are you going to measure/monitor that you met your critical limits. Usually that is with your thermometer and clock, but also additionally, you would be using your eyes and nose.

The fifth principle, identify corrective actions is basically that. Write down what you will do to fix something if you are not meeting your critical limit. For example, raw hamburger is above 41°F at the Critical Control Point of Receive, then your corrective action is to: Reject the delivery.

The sixth principle, verify that the system works, basically means your system is working and there is hardly any necessity of corrective actions being required. For example, if you keep having to reject raw hamburger meat often at Receiving, then your system is not verified and you might want to consider buying from another vendor.

The seventh principle is self-explanatory – Establish Procedures for Record Keeping and Documentation. Write down when you take temperature checks and keep records to protect yourself.

We hope this chart sample below can help you to create your own HACCP plan.  Remember, always consult with your local jurisdiction first.  Some jurisdictions want each item laid out and others are asking for grouping of ingredients.  It would be a shame to work very hard and then have to rework it all.

Equipment Utilized
Monitoring Procedures
Corrective Action

HACCP serves many purposes; protect your public’s health, serves as written proof to your health inspector that you know proper procedures and lastly it protects you if you are accused of a foodborne illness and have to go to court.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Food Smarts - For Real: ‘Wassup with HACCP?’ Part 1

Are some of you wondering what is this HACCP (pronounced as “has-sip”) thing? For those of you who do know something about HACCP, I can now imagine your pained expressions. That is the usual reaction when I mention HACCP to someone who knows about HACCP. Have you just been asked to write a HACCP plan by your local Health Department? Has your Health Inspector asked you to provide HACCP training to your employees? Many questions – many answers coming. HACCP is an acronym that stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. HACCP is a Food Safety Management system that focuses on the concept that if significant biological, chemical or physical contaminations are identified at specific points within a product’s flow through an operation, they can be prevented eliminated or reduced to safe levels. Blah, Blah, Blah … what does that really mean?

I remember the first time I sat in Food Service Manager Certification class and hearing the same info, thinking, “I have no idea what this means.” To tell you the truth – I felt overwhelmed and in over my head. I think that can be explained by the language that is used to describe HACCP. To give you some history: HACCP was originally developed by NASA who consulted with Pillsbury who had developed the concept in the 1960’s in their own manufacturing plants. My first question to self, when I learned this was, “Why is NASA getting involved with Food Safety? What did they care?” Then I connected the dots and realized that it was very important to NASA to avoid foodborne illness for their astronauts for the lunar launch.

HACCP was initially enforced in the U.S. for fish and meat plants. Nowadays, it is nationally required if an establishment is seeking a variance. The common denominator for most of these activities that require a variance is that they are “methods of food preservation.” In a nutshell, the variance is required for the following activities and will not be granted unless written proof (a written HACCP Plan) is demonstrated that the establishment can handle the food safely through the entire flow of the food item. This makes sense, as when preserving food, if done improperly, there is much opportunity for bacterial growth to occur. Some of the activities that require a variance and thus, simultaneously, a written HACCP plan are:

  • Smoking Foods as a method of food preservation
  • Curing Foods as a method of food preservation
  • Using Food additives as a method of food preservation
  • Using Reduced Oxygen Packaging as a method of food preservation
  • Serving Molluscan Shellfish from a display tank as a method of food preservation
  • Custom process animals for personal use as a method of food preservation

Most of our customers and most of you are not doing these activities, so how does it affect you? In real life you do what your local health inspector or jurisdiction requires of you, for example in the State of Maryland, HACCP is required as per COMAR, “Health-General Article, §21-321, Annotated Code of Maryland, and the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 10.15.03 Definitions of priority assessment levels are found in COMAR A HACCP plan is required for all high or moderate priority facilities. Facilities which serve only hand dipped ice cream or commercially packaged potentially hazardous foods do not require a HACCP plan.”

Translated, this means a HACCP plan needs to be provided before an establishment gets approval to open or if they do construction or a remodel of an existing building. Some establishments were grandfathered and did not have to provide a HACCP plan, but now they are being asked to provide one to their local Health Department. Catering companies and mobile trucks that serve food are also required to provide a HACCP plan. Additionally in Maryland, we have been getting requests by restaurants to help them with their HACCP plans even though it was approved in the past. This is because they are being reviewed in many cases every 5 years.

Some of our customers have told us that their local Health Inspector has asked them to provide HACCP training to their employees. I translate “HACCP Training” synonymously with “Food Safety Training.” If you provide “Food Safety Training” to your employees, you are in compliance with HACCP training. HACCP serves many purposes; protect your public’s health, serves as written proof to your health inspector that you know proper procedures and lastly it protects you if you are accused of a foodborne illness and have to go to court. Next month, we will go over how to write a HACCP plan.

Food Smarts - For Real...'Record Your Temperatures'

by Juliet Bodinetz-Rich

Last month we discussed investing in thermometers for your ‘Safe Staff’ and making sure they take actual temperature readings and to remind them to calibrate those thermometers.  I realize ‘For Real,’ that a chef is not going take the temperature of every hamburger, pork chop, or steak they cook.  I understand that they are using their skills and experience as a chef to recognize these foods are cooked by their color and texture. In real life, to protect your establishment as well as your customers, temperatures should be taken and logs should be documented and kept in these situations:

1)   Receiving – Take random temperatures to make sure product is entering your establishment safely.
2)   Refrigeration Storage – It’s not going to hurt you to take two or three random food item temperatures in your refrigeration units each day. You need to know immediately if your refrigeration units have stopped working. It doesn’t matter how much I love an owner, I have no pity at all for an establishment if they are finding out their refrigeration unit is broken because their health inspector is telling them. How long has it been broken? Since their last visit last year?  
3)   Cooking – Soups, Stews & Casseroles (165°F) because you have added raw to cooked ingredients, poultry because of high risk of Salmonella and roasts.
4)   Cooling – Write down when you start cooling the food and what time you put it in the fridge. You only have 2 hours to get that cooling food to 70°F or below so you can then put it in the fridge. Write down the time and temperatures you start cooling, put it in the fridge and time completed of cooling. It’s proof that the cooling soup has not been sitting on the kitchen counter all day. Especially if you get a “surprise visit” from your local Health Inspector.
5)   Reheating – You only have two hours to get it to 165°F. 
6)   Maintaining – Instead of waiting four hours and discarding the food item if it’s in the TDZ, do a temperature check at two hours so you can correct the situation.  Why throw your money (your food) in the trash?

Record keeping and documentation of time and temperature logs demonstrates that you are actually taking temperatures and controlling Time and Temperature to avoid foodborne illnesses. As exemplified above, temperatures should be taken and recorded whenever food is being held to be served and especially when the food is passing through the most dangerous part of the Temperature Danger Zone: 70°F-125°F, i.e. cooling and reheating.  According to the “Magic Rule,” food cannot be in the danger zone more than four hours or else it has to be discarded. But when reheating or cooling food is only allowed two hours going up or down through the most dangerous part of TDZ ~70°F-125°F. Time & Temperature logs help guide your employees to make sure they are following proper procedures and it also serves as demonstration to your health inspectors that proper procedures are being followed. Worst case scenario: you are taken to court for a foodborne illness accusation; your Time & Temperature Logs can help protect you as proof that you were in compliance with local health regulations. No one cares what you say in court and that is why written documentation is so important when you take temperatures.  Don’t know how to get started on developing a Time & Temperature Log? We hope these examples can help you to make them on excel for example?

General Food Holding (Hot/Cold) & for Your Refrigeration Units

Food Product
Internal Temperature
Corrective Action Taken
Employee Initials
Manager Initials

Cooling Time & Temperature Log

Internal Temp
+ 2 hours internal Temp
Corrective Action Taken
Employee initials
+4 hours time
+4 hours internal Temp
 Action Taken
Employee initials

Reheating Time & Temperature Log
+2 hours time
+2 hours internal Temp
Corrective Action Taken
Employee Initials
Manager Initials

Friday, January 14, 2011

Food Smarts: Happy Holidays and New Year’s Food Safety Resolutions … ‘For Real'

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! Many of you might be thinking of New Year’s resolutions already. I know I am. What are your New Year’s resolutions going to be this year? I find a common thread amongst operators at this time of year, in that many operators really start thinking seriously about their next year’s budget which includes food safety classes.

The truth is that food safety training is important at any time of the year, but I understand how it really needs to takes center stage at the holidays as it is a time you are at your busiest. The surge in year-end holiday business is what you wait for but it is the time when our food safety guard might have some cracks in the shields. It is a time when you need to be the most vigilant.

Do They Hear You?

Maybe you are an owner or a manager who takes food safety very seriously and are always there to see your employees doing the right thing, i.e. “wash your hands.” The unfortunate truth is that many of your employees hear something so many times from you that they tune you out. Sometimes, your employees don’t know why something is asked of them and they think “you worry too much” and only do the right thing in front of you; they don’t follow the rules when you are gone. 

Training needs to be real and allow the employees/students to thoroughly understand WHY it’s important to do something the right way, so they can take ownership of their behavior. 

And the Health Inspector

Recently when I was getting ready to teach a food safety class, a health inspector was writing up the establishment for putting hot soup the night before into the walk-in. Twelve hours later the soup temperature read 90°F – the chill down had been too slow and the soup remained in the danger zone. Before I started the food safety class, the executive chef explained to his staff what had happened and WHY it was unacceptable. 

As an instructor is was a beautiful thing to see the lights in their staffs’ eyes sparkle when during the food safety class we got to the subject of proper cooling and they realized the “WHYs” they have to follow – the rule that had just been laid out to them. Demonstration back is the best confirmation that your employees have learned a lesson effectively. As a manager, you have to be proactive and be constantly monitoring your staff to confirm they are doing things the right way. Also, it is so important to not just “tell the staff off”, but to proudly compliment your staff – they will feel empowered to be “caught” doing something right! 

In my waitress days, I thought that I never had to worry about food safety. I believed I could never be responsible for someone getting sick, because I didn’t cook the food. The reality is that food safety is the responsibility of every employee in your establishment. 

Food Safety Could Be the Dishwasher Personified

I remember working at an establishment where we had a dishwasher who didn’t smell very nice. He was so odiferous in a bad way; we went to the manager and asked him to “please intercede and tell this employee to shower.” After speaking with the ‘smelly dishwasher,’ he realized that the employee did shower each day, but when he came to work, he was changing into the same clothes for three days in a row. 

The dirty clothes became a perfect breeding ground for bacteria to grow and survive. His clothing had all conditions for bacteria to be ‘happy’ to grow and survive, FATTOM.  Food, low Acidity (4.6-7.5) Time (more than 4 hours), Temperature (41°F -135° F, it’s hot in that dishroom), Oxygen and Moisture.  Indeed an emplyee who didn’t cook the food could have become responsible for causing an outbreak … just from his clothing.  

Sometimes it’s worth taking the pressure off your teaching skills by having an outside instructor come in and do your training. Your staff realizes that you have paid monies for this class, which really does reinforce how seriously you take this training and they will HEAR the voice of the professional instructor.

With the New Year on the horizon think what can you do to improve food safety in your establishment and who can best do the training … where the information will be heard, absorbed and put into practice. Put that line item for professional food safety training in the 2011 budget and make your New Year’s a happy food safety year with ‘Safe Staff.’

Again, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!