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Food Safety
career centerfood safety

It is Saturday morning and you are reviewing the cash flow report for the previous week. You are amazed at how well the sales have been. You look like a genius since you hired the kitchen manager for the restaurant. Not only have revenues soared, but costs have declined dramatically. A smile comes across your face because the future looks bright indeed without a cloud in sight. Then, you pick up the morning paper and see the headline: "Restaurants close after E.coli links."

The first paragraph reads: "The owners of a local steak restaurant franchise, linked to a fatal E.coli outbreak, shut down their second location after 56 diners became infected with the bacteria. To date, three patrons have died from E.coli complications."

You begin to wonder just how the kitchen manager has been able to reduce costs so significantly. The newspaper article ends with an emergency hotline number for additional information. You call and ask the state health official answering the phone to educate you about foodborne illnesses, including food poisoning, salmonella, and E.coli.

These are the facts you learned:
Incidents of foodborne illness occur more frequently today than at anytime in our nation's history. Over 250 billion meals are prepared annually. It is estimated that somewhere between 24 to 81 million foodborne illnesses occur each year, resulting in more than 10,000 foodborne-associated deaths with the consequential costs ranging anywhere from $7.7 to $23 billion.

When a person becomes ill after ingesting contaminated food, he/she suffers from a foodborne illness. Biological hazards, including bacteria, viruses, and chemical hazards such as cleaning agents and toxins, as well as physical hazards such as bone, glass, and metal, are all causes of foodborne illnesses. The most common symptoms of foodborne illnesses are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and severe headaches. Due to their inability to fight off infections, infants, the elderly, many pregnant women, and those who are immuno-compromised, are most susceptible to contracting a foodborne illness.

While you are on the phone, the health official sends you, via email, a pie chart, distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (see Table 1). It lists the contributing factors which cause foodborne illnesses, and you gain a better understanding of the overall problem. The latter includes temperature abuse, poor personal hygiene, and cross-contamination.

After hanging up, you immediately pay a visit to your kitchen manager. You begin the conversation by praising the recent financial picture and personally thanking her for a job well done. You go on to tell her about the article regarding an E.coli outbreak and ask her to briefly summarize for you the preventative measures the restaurant is taking to ensure that a foodborne illness does not strike. Without the slightest hesitation, she states that she has three basic foundations for preventing foodborne illness:

1. That all employees practice good personal hygiene;
2. That all employees understand cross-contamination and work to prevent it; and
3. That all employees know how to avoid temperature abuse.
You would have been satisfied with that general explanation but apparently she isn't because she goes on to share with you several specific actions the restaurant is doing.
1. Although the local ordinance only requires that one person per shift be certified in food safety and sanitation, she insists that all employees go through the course and achieve their certification within 30 days of coming to work for the restaurant;
2. The job descriptions for all employees states clearly the expectation that everyone practice good personal hygiene and grooming;
3. Signs in English and Spanish are posted throughout the kitchen reminding employees that prior to beginning work, after using the restroom, or after smoking a cigarette, they must wash their hands thoroughly with hot water and use the sanitizer that is provided;
4. During each shift, one employee is responsible for cleaning and sanitizing the fixtures and door handles throughout the restaurant, including automated faucets and flushing mechanisms newly installed in each bathroom area;
5. To ensure the consistent treatment for rodents and insects, a program has been implemented;
6. All kitchen personnel must wear hats or hairnets;
7. A variety of code-colored cutting boards, each color being designated for a different activity, are now being used by the kitchen staff;
8. Different colored mops are also being utilized to insure that mops being used to clean the bathrooms are not used to clean the kitchen or the dining rooms, and vice-versa;
9. Temperature gauges have been installed on all cooling and heating equipment and are inspected regularly for defaults and shortcomings, and kitchen supervisors have biotherms (hand temperature gauges) to ensure that foods are kept out of the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, temperature charts, logging the routine inspections of the temperatures, are utilized for all heating and cooling equipment, including the dishwasher machines;
10. All employees are trained and tested about proper thawing and cooling, proper cooking techniques, proper reheating, and proper hot-holding;
11. Proper food rotation for inventory and leftovers is ensured by a date-labeling system affixed to all food products being stored;
12. Servers are taught to never touch a guest's glass by or near the rim. They are taught to carry and deliver the glass by the base or near the base;
13. To retrieve ice from the ice machines, servers must use an ice scoop--routinely cleaned--and never their hands or a glass container;
14. A warning, pertaining to certain possible allergic reactions and other elements, has been added to the menu informing customers of the dangers of certain foods or ingredients (see Table 2);
15. A food safety list has been developed and is posted conspicuously throughout the kitchen areas reminding employees about food safety issues (see Table 3); and
16. Finally, proper food handling is emphasized to the entire kitchen staff from day one.

These same employees, being rewarded for lowering food cost, quickly realize that food prepared properly and cautiously simultaneously lowers cost since none is wasted.
Then you take a moment to savor the fact that the future is bright indeed.

Stephen Barth is an attorney and associate professor of law and leadership at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. For more information visit Stephen can be contacted at (713) 963-8800 or via email at [email protected].

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