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!

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