Let’s Do Food Safety Month Right!

Food safety is a concern for everyone in the food service industry. Turn on any television and you’re likely to hear reports of a product recall or foodborne illness outbreak. Walk into any restroom in a food service operation, and one of the first things you’ll notice is the hand washing sign. While it may seem as if hand washing is the main aspect of food safety, it’s only a small piece of it.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people become sick every year from a foodborne illness. Foodborne illness outbreaks can be costly to businesses and can even cause establishments to go out of business. In 2017 the CDC reported eight foodborne illness outbreaks across several states. Unfortunately, the number of foodborne illness outbreaks has increased by 40% in 2018.

Guarantee Food Safety for Your Customers

Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges of food safety, there are requisites that all food service operations should include in their safety programs. We’ll look at several things food-processing companies and restaurants can do.

Food Safety, Failure to Comply Can Be Costly

It is imperative that workers in a food service operation understand their role in safety. Food establishments face crippling costs correcting issues associated with foodborne illness outbreaks. A recent study by Johns Hopkins University averaged the costs to be between a few thousand dollars and more than $2 million across food service segments.

In fact, the FDA acknowledged the need for shared responsibility for food safety by implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011, which focuses on preventing food contamination.

Implemented properly, a food safety program can establish for your employees that food safety is a priority within your organization. In 1996, well before the implementation of FSMA, 97% of foodborne illness could be traced back to poor employee training or process breakdown.

The first step in a food safety program is to train your employees at every level. They need to understand the processes and functions of their job, as well as the impact they have on consumers. In certain cases retraining, in addition to ongoing training, may be needed.

Topics that typically fall under food safety programs include:

1. Proper Hand Hygiene

The USDA estimates that 97% of people do not wash their hands properly. This process may include soap and water, hand sanitizer, and hand wipes. One major foodborne illness that can be directly linked to improper hand washing is Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as Staph.

The federal food safety website defines Staphylococcus aureus as “a bacteria that is commonly found on the skin and hair as well as the noses and throats of people and animals.” What’s even more shocking is that this bacteria is found on 25% of healthy people. The most effective way to decrease the chances of spreading Staph bacteria to customers is through proper hand washing.

Lower the spread of bacteria, and limit hand washing to designated sinks only.

You should have procedures in place for handwashing. List the steps for proper handwashing and post them over all sinks.

According to the CDC, proper hand washing involves five steps:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running (warm or cold water), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands together with soap. Be sure to get in between your fingers, the back of your hand, and scrub under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds.
  • Rinse your hands well, under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dryer.

2. Proper Glove Use

In addition to proper hand washing, wearing gloves can help protect food service employees and customers from the spread of pathogens. Wearing gloves is a good step; however, wearing the right food processing gloves is the best choice.

Some pathogens that gloves protect people from are:

  • Listeria
  • Salmonella
  • Staphylococcus
  • Hepatitis A

To ensure that gloves provide optimum protection, you must make sure they are used properly. The industry standard for changing gloves is after every 4 hours of continuous use, after switching tasks, touching your hair or face, or after returning from a break. Employees should also wash their hands in between glove changes.

Proper glove usage can help keep customers safe by greatly decreasing the likelihood of foodborne illness transmission.

In August 2018, Lipari Foods’ brand Premo Ready To Eat Sandwiches issued a voluntary recall for their turkey and cheese wedge sandwich due to potential Listeria exposure in one of their factories.

Listeria, which is short for Listeria monocytogenes, is a foodborne disease-causing bacteria. It is estimated that 2,500 cases of Listeria occur in the United States every year, with 20% resulting in death. Listeria is particularly important for pregnant women to avoid, as it can be transmitted to their fetus.

Finally, your employees should always change their gloves when the material is compromised in any way.

3. Food Temperature and Storage

Many food temperature holding challenges occur during transportation. Due to the use of multiple trucks, warehouses, and travel time delays, it can be difficult to maintain proper holding temperatures. Certain food items like seafood and ready-to-eat food can become unsafe if the temperature during delivery rises above the required temperature.

Keeping food at the proper temperature is critical until its delivered to customers on the plate or in the store.

For example, in 2016 Chipotle was forced to close 2,000 locations to retrain employees on food safety. This massive retraining came as a result of several months of foodborne illness outbreaks affecting 500 people around the United States in 2015. Investigations later revealed that Chipotle’s outbreak likely stemmed from its supply chain, prior to delivery.

Make a delivery checklist available to show employees what to look for when accepting a delivery. In addition, remind staff that they can view the transportation log. If discrepancies exist with the quality or safety of the delivery, reject it and return to the distributor immediately.

Delivery inspections should include:

  • Improper packaging or broken seals in packaging
  • Ice crystals on frozen goods—this can indicate the proper temperature was not maintained during transportation
  • Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the meat and dairy
  • Inspect the appearance of food

When storing deliveries, always make sure to rotate goods using the FIFO (First In First Out) method. Dispose of out-of-date items immediately. Educate staff on state regulations for storing prepared food, and be sure to use the day dot system when storing an open item.

Use a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program to identify and manage food safety-related risk.

Document the following in the HACCP log:

  • Regular checking of temperatures
  • Thermometer recalibration
  • Sanitation station management

Be sure to sanitize all workstations before and after use. Pay special attention to the location and surface where food is prepared to help eliminate the spread of bacteria and germs. Pictures of proper storage in walk-in freezers and dry storage will help employees remember the order of food storage by eliminating some of the guesswork.

Color-coded cutting boards are also a good way to control cross-contamination. In addition to sanitizing workstations, thermometers need to be sanitized after use. Recalibrate them often to ensure proper readings. Cutting gloves and knife storage panels should be readily available, cleaned, and sanitized on a regular basis as well.

4. Employee Health

While most of the focus of food safety is on storage and production, the main component remains people.

The Food & Drug Administration recommends that employees working with food stay home if they are showing symptoms of jaundice, diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat with fever, and infected cuts and burns.

Businesses should encourage their staff to stay home when they’re ill by:

  • Providing sick leave
  • Encouraging managers to send sick employees home
  • Implementing wellness programs
  • Not reprimanding employees who call in.

Although it is not a federal law, encouraging employees to remove aprons before exiting the production area can help decrease exposure as well.

Food service leaders must remember that being ill and showing up to work with certain symptoms could mean life or death for hundreds, even thousands, of people.

How Food Distributors Can Help Their Commercial Food Partners with Food Safety

The commercial food industry is growing more every year. Most American families spend over $3,000 dining out annually. Restaurants have had to increase their workforce to meet the demand. As a result, more workers need food safety items like gloves.

The commercial food industry expands, you can take advantage of the growing need for items like high-quality disposable gloves to your inventory.

As a food distributor, you’ve likely noticed that many of your food items have a lower profit margin and a quick expiration date. For any distributor looking to improve their bottom line while helping their partners with food safety, items like disposable gloves should be added to your inventory.

When you make items like disposable gloves available for your food partners, you improve the customer experience. You also show that you value their business by helping them safeguard it.

If you’d like to learn more about how disposable gloves can boost your bottom line and improve your customer experience, download our food service eBook by clicking the button below.

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