Tuesday, May 9, 2017

11 Tips to Accommodate Food-Allergic Guests

Published on We Are Chefs by Francine L. Shaw  |  May 3, 2017

A hot and important trend in foodservice is accommodating food-allergic guests. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), it’s estimated that an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies.

This dish is beautiful but could be deadly for a guest with a food allergy.

The foods responsible for 90% of all allergic responses are known as The Big 8: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, wheat, fish, and shellfish. For this reason, food allergy training is slowly being implemented across the U.S., which is a positive thing for food-allergic customers, as well as the restaurants that serve them. Emphasize to your staff that if a food-allergic guest ingests even a trace amount of their food allergen, it can trigger a reaction, and in severe cases, even death.
Here’s some advice to make your restaurant safer for food-allergic guests:

Eggs are considered one
of The Big 8 food allergens.

Here’s some advice to make your restaurant safer for food-allergic guests:

• Communication with guests and staff is critical. Train your front-of-house staff to ask every guest about food allergies and clearly communicate the food allergy to the manager and chef. Kitchen staff should be in constant communication during cooking, plating and serving to prevent cross-contact.

• Create a separate workspace in the kitchen to prepare allergen-free/gluten-free meals. Make certain all work surfaces and equipment are properly cleaned and sanitized.

• Store common food allergens in a separate area of the kitchen.

• Utilize color-coded allergy tools to reduce the risk of cross-contact. Purple is the universal color for allergen-free kitchen utensils. Keep these tools clean, covered and stored away from flours, nuts and other common allergens.

Rubbermaid® Commercial Products’ (RCP) Color-Coded Foodservice
System earned the ACF Seal of Approval.

• Use separate fryers for foods that are common allergens.

• Provide accurate information by directing food-allergic guests’ questions to the manager or the head chef. Front-of-house staff should never guess about ingredients or preparation of a dish — this can be a matter of life and death.

• Be aware of multiple and complex allergies. Your team may have mastered cooking and serving a dairy-free or gluten-free meal, but they should also be able to expertly handle multiple and unusual allergies.

• Serve allergen-free/gluten-free meals on different-shaped or different-colored plates so they can be easily identified by servers and guests.

• Educate your entire staff about allergen “aliases” — for instance, whey and casein are dairy products, and semolina contains gluten.

• Modify dishes for food-allergic guests using different sauces, sides or other components to accommodate their special dietary restrictions.

• Train your team on food allergy protocols. There are numerous online classes, webinars, videos and live classes that can assist you with this endeavor.

In 2015, 16-year-old Scott Johnson died after eating two pancakes at a Minnesota diner. Allegedly, staff members confirmed that the flapjacks were dairy-free, and the cook even agreed to clean the grill before making them. There was a mistake somewhere in the diner’s protocol, and the teen accidentally ate dairy in his meal. Shortly after consuming the pancakes, Scott went into anaphylactic shock and died three days later.

Scott Johnson’s death shows why it is imperative that your staff know what ingredients are used in each menu item. One of the most important elements of proper food safety protocol is avoiding cross-contact, a relatively new term, in which proteins from foods containing an allergen are transferred to foods not containing that allergen. Make certain that your staff understands what cross-contact means and how to prevent it.

An example of cross-contact is chopping peanuts on a cutting board and then chopping salad greens on the same board. A peanut-allergic guest can have a reaction from eating the greens that came into contact with the peanuts during prep. Thermometers are also a common source of cross-contact because they are frequently inserted from one food item into another without being properly sanitized. I strongly recommend color-coded thermometers (and other equipment, as well) to designate allergy-friendly tools.

Many people also believe using hand sanitizer is an effective way to manage food allergens. This is not accurate. Experts have proven that antibacterial gels are not effective in removing food proteins. Changing gloves and washing hands with soap and water are two effective methods to eliminate allergen exposure.

It is vital that everyone on your team understands how to properly handle an order for guests with food allergies and intolerances. Consumers are increasingly seeking out establishments where they can dine worry-free, many of them driving an hour or more to eat safely. These establishments will earn brand loyalty increase profitability by catering to these diners.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Not All Business Trips Go According to Plan

By Francine L. Shaw
Those of you that follow me know that I do a significant amount of travel. There are weeks that my business requires me to make four or five flights to meet with clients, give presentations, etc. I have become quite adept at getting from point A to point B, but even with experience, there can be challenges. How we choose to deal with those trials reflects how we deal with life in general (in my opinion) and, in turn, will determine our success in whatever we set out to accomplish.
Just a few days ago, I left my office for a trip to give a presentation. On my way to the airport, I received a notification that there was a flight delay.  I thought that’s not a problem, it’s to be expected this time of year with seasonal thunderstorms. A bit later, I got another notification that the flight is back on schedule – sometimes pilots make up a bit of time in flight. Great news! When I got to my gate, the flight was delayed again.  Now, this just makes me laugh – when stuff happens that’s beyond your control, there’s nothing you can do but embrace it. Several people are quite upset, even though the delay was only about 30 minutes, not several hours. We boarded the plane and made the three-hour flight without issue until we landed. Multiple flights landed within minutes of each other, and there was a shortage of flight bridges (or staff to operate them). We waited another 30 minutes. Everyone wanted to get off the plane, and the passengers were getting angrier by the second.  As time went on, passengers began to assume they wouldn’t have to wait for their luggage since it was taking so long to deplane. I guess they thought the passengers on the other planes didn’t have any luggage? Since 10 flights landed at the same time, all the luggage needed to be unloaded at the same time. We waited again. Don’t misunderstand me, I wasn’t jumping for joy about the string of annoyances, but I recognized that yelling and screaming at customer service or other passengers was not going to accomplish anything. We waited 40 minutes for our luggage, then. went out to the rental car shuttle.
At this point, it was after 10:00 p.m. I was expecting to be at my destination by 8:00 p.m. Every rental car shuttle was arriving except for the one where I had a reservation.  I stood with about 60 other people – and the crowd was growing. Honest to heaven, we waited so long (nearly an hour) and the crowd was getting so large that someone from the airport came out to ask which shuttle we needed. I don’t need to tell you, frustration was mounting. Many of these people had experienced delayed flights, long waits on the tarmac, an extreme wait for luggage, change in time zones, it was late in the evening and now there was no shuttle.  It’s no surprise that the mood was not great.
Finally, in the distance, we could see the shuttle! And…it was not a large bus it was a small van – “Oh no, this mob of people is never going to fit in that van! It’s going to be survival of the fittest,” I thought. I decide I would wait for the next van, I was not going to get in the middle of that chaos – I didn’t care how tired I was. The van stopped, all but in front of me. I was still planning to wait it out when a gentleman motioned me to go ahead and get on – what a kind man. As I stepped up, the driver took my luggage and the person in front of me. He set two bags directly in my path so I had to stop. That’s when I felt something hit me HARD in my calf, my leg buckled and I nearly fell over – thank heaven for all the luggage that was around me to hold me up. I turned around to see a large hardcover suitcase (apparently filled with rocks) had been hurled at me by a 6’2”, 250-pound man behind me. Apparently, he didn’t want to carry it up the steps.  I don’t know, but in any event, it hurt like hell. I could feel my leg swelling immediately and I truly wanted to strangle him. He apologized for hitting me and we moved on.
I finally arrived at the rental car location, hobbled in with my sore leg, and my luggage in tow and proceeded to get my car. I was to drop the car off at 4 a.m. two days later so I could make my early flight home. The clerk informed me that the shuttle doesn’t start running until 4:30 a.m. but there is a drop box for the car keys. I inquired as to how I might get to the airport at 4:00 a.m. His response, “I guess you’ll have to walk.” Did he really just say that? Customer service was lacking at this location. I wanted to inflict the physical pain I was feeling on him. Instead, I replied, “I’ll figure it out. Thanks for your help.” I went outside where I got my rental car and instead of giving me the printed receipt, he e-mailed it. Finally, I could head to the hotel and get a few hours’ sleep. I pulled up to the gate handed the gentleman inside my driver’s license – he asked for my receipt. I explained that it was e-mailed, and I didn’t receive a printed copy, he then replies – “I guess you’ll have to go back and get one.” (I couldn’t pull it up on e-mail because it was sent to my assistant.) Was this day ever going to end? I was exhausted, my leg was killing me, and everyone was being less than tolerable. “I don’t think so,” I replied. “I am NOT going anywhere. You can pick up the phone and call him if you like but I am not turning around.” So, he called his manager. Another wait.
I got to my hotel around 1:00 a.m., starving and drained both emotionally and physically.  I examined my leg, it was swollen, horribly bruised and the top layer of skin was ripped off (the next day I was speaking for several hours, wearing 3-inch heels).  Nothing a bag of M&M wouldn’t fix.
The trip home was another adventure. I’ll save it for another time. My point is, at many points during this excursion, I certainly could have gone the route of many others and yelled, screamed, and cussed at the less-than-helpful customer service agents. I am a top-level frequent flier, I’m a top level rental car customer, and the same goes at multiple hotel chains, but what does that matter and what does it solve. When an individual does that, the corporation doesn’t look bad. The person yelling and swearing does. They look like fools. Was it the customer service agent’s fault our flight was delayed? Was it the airline attendant’s fault that there was not a bridge available the moment we landed? Was it their fault we had to wait for our luggage? No, is the answer to every one of these questions. Yet it is these customer service representatives who were being yelled at and belittled in front of crowds of people.  Getting angry and abusive doesn’t solve any of the annoying travel problems – it only causes more anger and hatred.
To those who think that business travelers live a life of glitter and glitz…we do get to visit more destinations than the average person and we do (usually) have a good time in our travels, but it’s not always what you envision. To those who travel as I do, if you’ve never worked in the service industry, be patient with these folks – they’re people too. They are out there trying to earn a living just like you and me. Put yourself in their shoes.  Is any of this going to matter six months from now? Probably not. Take a deep breath, it will all be over soon – and it could be worse, at least you’re alive to complain about it.
To the gentleman that hit me with his massive suitcase, I hope you arrived home safely and got a good night’s sleep. I recommend getting your blood pressure checked, and maybe you should try meditation (or medication.  Or both).
I think I should write a book based on my last 10 years of travel experiences, there have been some doozies.
Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including consulting, food safety training, food safety inspections, norovirus policies for employees, norovirus clean-up procedures, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more. The Food Safety Training Solutions team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, casinos, and convenience stores. The company has helped numerous clients, including Paradies Lagardère, McDonald’s, Subway, Marriott, Domino’s, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America, Dairy Queen, and Omni Hotel and Resorts, prevent foodborne illnesses. Additionally, they work with restaurants of all sizes, schools, medical facilities, convenience stores, hotels, and casinos.  Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, iHeartRadio, Food Safety News, and Food Management Magazine.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Many Lucky They Didn’t Get Foodborne Illness After Eating at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago

By Francine L. Shaw, President
Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.

It seems Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate could be serving more than its guests’ favorite meals. According to recent Florida Food Service Inspection Reports, inspectors found 13 violations at Donald Trump’s private Palm Beach club. This is a record for a food service establishment that charges $200,000 in initiation fees. One would assume the club could afford to keep the equipment operational, hot water for handwashing, and to purchase their products from approved suppliers – maybe they were, but without proper documentation who knows. Three of Mar-a-Lago’s violations were cited as “high priority”, meaning they could contribute directly to a foodborne illness or injury. That’s significant anywhere but is especially concerning at the “Southern White House,” which is regularly serving food to the President of the United States, as well as important international dignitaries.
Storing refrigerated food in broken down coolers in an obvious violation. Inspectors found that, in two of the 6 Diamond Award-winning establishment’s restaurants, raw meats were being held at concerning temperatures – well above the recommended 41°F – making them potentially dangerous to consume. The chicken was being held at 49°F, duck temped at 50°F, raw beef at 50°F, octopus 50°F, and the big kahuna? Ham at 57°F. A multitude of illnesses can result from storing these products at unsafe temperatures, which can easily cause bacteria levels to multiply. The higher the temperature, the faster the bacteria grows to unsafe levels, thus increasing the odds of causing a foodborne illness outbreak.
Fish designed to be served raw or undercooked had not undergone proper parasite destruction, per the inspection report. Was this fish purchased from an approved supplier? If so, where were the parasite destruction tags that reputable suppliers should supply?  Eating sashimi, sushi, or ceviche here certainly has the potential to lead to a foodborne illness, based on these food safety inspection results. Getting anisakiasis, a parasite disease contracted from consuming infected seafood which is eaten raw or marinated, does not sound like my idea of a good time. If infected, removal of this parasite may require surgery. Japanese leader Shinzo Abe dined at Mar-a-Lago with President Trump earlier this year; with sushi being a Japanese staple, the Prime Minister is lucky he didn’t become ill.
To make matters worse, food products are being stored on rusted shelving in coolers in Mar-a-Lago’s restaurants, which is also a food safety violation. Our President is a man that reportedly has marble columns, walls and floors, 24K gold accents i.e. platters, lamps, vases and crown molding in his Manhattan penthouse, yet, his exclusive Mar-a-Lago resort can’t afford higher standards than rusted shelving?
Many people don’t think of ice as a food, but it is. Ice machines can be one of the most ignored pieces of equipment in a restaurant. Storing an ice machine outside in the elements, as Mar-a-Lago was found to be doing, exposes the ice to a plethora of contamination, and when the ice is transferred to beverages, the drinks become contaminated, as well.   No, alcohol will not kill these bacteria as many assume.  Consuming beverages with contaminated ice can cause guests to become very ill.
According to the inspection report, Mar-a-Lago restaurants lacked hot water for handwashing, which is a very concerning violation.  Hot water for handwashing is a necessity in any kitchen. If employees can’t/don’t wash their hands effectively, the risk of disease increases immeasurably.  Improper handwashing is proven to lead to illnesses including Hepatitis A, E.coli, Norovirus, Nontyphdal Salmonella, Salmonella Typhi, Shigella – all highly contagious and potentially life-threatening.
Another violation was a lack of hair restraints in Mar-a-Lago kitchens.  It is required that hair restraints be worn in a working kitchen for multiple reasons. Many people carry Staphylococcal aureus, this can be transferred when individuals touch their hair, face or body. Not to mention the potential contamination – and the embarrassment! – if a strand of hair falls into Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pan-seared Dover sole fish while he is dining at the “Mar-a-Lago Winter White House”.
The White House in Washington, DC, has had many incredible executive chefs who are properly trained and qualified to prepare food for visiting dignitaries. I am quite certain the temperatures, cleanliness, and quality of the equipment in the “real” White House are far superior to that of Mar-a-Lago, based on what I have read in the recent Florida Food Service Inspection Reports. I suggest we avoid the possible mortification of making foreign dignitaries ill and schedule future meetings at the actual White House, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue. What an embarrassment we would be to the world if there was a foodborne illness at Mar-a-Lago while President Trump was hosting an international gathering, and based on these inspections – it’s entirely possible.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

15 Ways to Build a Safer Kitchen

Paying attention to kitchen design can prevent dangerous and costly food safety issues.


by Francine L. Shaw

Designing full-service kitchens is becoming more complicated than ever. It’s important to consider appearance, functionality, and employee and food safety—it takes an army to accomplish this. From start to finish, kitchen design is a collaboration of architects, engineers, designers, food and beverage design firms, chefs, owner, operators, and food safety consultants.
From design concept until opening day, many ideas are considered, and each player brings their own point-of-view to the project. When I look at a kitchen design, for instance, my focus is on potential cross-contamination and cross-contact situations. I also assess whether equipment and building materials may be too difficult to clean, which could lead to higher risk of foodborne illness. A designer may look at that same kitchen and realize that the size isn’t right or the configuration is wrong. Something as simple as choosing the wrong floor tile can mean a higher number of employee injuries, and installing too few hand sinks means that the kitchen won’t meet health department regulations. These are issues you don’t want to face during your final inspection or after the restaurant is up and running. Hiring a knowledgeable, experienced team to design and install your commercial kitchen is important regardless of what size kitchen you are creating.

Commercial kitchens have become much more diverse than they used to be, and with that comes more chaos and risk. Chefs and their teams have to be concerned about issues that once weren’t as prevalent, such as food allergies. It’s estimated that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 1 in every 13 children under the age of 18, and this number is growing. Severe allergies are responsible for more than 200,000 emergency room visits per year, according to the CDC, and food allergies can be fatal. An estimated 1 in 133 Americans have celiac disease, and another 1 million have gluten sensitivities, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

In addition to food allergies and food intolerances, foodborne illnesses are always a concern in restaurants. The CDC estimates that each year, roughly 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die—that’s 1 in 6 Americans. Kitchen design can play an important part in increasing or decreasing your level of risk.
Here are some ways you can plan, design, and build a safer kitchen:

1) Plan the flow. The flow of your prep area should make sense for efficiency, as well as food safety. This will save time, money, and reduce risk. For instance, when your servers take food to your guests, they should never have to walk through the dirty dish area, which increases food safety risks.

2)  Ensure that your hot water tanks hold a sufficient amount of hot water. If they don’t hold enough to get you through your busiest rush period of washing and sanitizing dishes, you either need to get a booster or a larger hot water tank.

3) Purchase equipment that’s easy to clean, with minimal nooks and crannies.

4) Consider even the smallest details, like the amount of tile grout you use. The less tile grout, the lower the risk of chipping. Chipping and cracks or holes in walls and floors equal bacteria growth. Your best bet is to use a non-porous material that doesn’t allow bacteria to grow.

5) Ensure that your floors have drains so they can be deep cleaned regularly.

6) Make certain areas that are impossible to reach for cleaning are sealed tightly. It is impossible for anyone to clean a ¼-inch gap between a wall and a counter space that the contractor neglected to close. This will eventually become an insect or rodent haven, which is obviously a food safety hazard.
7) Consider the placement of your sinks. Kitchen sinks must never be in an area where there’s potential for contaminated water to splash on consumables, clean dishes, or anything else that needs to remain clean. In tight areas, a barrier may need to be installed between the sink and a prep area.

8) Install multiple sinks for washing dishes, produce, poultry, hand washing, and so on.

9) Designate certain equipment and prep space for allergen-free and gluten- free cooking to safely accommodate your guests with food allergies and intolerances.

10) Purchase or make your own allergy kits, complete with color-coded chopping boards and pans and utensils, which are kept clean, covered, and stored away from flours and other potential allergens. Purple is widely used and recognized to designate allergy-friendly equipment.

11) Designate an allergy-friendly fryer, which isn’t used for any common allergens, including breaded products, fish or shellfish, or foods containing nuts.
12) Wash and sanitize allergy equipment and surfaces between each use.

13) Design separate storage space for common food allergens, such as flours and nuts, to avoid cross-contact with allergy-friendly foods.

14) Design space in your food allergy area to hold different-shaped or different-colored plates, and use these dishes to serve allergy-friendly meals.

15) Ensure that your ventilation systems don’t spread flour dust, nut particles, or other allergens throughout the facility, which could contaminate virtually everything. Also, once your kitchen opens, be sure that all flours, nuts, and other common allergens remain covered to prevent cross-contact.

It’s important for restaurants to make a commitment to becoming allergy friendly and to getting it right. Having a list of dishes with allergens on your website or menu doesn't make your establishment allergen friendly. It’s important to prepare your kitchen to safely accommodate all guests, and that starts with design.

Being properly equipped to serve food-allergic guests can mean an easy increase in sales. Individuals who have food allergies are willing to travel to restaurants that they know are allergy friendly, and will become fiercely loyal to the restaurants that can expertly accommodate them. For a relatively small investment in kitchen design and training, the increased profits can easily offset the initial costs and save someone’s life. In many areas of the U.S., food allergen training is becoming mandatory. In fact, in 2012, the Department of Justice ruled that food allergies constitute a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so ensure that you’re properly set up to accommodate food-allergic guests.

After your kitchen has been designed and is deemed to be food safety ready and allergen friendly, take the time to thoroughly train your team; otherwise, all of this time, energy, and expense will have been wasted.

When planning and designing a commercial kitchen, it’s critical to consider the big picture elements, such as kitchen flow, placement of equipment, designating a special allergy-friendly area, as well as the tiniest details, including reducing the amount of grout, sealing small areas to prevent insect and rodent infestations. Create a team of experts with relevant and diverse experience, as each different perspective will be valuable in creating a safe and successful space.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Day in the Life of an Inspector: Is that a dead goat?

By Francine L. Shaw

I’ve been in the food service industry all of my life. As a child, I remember spending the warm summer days sitting on the front porch of my Grandma’s country store – a convenience store of yesteryear – in Harrisonville, PA.
When I was a few years older, my parents owned a small grocery store in a nearby town. I can recall wiping the shelving as I helped restock product. As a teenager, I began my first “real job” as fry girl in a fast food restaurant, which eventually led to me becoming an operating partner.
These jobs – along with some common sense and ongoing education – taught me the ins and outs of the industry. While I was in my own environment, running my own restaurant, I thought the rest of the world operated as I did, meaning – they followed the rules. Upon moving on to the next phase of my career I found out that, sadly, that’s not true….
I eventually became a health inspector, which meant I had access to hundreds of restaurant kitchens. My assumption that everyone operated as I did came to an abrupt end one day as I entered a restaurant kitchen just after they had finished slaughtering a goat – yes a goat. In a restaurant kitchen.
At first, I wasn’t certain what type of creature it was because when I opened the freezer door, all I saw were several small hooved legs strewn about the freezer floor. I immediately shut the door and opened it again, as if I was seeing a mirage. Out of the corner of my eye, I observed a box lined with a trash bag, with another hoof sticking out of the bag. So very carefully I opened the bag and found the remains of several goats. And that was a horrific sight that I couldn’t un-see.
Another time, I was inspecting one of my favorite full-service restaurants. With its marble floors, white linens, and great food, I’d been a longtime fan of this establishment. I was actually looking forward to visiting their kitchen because I loved the place and truly enjoyed their food.
But when I visited, I witnessed a disgusting scene. There were too many violations to list. There were numerous temperature violations and mystery meat in five-gallon chemical buckets (!!!) in the walk-in cooler. The cooks were picking crab meat off the leftovers from the guests’ plates to make crab imperial and cream of crab soup – two of my favorite dishes – to serve to other diners! The chilled forks were being cooled directly on three inches of contaminated ice build-up in a dilapidated old freezer.
As I stood, engaged in a heated discussion with the owner about these infractions, a cockroach wandered across the stainless-steel countertop between us. The owner simply smashed it with his hand and knocked it onto the floor. Oddly enough, the owner of this establishment didn’t think that his facility had serious safety violation issues. Not only did I write up these many violations, I haven’t eaten there since. The violations were appalling, and the foodborne illness risks at the facility were monumental.
While inspecting a different full-service restaurant, I was standing in the kitchen when I observed a chef take off a pair of single-use gloves only to expose another pair underneath – a definite food safety violation! When I questioned him, he explained that the sink was “too far away to keep running over there to wash my hands”. I was stunned. As it turned out, he was wearing five pairs of single use gloves simultaneously. On another visit to this establishment, I witnessed another chef washing his hands while wearing single-use gloves, rather than removing them, washing his hands and putting on a clean pair. The potential cross-contamination and cross-contact issues that both of these situations created were numerous. I am certain this “method” wasn’t taught in culinary school. Their instructors would be mortified.
On several occasions, I was called in to conduct inspections because people had seen cockroaches in restaurants. Cockroaches like warm, moist, dark environments. The first place I look is in a piece of refrigeration equipment. I’ll remove a panel and look at the fins that cover the coils….BAM! As soon as light hits the filthy little insects, they scatter and I know there’s an infestation. Not my favorite part of the day. I once was involved in a consulting project for a company that had been closed by the health department due to a cockroach infestation. We had to do some heavy fumigating. The infestation was so bad that as the cockroaches started to die, they were coming out of the drop ceiling and landing on our heads. Thank heavens for hoodies! I’d put that experience in the top five worst days I’ve had on the job (along with the day I saw the slaughtered goat!).
Insurance companies will sometimes hire us to conduct food safety inspections on their restaurant clients. During one of these inspections, I found several pallets of refrigerated product sitting right outside of a walk-in cooler – not 3 feet away from the cooler door. The product was well over the recommended temperature (41⁰F) for cold food.
It was the end of summer, incredibly hot and all of the warehouse doors were open, which let in more heat and humidity. When I questioned the supervisor on duty about the food that was being spoiled in the hot warehouse, he explained to me that it was lunchtime and all of the workers had left, but they would put the food away as soon as they returned from their break. It would have taken seconds to pull this pallet of food in the cooler with a forklift! I couldn’t understand why they’d drop the food so close to the cooler, without taking the (very minimal) extra effort to put it inside.
During another inspection, I found a tuna sandwich in a retail display case that was 80⁰F. When I explained to a person on duty that this was not acceptable – the tuna would quickly spoil at that temperature – and what the potential ramifications could be, the response I received was, “Well it’s only one sandwich!” I told her that one sandwich could potentially make someone sick or kill them if they ate it. So, it’s OK if you only kill one person today?
I could continue with numerous other examples, but the point I want to make is this: if you are in any way responsible for someone else’s food, you are responsible for their life and that should be taken seriously. One life (and one rotten tuna sandwich) or thousands of lives (as they eat food from pallets that have been sitting out for hours in a steaming hot warehouse) is irrelevant…ask anyone who’s lost a loved one due to a foodborne illness. And, it doesn’t matter if you’re working in a convenience store or a fine dining restaurant – you have human lives in your hands. Be responsible and follow proper food safety protocol.

Food Allergy Training Is Slowly Being Mandated Across The U.S.

By Susan Algeo, MPH, CP-FS, Director of Project Management

As I’m sure most of you know, we have seen an increase in food allergies in the United States over the past two decades. The science and theories about why that is happening is a topic for another day. However, the rise in food allergies has had a major impact on restaurants and food service establishments. As we see an increase in food allergies, we need to see an increase in food allergy training. This is happening, slowly, in food service across the country. Over the past few years, more allergy training courses and certifications have been developed, and regulations for training and notifications have been put into place. But more needs to be done to educate and train food service employees around safely and successfully accommodating food allergies.

Susan Algeo, MPH, CP-FS, Director of Project Management at Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.

Let’s review some basic food allergy statistics. Approximately 15 million people in the United States have food allergies, including 9 million adults and 6 million children. The 8 most common allergies – including milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts – make up 90% of American’s food allergies. Keep in mind, though, there are many other foods that people may be allergic to. In fact, there are over 160 foods that have been identified as an allergen, including some spices. The CDC has found that between 1997 – 2007 there was an 18% increase in allergy rates in children. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include itching, swelling, stomach cramps, vomiting, dizziness, and even death. It is important that food employees get proper training to protect their customers from illness and, potentially, death. Along with concerns about proper procedures for food allergens, we must also protect customers with food intolerances and sensitivities and those with Celiac Disease.

Food service employees need to understand the risks associated with food allergies and ways they can prevent allergic reactions from happening to their customers. Proper training is required to learn about the allergens, how to avoid cross-contact, the importance of labeling, and how to engage in open communication with the customers. With all the things that are happening in a kitchen, food allergy concerns can take a back seat. When front-of-house and back-of-house employees work together, customers can be served safely and it could very well save their lives.

Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCP) in 2004 which applies to labeling foods regulated by the FDA. But labels can only do so much to protect customers that are being served in restaurants and other food service establishments. That is why more ongoing training is necessary for all food service employees.

As of right now, there are five states, and a few counties and cities, across the country that have some type of mandated allergen training for food service. Just as it took for time for food safety manager certification to become standard across the country, so will mandated food allergen training. Massachusetts led the way with passing the Act Relative to Food Allergy Awareness in Restaurants (FAAA) in January 2009. Along with having certified food protection managers take additional allergen training, the law also required allergen awareness posters to be displayed in staff areas and notices on menus for consumers. Rhode Island followed suit, passing a similar law in 2012. Michigan’s regulations came in 2014, requiring the poster and manager training to address food allergies. In 2015, Virginia added allergen training standards to their regulations along with providing food allergy education materials to foodservice employees. Maryland started requiring food allergy awareness posters to be displayed in staff areas in 2016. New York City, NY and St. Paul, MN are two cities that have their own similar allergen awareness requirements. There are more states and jurisdictions that are trying to get regulations passed that will require additional training or some type of customer notification about food allergies.

Although we have seen an increase in food allergy rates, the actual number of people with severe food allergies still remain a small minority of customers (about 4% of the adult population). I believe this is the main reason we haven’t seen more states adopt these new laws to protect those customers. It will take much more time for allergen training and customer notifications to be regulated across the country.

Until the laws meet the protection of consumers, we have to take it upon ourselves to protect our food-allergic guests. Continue to train employees on food allergens, make them aware of the risks of cross-contact, and have discussions with customers to explain how dishes are prepared and any potential allergens in the facility. Having regulations for awareness posters displayed and a certified food protection manager knowledgeable about – and trained around – accommodating food allergies is a step in the right direction, however, restaurants need to continue to work to improve the quality of services for their food allergic customers. By all of us working together, regulators, industry, and consumers, we will be able to make the necessary changes to protect anyone with a food allergy.

Susan Algeo is the Director of Project Management at Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., where she facilitates food safety training classes, including ServSafe® and NRFSP®, for numerous corporations nationwide. She’s known for making the lessons – and the subject matter – memorable and engaging. An integral part of the Food Safety Training Solutions team, Susan also provides other food safety services, including consulting and more. As a consultant, she helps operators and their teams improve their standards, procedures, and overall commitment to food safety. Additionally, she conducts third-party inspections of customers’ operations to improve their health inspection results.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Confessions of a health inspector: What is that mystery meat?

As a food safety inspector, I have inspected nursing homes, casinos, fast food, casual and fine dining restaurants, convenience stores, hotels and more. During these visits, I have seen some establishments that are operating as they should be, and other places that I’ve had to shut down due to multiple food safety infractions.

I entered a restaurant not too long ago to find frozen chicken heaped in a pile in the filthy three-bay sink, with dirty dishes and utensils surrounding the frozen raw poultry. To make matters worse, there was a bag of raw onions just to the side of the sink, where some of the raw poultry juices were draining. In the walk-in cooler, raw produce was stored under seafood and poultry, where juices could drip on—and contaminate—the ready-to-eat foods, and mold was growing on the cooler’s walls. Syrup-like strings of contaminated grease residual were hanging from the vents above the grill, occasionally dripping onto product as it was being cooked. The cold food on the restaurant’s buffet was well over the FDA Food Code’s recommended 41⁰F, and the hot food was well under the recommended 135⁰F. I was stunned and horrified by all of the blatant food safety errors happening at this place.

Another time when inspecting a fine dining restaurant, I found numerous temperature violations and mystery meat in five-gallon old chemical buckets in the walk-in cooler. The cooks were picking crabmeat off the leftovers from the guests’ plates to make crab imperial and cream of crab soup to serve to other diners! Much of the shelving in the facility was made of plywood, which can harbor all sorts of bacteria that can contaminate the food. An employee was literally crawling around on the shelving, where the dishware was stored, potentially contaminating the dishes with his hair, unwashed hands, shoes, etc. As I stood engaged in a heated discussion with the owner about these (and many other) infractions, a cockroach wandered across the stainless-steel countertop between us. The owner simply smashed it with his hand and knocked it onto the floor.

To be honest, I see cross-contamination issues, temperature abuse problems and insect infestations on a regular basis. I once caught a manager turning off the hot water heater – necessary to clean and sanitize dishes, equipment and employees’ hands – to save money! The one commonality that establishments with multiple violations have is they lack strong, knowledgeable leadership.

Here are a few helpful tips from Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc. for running a safe and successful commercial kitchen:
Stay current and get your team formally trained in a certified food manager course. This will reiterate the importance of the critical rules and regulations that you learned when you initially began in the foodservice business. Sometimes, a busy day or being short-staffed distracts from following the basic rules, and a refresher course can be a helpful reminder of the fundamentals 
Train your employees using a food handlers program. This will provide your team with basic (but critical) food safety knowledge. The more educated your team, the more profitable your organization. This also helps lessen the risk of food safety violations in your establishment. 
Conduct self-inspections. This will enable you to catch small issues before they become big problems. For example, if you received a delivery and it wasn’t stored properly, this gives you the opportunity to take corrective action, reminding staff of proper protocols. Otherwise, there could be a spoilage issue, a cross-contamination or cross-contact problem or other challenges that may not be noticed until it’s too late. Hold one another accountable. 
Use temperature logs. This is a valuable tool that will assist you with spotting temperature issues before they become a cost factor or liability issue. By utilizing temperature logs, you can take corrective action prior to having to waste product, therefore, decreasing food cost and increasing profit margins. This valuable tool will aid in finding temperature issues before the health inspector writes them up as code violations, but, most importantly it’s a proactive means to keeping your patrons healthy. 
Hire an agency to conduct third-party inspections. Often, bringing in an objective third party will boost your profits and increase your health inspection scores. Another set of eyes from the outside will see things from a different perspective, which can be invaluable. Third-party inspectors can review key elements that the health inspector will be assessing and point out possible infractions. Hire someone reputable, who knows the business and genuinely cares about your outcome.

Implement an active managerial control program. The purpose of active managerial control is to focus on controlling the five most common risk factors for foodborne illness:
- Purchasing food from unsafe sources
- Failing to cook food adequately
- Holding food at incorrect temperatures
- Using contaminated equipment
- Practicing poor personal hygiene

Taste correctly with a clean utensil every time – no double dipping!

Utilize single-use gloves properly. Single-use gloves are a protective barrier between your hands and the food you serve. If your gloves become contaminated, they’re useless. Prior to putting the gloves on, wash your hands properly with warm water 100⁰F (38⁰C) and soap, then dry them thoroughly. Never blow into the gloves or roll them to make them easier to put on - both of these practices will cause contamination. Single-use gloves must be changed as soon as they become dirty or torn when changing tasks, after interruptions (such as taking a phone call), or after handling raw meat, seafood or poultry and before handling ready-to-eat food.

Holding a leadership role in the foodservice industry isn’t an easy job. It involves long hours, high stress and significant responsibility. Sometimes you work for many days straight without a day off, but you still need to be a positive role model for your staff. Leaders should model the importance of proper food safety protocols, ensuring that their entire team follows these important rules. By doing so, you’ll improve your business benefits (higher profits, strong customer loyalty) and keep your valued guests safe.

Francine L. Shaw is president of Food Safety Training Solutions Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including consulting, food safety training, food safety inspections, norovirus policies for employees, norovirus clean-up procedures, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more. The Food Safety Training Solutions team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, casinos and convenience stores. The company has helped numerous clients, including Paradies Lagardère, McDonald’s, Subway, Marriott, Domino’s, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America, Dairy Queen and Omni Hotel and Resorts, prevent foodborne illnesses. Additionally, they work with restaurants of all sizes, schools, medical facilities, convenience stores, hotels, and casinos. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, Food Safety News and Food Management Magazine.