Food Safety in Restaurants and Its Importance

Food Safety

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protects public health by ensuring the safety of drugs, medical devices, cosmetics, and food supply around the country. As a restaurant owner, you don’t want to get on their bad side as you may lose your permit indefinitely due to careless practices and violations.

Here are some FDA guidelines you can follow to prevent that from happening:

  • Prepare food safely. The good news is that the FDA is not out to get you. It understands that all restaurants face specific challenges which range from staff turnovers to menu changes. This makes food safety monitoring more difficult so the agency suggests food businesses focus on 3 food preparation processes:
    • Food that is served the same day it is cooked
    • Food that doesn’t need to be cooked
    • Food that requires complex preparations.

The FDA recognizes that each of these processes has its own particular flow that impacts the temperature of the food at every step. By steps we mean the time food is received till the time it is served. During the process, food passes through temperature danger zones. For instance, food kept at temperatures between 41 and 135°F can lead to food borne illnesses.

That is why you need to refrigerate food products immediately and ensure that the temperature does not exceed 40°F. The temperature of the freezer must stay at 0°F or less. Plus, frozen food should never be thawed at room temperature or on counter tops. The safest way to thaw it is in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.

If you have a lot of leftovers, use shallow containers to thaw them in the refrigerator and always marinate meat in the refrigerator as well.

Reduce Human Contact. Since restaurant servers are in contact with the food served, they can also spread food borne illnesses. To prevent that from happening, the FDA recommends certain safety precautions such as:

  • Workers should observe proper hand washing procedures. They should rinse their hands with clean water, clean their hands for 20 seconds in soapy water and then rinse thoroughly.
  • Servers and other employees except kitchen staff should not be allowed in the food preparation area.
  • Cross contamination should be avoided by ensuring cooked food and sanitized food surfaces are kept separate from dirty surfaces, raw meat, dirty utensils etc.
  • Workers should use gloves to handle food every time.

Be Careful of Food Allergies. One of the main causes of foodborne illnesses are food allergies. The FDA recognizes 8 food items that are responsible for 90% of these illnesses. These are:

  1. Milk
  2. Eggs
  3. Peanuts
  4. Tree nuts
  5. Shellfish
  6. Wheat
  7. Soybean

It is the responsibility of the restaurant staff to inform diners about the presence of these ingredients in the food they are served. It is your responsibility as the owner to ensure your staff is trained to recognize those ingredients as well as the importance of customer safety.

Why Is Food Safety Important?

If you own a restaurant or a food processing facility, a violation can land you in hot water with the FDA. You can lose your permit and jeopardize your reputation that you’ve worked so hard to create along with your credibility.

Preventing food borne illnesses is more than making sure that customers and staff remain healthy. It is crucial for maintaining your business image as well. The good news is that you can avoid a safety violation or a bad food experience that can land your business in legal trouble with preventive measures. These solutions are tied to the importance of food safety and the role customer service plays in it:

  • Keep a close eye on ratings, grades, and inspection scores. New regulations make it easier for customer to access and understand inspection findings. In major cities across the US, restaurants are required to display those findings and grades right where your customers can see them. Needless to say, if your establishment fails inspections or has accumulated a low grade, they will turn to other options. The longer those grades remain substandard, the more vulnerable you will become to monetary losses. Make sure that doesn’t happen to you or that you can recover quickly after getting a poor grade by re-visiting your business model. Chances are you will find issues that compromise food safety. By working on them and training staff accordingly, you can bring your restaurant or any food establishment back from the brink.
  • Avoid Food Allergy Lawsuits with a food safety plan. As the name implies, food allergy lawsuits are filed if a customer suffers injuries due to a triggered allergy. This usually happens if a food establishment is negligent in serving and preparing food. This may mean that the establishment have failed to ask customers about any food allergies they may have and/or served them dishes with ingredients that they are allergic to. The following parties may be liable in such a lawsuit:
    • Hospital staff
    • Kitchen staff
    • Restaurant workers
    • Restaurant managers
    • Staff on airlines and cruise ships
    • Restaurant owners and other food service establishments.

In other words, any business or facility that is responsible in taking steps to prevent people with food allergies from falling sick, are liable in such cases. A single lawsuit can cost your business thousands of dollars in lost business and a revocation of your business permit.

The amount received as compensation for the allergic reaction depends on the extent of the allergy. However, besides physical injuries, this also includes the psychological trauma the person may have experienced during their ordeal. All in all you are looking at significant damages not only in terms of finances but also from the blow your food establishment will face in its reputation.

The good news is that you can prevent that from happening by creating a food safety plan and training staff to use it. Getting the ANSI Accredited Food Handler Certificate + TABC Certification Package is a good start. If you are taken to court over a food poisoning allegation, the plan and the records you maintained for it can be produced as evidence of your commitment to food safety.

What Food Safety Procedures Are Necessary In The Kitchen To Ensure Food Safety?

Technology plays an important role in maintaining food safety in any food establishment. However, you should also not forget that these modern solutions must always go hand in hand with proper handling and preparation, as well as cooking and serving of food. Here are some safety procedures to keep in mind that will help you establishment master fundamentals of food safety:

When Shopping:

  • Never buy food that is past its ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ expiration dates.
  • Don’t choose meat and poultry products that are in torn or leaking packaging
  • Buy frozen items after selecting non-perishable items.
  • Keep raw meat at the lowest level of the cart so it doesn’t drip on other food you purchased.

Before Cooking

  • Raw steaks, roasts and chops should be cooked at 145°F. The temperature should be measured with a thermometer before the meat is taken out of the pan.
  • Cooked meat should be allowed to rest a couple of minutes before being served.
  • Cook ground beef, pork, lamb and veal at 160°F.
  • Cook all poultry at 165°F (internal temperature).
  • Cook food thoroughly to kill off all bacteria.
  • Use microwave-safe containers to warm up food in the microwave.

During Storage

  • Meat, fish and poultry should be refrigerated or rewrapped immediately.
  • All meat, fish and poultry should be stored in plastic bags in refrigerators to prevent their juices from dripping onto other food.
  • Canned goods should be stored in a cool, dry place.
  • Avoid storing food in extremely hot or cold conditions.
  • After storing raw meat, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Preparation

  • Juices from raw meat should not come in contact with cooked food. Prevent this by separating cutting boards used to cut up meat from other boards.
  • Frozen food should be thawed in the refrigerator – not at room temperature.
  • If you use a microwave to thaw food, cook it immediately after.
  • Always wash, rinse and dry cutting boards after use to prevent cross contamination.
  • Sanitize and air dry all utensils, equipment and dishes.

What Are The Common Food Safety Concerns?

A single error or oversight in the food service industry can turn into a financial nightmare. If your customers fall sick after eating your food, the legal repercussions alone can set you back by quite a lot. If issues are left unchecked, they can ruin your business reputation or lead to complete shutdown entirely.

The most common challenge that food-based enterprises face, besides food safety itself, is traceability. This includes the protocols they have in place for these procedures and the potential hazards of a lack of a proper quality management program. All it takes is one incident to trigger a PR nightmare that can damage a brand irreparably.

In other words, employees are not the only ones who are held liable for food safety violations. Business owners and managers who supervise them are held professionally liable for negligence, too. This, more than anything is motivating food executives to create and push incentives that can prevent food borne illnesses from field to plate.

The thing is today’s consumers are quick to drop a product if they believe the brand behind it is not doing enough to protect them and their families. Therefore, focusing on food safety protocols and training programs is not just a necessity now, it is the key to survival.

However, since the industry is saturated with food brands vying for the same consumers, this can prove to be a challenge. Mass production involves multiple work sites situated along an increasingly complex food chain. All of these elements contribute toward outbreaks of food borne illnesses that can result in massive economic losses.

Another concern is that the volume of global food trade is increasing on an annual basis. This has placed immense pressure on food companies that are trying to compete on the same scale. To meet supply and demand challenges that result from this, businesses often cut corners when it comes to food safety standards.

However, the irony is that it is much more cost-efficient to invest in food safety measures than ignoring said standards. It can help brands:

  • Avoid massive legal costs due to outbreaks
  • Avoid unexpected expenses pertaining to disposal, penalties and product recalls.
  • Maintain customer confidence and loyalty
  • Maintain food safety standards
  • Meet government regulations
  • Improve sales and exports

Spreading Awareness for Food Safety and Sanitation

If you are looking for a career in the food industry, you have to brush up on basic food safety standards. The quality of the supply chain, personal hygiene and the process food goes through from field to plate is crucial in preventing food borne illnesses. An outbreak can damage successful brands leading to massive financial losses.

As a food employee, you have to think about food safety at each step. This includes ingredient separating, cooking, cleaning and refrigerating practices that can prevent illnesses. The following are some basic food handling standards you can follow:

  • Refrigerating
    • Ready-to-eat, perishable and leftover food should be kept in the refrigerator within 2 hours of purchase.
    • The temperature of the refrigerator should be no higher than 40°F and the freezer should be at 0°F.
    • Raw meat, poultry and fish should be kept in a shallow pan in the refrigerator to prevent their juices from dripping onto other food items.
  • Cleaning
    • Employees should wash their hands with soap and water before handling food, after using the bathroom or after completing any unsanitary task.
    • Dishes, utensils, cutting boards and counter tops should be washed with hot water and soap before and after use.
    • All counter tops used to prepare food should be sanitized after each use.
  • Separate
    • Keep all raw animal products such as meat and eggs separate from all other food items and especially pre-made food. This practice should be maintained at every stage of food preparation, storage, display and holding.
    • To prevent cross contamination, prep vegetables first and then raw meat and poultry. As mentioned before, the counters or cutting boards and utensils used should be sanitized before and after each use.
  • Cooking
    • Before cooking frozen food, thaw it in the fridge and not on the counter top at room temperature.
    • Marinate meat and other food in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
    • A clean meat thermometer is the best way to measure the internal temperature of cooked food to ensure each item is cooked through.
    • Ground beef should be cooked at 160°F at least to ensure it does not remain raw in the middle

 

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Source: TABC Blog by Learn 2 Serve

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