Recent headlines about bacteria outbreaks and foodborne illnesses tied to restaurants have left many operators taking an in-depth look into their sanitation and safety practices. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 48 million people in America get sick every year from contaminated food, whether bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, or metals. Additionally, about 128,000 people end up hospitalized because of foodborne illnesses.
Let’s explore the recent outbreaks, and the steps restaurants can take to reduce the chances of finding themselves in the midst of a foodborne illness.
According to the CDC, in 2022, the U.S. has experienced outbreaks in strains of E.coli, listeria, hepatitis A, salmonella, and norovirus. Recently, an outbreak of E.coli was reported, though not confirmed, after people ate sandwiches with romaine lettuce at Wendy’s restaurants in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania before getting sick. As a precautionary measure, Wendy’s has disposed of the romaine lettuce in restaurants in those regions. About 97 illnesses and 43 hospitalizations have been reported. However, the CDC is not advising people to stop eating romaine lettuce or at Wendy’s restaurants.
On September 12, 2022, another outbreak of E.coli was linked to ground beef in HelloFresh meal kits. The ground beef is subject to a health alert shipped to customers between July 2 and July 21.
Restaurant Safety Protocol
Establishing cleaning and proper food handling policies ensures you’re doing all you can to keep your customers safe. Unfortunately, busy shifts can translate to employees taking shortcuts, which can lead to cross-contamination or not bothering to check the internal temperature of food. The good news is that a food safety culture can prevent illnesses. Make sure your staff is practicing the following protocols and place these policies in your employee training handbook.
- Clean and Sanitize All Surfaces
Cleaning involves washing off areas while sanitizing removes surface pathogens. Both of these processes should be part of your cleaning protocol. Establish a schedule and a checklist of things to clean, including cutting boards and countertops which should be properly cleaned before and after use. Other areas include equipment, storage, floor drains, and trash cans.
- Wash Hands Often
According to FoodSafety.gov, hands should be washed before, during, and after food preparation, handling raw meats, using the restroom, or touching garbage. Employees should also be reminded to take the time to wash their hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose.
- Properly Clean Fruits and Vegetables
According to the USDA and CDC, produce should be thoroughly washed under cold running water. Additionally, a vegetable brush may be necessary to clean all of the dirt and possible bacteria from produce with crevices.
- Keep Temperature Logs
Keeping temperature logs helps make recording food temperatures an automatic action in daily activities. Important temperatures include when shipments arrive to make sure they’ve arrived safely. Meat and milk products should be received at 40°F or colder. Egg and egg products should be 45°F or colder. Operators will also want to make sure they are storing cold foods below 41°F and hot foods above 139°F.
According to the USDA, when cooking beef, pork, or lamb, the minimum internal temperature is 145°F, with a resting time of at least three minutes. The minimum temperature for ground meat is 160°F, and all poultry should be cooked to 165°F.
- Stay Alert to Food Recalls
Make sure to set up food recall alerts or check regularly. The USDA and FDA frequently publish these lists. You can also sign up for USDA text or email alerts. Keep a wary eye on your supply chain and ensure your suppliers are upfront about any issues.
- Label Food with Dates
First-In-First-Out is a standard practice in restaurants. Unfortunately, busy BOHs can lead to food stored away quickly upon receipt and older food getting pushed to the back. Instruct your staff to create food labels that include the date it arrived, the date it was prepared, and the expiration date.
What is considered the danger temperature zone for food?
The danger zone occurs when food temperatures are between 40°F and 140°F. Rapid bacteria growth can occur in food that remains in the danger zone for too long. Generally, food should not be kept in the danger zone for more than two hours.
How do I handle a food poisoning accusation at my restaurant?
The good news is that food poisoning can almost always be avoided with adequate food safety procedures. Establishing a work culture that emphasizes hygiene is critical. That said, if you find your establishment facing these accusations, it’s essential to take immediate action.
To do this, you need to have a food safety response plan in place. Part of the process is obtaining information from the customer, such as the menu item and what time they ate it. Did anyone else in their party eat the same food? Find out what symptoms they’re experiencing and if they’ve seen the doctor.
Gather relevant information, such as who prepared, cooked, and served the food. Check temperature logs, food labels, and if any employees have come down with an illness. Reach out to food suppliers and find out if they have received any other complaints. In some areas, it’s mandated to call the local health authorities. It takes time to determine the source of an illness. Helping trace the contamination can prevent the possibility of widespread disease.