As a food manager, you juggle competing priorities every day. You work to provide high-quality food and timely service to your customers. You also manage the business demands and employee needs of your establishment. Complying with regulatory requirements may feel like just another task on your plate! But prioritizing food safety policies does more than help you pass health inspections—it keeps people healthy and creates a reputation of trust with your customers.
How can you focus on the most important food safety procedures in your establishment? Consider the top contributing factors for outbreaks in restaurants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- sick food workers contaminating ready-to-eat food through bare-hand contact
- sick food workers contaminating food through a method other than hand contact (such as with a utensil they contaminated)
- sick food workers contaminating ready-to-eat food through gloved-hand contact
- food handling practices leading to growth of pathogens (such as food not kept cold enough)
Here are five ways you can address these most common contributing factors:
Use a food worker health program.
When you exclude or restrict sick food workers from working with food, you help to prevent foodborne illness. The first step is to establish a food worker health program by creating policies that encourage employees to report illness and stay home when sick. As a manager, you can reduce the amount of worry that food workers may feel when calling in sick for work. Strive to be understanding and supportive when employees are ill. Consider using incentives for employees to keep themselves healthy and stay home when they are sick.
Prevent bare-hand contact.
When a food worker touches food with their bare hands, pathogens can transfer from their skin to the food. This is particularly dangerous for ready-to-eat food. Remind your employees of this principle and show them alternatives to touching food with bare hands, like wearing gloves and using utensils. Be sure to avoid touching ready-to-eat food with your bare hands so that you can be a good example to your employees. Provide plenty of gloves, deli tissue, and clean and sanitized utensils for your workers to use with food.
Teach proper use of utensils and gloves.
Even if your employees avoid bare-hand contact, they might use utensils or gloves improperly and contaminate food. Teach food workers to avoid touching their hair, face, and clothes while working. These actions can contaminate their gloves with pathogens that spread to the food they prepare. Demonstrate how to properly remove and put on gloves. When tasting food to check the quality during preparation, teach them not to use the same utensil more than once. Also, show employees how to safely store utensils when not in use. Teaching these behaviors to your employees will help them understand how to handle food safely.
Keep food out of the Temperature Danger Zone.
Unfortunately, you cannot stop the growth of all foodborne pathogens. But you can focus on the food preparation steps that are most likely to contribute to pathogen growth. Thinking about the Temperature Danger Zone can help you identify these steps. The Temperature Danger Zone is 41-135°F (5-57°C). Train your employees to keep food out of the danger zone through proper storage, cooking, and holding. Then, use extra tools to support positive behavior. For example, you could display posters with proper cooking temperatures or common TCS foods. Consider holding a stand-up training about taking food temperatures. You might also start using a temperature log to monitor food temperatures.
Communicate your commitment to food safety in your establishment.
As a manager, you express your opinion about food safety through your words and actions. Your behavior impacts the behaviors of your employees. Think about how you can show that food safety matters to you in a way that impacts your employees. For example, you might notice a food worker taking the time to wash their hands during a busy time of day. Compliment them on their commitment to follow food safety measures.
Also, communicate with your team about processes like the flow of food in your kitchen and employee shift schedules. Work together to plan them in a way that makes it easier for everyone to follow food safety procedures.
Take food safety seriously, and your employees will too. Making food safety a priority will not only help you prevent foodborne illness, it will also help you provide excellent and trustworthy service to your customers!
— Diana Shelton
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