Foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, can cause gastrointestinal distress that manifests in a variety of ways such as stomach aches, vomiting, and diarrhea. The Oxford Journals reports that, ‘Foodborne disease causes ∼76 million illnesses and ∼5000 deaths in the United States each year.’ TIME Magazine states, ‘Each year, 1 in 6 Americans (48 million) contract food poisoning. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.’
While most recover without the need for medical treatment, food poisoning can leave a lasting impression, linking your restaurant with a painful memory.
With statistics like these, every restaurant should be vigilant in combatting the potential of foodborne illness within their own walls! Here are a few ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness in your restaurant:
1. Enforce hygiene in the workplace
Create strict policies and enforce programs to reduce the risk of contamination by your employees. Install hand sink units in several areas when possible, focusing on locations where food handling occurs most often. Because raw meat, seafood, and poultry carry higher risks for contamination, ensure that staff know to wash their hands after using these ingredients, as cross-contamination can spread germs. Additionally, remind staff to not dry their hands on their aprons but rather use a paper towel or, ideally, a hand dryer, which not only minimizes risk for cross-contamination, but is also a more environmentally-friendly option.
On a similar note, demand that your staff practice personal hygiene and cleanliness. Ensure that staff know proper procedure for covering wounds, avoiding unsanitary habits (such as reusing dirty uniforms, which can harbor dangerous bacteria), and reporting any illness they may have.
2. Use separate equipment
Rather than using the same preparation tools for all food items, choose to utilize separate cutting boards, utensils, and containers for different foods to lower the risk of cross-contamination. Keep in mind that porous surfaces (like tile grout) can harbor bacteria easily, so high-risk foods such as poultry, raw meats, and seafoods should be sliced on a polyethylene board.
Something that might help is investing in color-coded boards, handles, or utensils for labeling purposes. For instance, a red cutting board would only be used for red meat, and a green bowl would only be used for vegetables. If your kitchen doesn’t support separate workstations or does not have space for multiple sets of equipment, you may choose to prepare different food items in separate time blocks. Use whichever method is easily remembered by your staff and can be integrated safely into the workplace, whether it be color-coded items, separate workstations, or preparation timeframes.
While this rule may be the most explanatory, it cannot be stressed enough. Simply rinsing utensils will not remove harmful bacteria; Items must be sanitized with antibacterial soap and hot water before being used with different foods – especially if you choose not to invest in separate preparation utensils!
Another important tip: Ditch the sponges! If you are using sponges to clean dishes and supplies, make today your last. Sponges might actually be the dirtiest thing in your kitchen, as they only harbor germs and bacteria. Afterall, they were made for absorption. Instead of sponges, opt for clean dish rags, brushes (that can also be washed), or mild steel wool.
4. Record and Keep Track
Spoiled food items can pose a huge health risk to your customers. Be sure to utilize your back-of-house systems and procedures to keep track of which food items were purchased and when. In addition, strictly enforce procedures aimed at rotating inventory for freshness.
While it is not known exactly how many foodborne illnesses are contracted from food purchased at restaurants, it goes without saying that you don’t want to contribute! The safety of your customers is a primary concern, and reducing the risk of foodborne illness is your responsibility. Practicing safe, sanitary food preparation is key to minimizing foodborne illness in your restaurant.
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