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