Every year approximately 48 million people in the USA fall victim to a food-borne illness. The majority of these cases are as a result of harmful and viruses while some parasites and chemicals may also play a role. Food can be contaminated during food preparation at home or in a restaurant kitchen – an absolute nightmare for any restaurant owner as the establishment’s reputation can take a serious knock because of it.
In 2006 an E. coli outbreak affected 71 Taco Bell customers across 5 States with 8 people developing kidney failure and 53 being hospitalized. The outbreak was linked to contaminated lettuce from California. Following the outbreak the affected states enacted stricter lettuce-handling standards. In 2015 a similar outbreak hit the Chipotle Mexican Grill fast food chain when 55 people in 11 states fell ill after eating at the restaurant. Unlike the Taco Bell incident, no definitive cause was confirmed for the outbreak. These examples serve as a reminder of the importance of minimizing food contamination in your restaurant kitchen. Here are some tips:
Implement an effective personal hygiene program
A good personal hygiene program that includes a number of policies that addresses critical hygiene practises like proper hand washing techniques and glove use can significantly lessen the possibility of food handlers contaminating food. Staff also needs to be addressed with regards to personal hygiene and work attire with emphasis placed on required hair restraints, prohibited jewelry and clean clothing. Policies need to be put in place ensuring food handlers come to work healthy and report all illnesses. Wound care is another topic of vital importance that needs to be covered as injury in a kitchen is a common occurrence in a commercial kitchen.
Remind employees to wash their hands as often as is required
The importance of clean hands within a restaurant environment cannot be reiterated enough. This is especially important after handling raw meat, poultry and seafood and after visiting the restroom. After washing their hands with a high-quality, food grade hand cleanser, employees need to dry their hands with single-use paper towel or air dryer. Never dry your hands with any part of your uniform.
Sanitize all work surfaces and use separate equipment
All work surfaces including utensils and equipment must be cleaned and sanitized after each task. Simple rinsing will not suffice as water alone does not kill harmful pathogens. Each food type should be prepped and handled with separate equipment. Colour-coded chopping boards and utensils help minimize cross contamination of food as each set is only used for one food group such as poultry and seafood. Many restaurants make use of professional cleaning services to maintain exceptional hygiene standards in their kitchens.
While food poisoning can be life-threatening, especially for people with weakened immune systems, it can mostly be prevented by enforcing efficient hygiene practices. If you suspect that food may be contaminated dispose of it immediately. When it comes to minimizing food contamination, you’d rather be safe than sorry. Food can be replaced but a ruined reputation may never be repaired again.
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