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!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Trouble With Your Food Temperatures

My, how 2010 flew by. Happy New Year’s! I have some great news! For the last few years the CDC has been reporting consistently that statistically 76 million people will get a foodborne illness here in the USA resulting in 320,000 hospitalizations which lead to about 5,000 deaths per year. I am happy to convey that it appears all this ‘Food Smarts’ talk, education and efforts are not for naught. The CDC has just released the estimated statistics for 2011 as being estimated “that each year roughly 1 out of 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases.”

Still not perfect numbers … 1 out of 6 of us are going to get a foodborne illness this year … but WOW! What a come down from previous statistics. Let’s keep it up!  The FDA states that the three biggest factors that make our food unsafe are:

1) Time and Temperature Abuse
2) Cross Contamination
3) Improper Personal Hygiene

Realistically, proper and frequent hand washing is the best procedure and practice to avoid cross-contamination and to practice proper personal hygiene. But what are you really doing to control Time and Temperature Abuse? We know to avoid Time and Temperature Abuse that we have to keep food out of “room temperature” or well known as the Temperature Danger Zone (41°F -135°F). I call it the Magic Rule to my students. The time limit is four hours in the TDZ and then your only corrective action is to discard that food item. We also know it’s important to follow guidelines provided by the FDA Food code on Time and Temperature for proper cooking, cooling and reheating procedures.

There is only one thing you can do to control Time and Temperature. Use a thermometer and a clock! It amazes me how many of my students in the Food Service Manager Certification classes don’t even have or use a thermometer in their professional kitchens, let alone their personal kitchens. How can they know if soup is not in the TDZ whilst they maintain it hot through two shifts of the day? We can know all the rules on proper food safety, but if we are not checking temperatures to confirm …then the  knowledge is useless.

Buy your kitchen employees a thermometer! There are different types of thermometers you can buy for your kitchen employees, but the bimetallic thermometer is the most commonly used because not only is it easy to use, but it’s also the cheapest! We all want to save a $ here and there, but my biggest advice, if you are in charge of buying the thermometers is to spend the extra $ to buy the thermometer with a case that has the adjusting wrench attached to the case. The case will protect the stem or probe and also keep it clean. Having the adjusting wrench attached to the case means, it’s all together, and not a separate item that will be lost in “I don’t know where it is land?” Teach them to take temperatures by inserting the probe in the thickest part (typically the centre) and to wait at least 15 seconds for an accurate reading. Teach your staff to calibrate their thermometers and make sure they do it.

Sometimes our thermometers don’t read the temperatures correctly and we have to calibrate (adjust) them to make them read correctly. There are two ways to calibrate your thermometers; ice point method and boiling point method. To calibrate your thermometer using the ice point method, you fill up a container with ice water and insert the stem/probe in the ice water and wait 30 seconds. The temperature of ice water is a constant that we can rely on to always measure 32° F. After 30 seconds in the ice water turn the wrench to make the thermometer needle reads the ice water as 32°F. The boiling point method is completely the same, but our hands are over boiling water and we adjust the thermometer to read the temperature as 212°F. I know that I personally would not want my hand over boiling water as that’s the same steaming process to cook a lobster.

When are you supposed to calibrate your thermometers? At the beginning of each shift is great so you can confirm your thermometer is accurate for your deliveries. If you drop your thermometer it can   throw it off so you should recalibrate it and also if it suffers a big temperature change, like measuring something very cold and then something boiling hot. I translate this to convey that if you work in a kitchen there are several times during the day when you should be calibrating your thermometer. That means it’s not a bad idea to keep a container of ice water handy for a quick calibration. Truth, I never see any container of ice water in kitchens for employees to use to recalibrate their thermometers. My idea: Why not use two thermometers during your shift - One with a blue case for cold food and one thermometer with a red case for hot foods? See how this food safety knowledge can also save you time?

For Real … please buy your employees a thermometer and teach them to use them. Maybe the CDC statistics for foodborne illnesses will continue to go down.

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. www.bilingualhospitality. com, or 443-838-7561. For Latest Food Safety Tips: Become a Fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS