We all hope our concepts become the next Chipotle; but not when it comes to foodborne illness. The outbreak of Norovirus at a Virginia Chipotle earlier this week is a good reminder to all in the restaurant industry of the paramount importance of food safety. Chipotle has been dogged by high-profile food safety concerns over the last few years to the tune of approximately 620 million dollars in lost sales in 2016. While Chipotle has been able to weather these storms, many restaurants would not be so lucky. A foodborne illness outbreak can spell disaster for many restaurants, destroying your image and potentially ruining your business. Taking precautionary measures to avoid such occurrences is not only an operator’s responsibility to their customer, but also good business.
Cool. Heat. Repeat.
With quick-service restaurants whose priority is speed and efficiency, steam tables and refrigerated prep tables are popular for maintaining a consistent temperature throughout a long service. However, the problem lies in ensuring proper heating and cooling of food between services and maintaining the equipment so that food is kept in the proper temperature range. In addition to maintaining safe temperatures, a restaurant should never be putting hot food directly into the refrigerator or freezer. This is just asking for bacteria to infiltrate your soups and sauces destined for reuse. All hot food should be cooled quickly, preferably in an ice bath until cold and ready for refrigeration.
Keep a Clean Kitchen
A clean kitchen is a safe kitchen. This means that adequate sanitation of all dishes and cookware is essential to maintaining an atmosphere that is both enjoyable to work in, and safe for employees and customers. Buckets with properly maintained sanitation water should play a heavy hand in cleaning surfaces from stovetops to countertops, resulting in a better method of cleanliness than just soap and water. Problems lie in employee sanitation as well. According to FoodSafety.gov, it is important that employees wash their hands the right way and often, using plain soap and running water. Sick employees should also stay home. According to a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 12% of food workers said they had worked when they were sick with vomiting or diarrhea.
When in doubt- throw it out
With the margins in restaurants as low as they are, it can be tempting to use food even when we know it might be past its prime. You notice your refrigerator isn’t running to temp and some of your items have been holding at temperatures above safe levels. The idea of throwing away all of that food when it was only a few degrees off might seem expensive, but consider the expense if you serve it and someone becomes ill. You might not be running a multi-national, publicly traded restaurant corporation that is covered closely by the media. But with social media, the damage of a foodborne illness can still be vast in your community. If you consider the potential damage of spreading a foodborne illness, the cost of throwing away food that is “on the verge” is never too great.
Food safety is not just something to worry about when you’re expecting a health inspection. Food safety should be your number one concern as a restaurant to ensure your customer’s safety and your business’ longevity.