Recommendations for improving food safety in restaurants

         Recommendations for improving food safety in restaurants


(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

Food safety in restaurants is an issue of growing concern. Cases and outbreaks associated with Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7 and Norovirus have alarmed consumers and the restaurant industry.

The food industry has improved the safety of food products supplied to restaurants, but there are still risks, especially in raw foods. Raw meat and poultry, seafood and fresh produce may contain foodborne pathogens. Food preparation procedures and proper cooking help reduce risks, but I believe that more will be required.

I asked an associate, Executive Chef Graham Mitchell, for his recommendations on improving food safety in restaurants. He’s the lead Academic Officer at the Boulder Campus of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.

The first thing he told me is that food safety is already a high priority. It’s the very first item on the agenda for new students on the Escoffier campus and culinary training doesn’t begin until students become American National Standards Institute (ANSI) certified in food safety through ServSafe or an equivalent program. He also said that ServSafe training and certification isn’t enough to assure that the foods served in restaurants are always safe.

“Food safety requires technologies that eliminate or greatly reduce the risks posed by the foods we prepare,” says Mitchell.

These are some of his specific recommendations for controlling foodborne hazards in restaurant kitchens:

1. Sanitation is a basic requirement. This includes the proper cleaning and sanitizing of equipment, the kitchen environment and the personal hygiene of employees. Restaurants should develop Good Manufacturing Practices for employee hygiene, including designated hand washing stations with detailed, step by step instructions for all employees. In addition, comprehensive standard operating procedures for the cleaning and sanitizing of equipment and the kitchen environment should be formalized and taught to employees.

2. The kitchen environment may be continuously sanitized using air treatment systems based on advanced oxidation. This technology uses ultraviolet light to produce low levels of vapor hydrogen peroxide that continuously disinfect the environment. It also controls undesirable odors in restaurant kitchens, garbage areas and restrooms. The advanced oxidation units aren’t expensive and are easily installed and maintained.

3. Supplier raw material specifications and certificates of analysis provide assurance that the foods used in restaurants are produced safely. Emphasis on raw material safety prevents foodborne hazards before they enter the kitchen.

4. The proper refrigeration and frozen storage of food is critical for control of foodborne pathogens. This includes the design of storage facilities to prevent cross contamination as well as maintenance of proper storage temperatures.

5. Raw foods must be absolutely separated from cooked foods. This requires both physical separation and control of employee movements.

6. Validated cooking procedures also play a critical role in restaurant food safety. Meat and poultry products should always be cooked to the temperatures recommended in FDA’s Food Code - Proper cooking eliminates harmful bacteria including Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7 and Campylobacter.

7. Fruits and vegetables that aren’t cooked should also be treated to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria. The potentially deadly strain of E. coli – E. coli O157:H7 is increasingly associated with fresh produce. Lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables can be washed in ozonated water. This will eliminate Salmonella, E. coli and other foodborne pathogens without leaving chemical residues on the food. For delicate fruits like fresh berries, brief microwaving (<30 seconds) will kill mold spores and most surface bacteria.

8. Ice machines can harbor Listeria monocytogenes and other harmful bacteria. Systems are available that continuously decontaminate the water used to make ice and eliminate harmful bacteria and mold spores inside the equipment.

9. A written food safety plan that includes HACCP principles (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) helps provides assurance that every foodborne hazard has been identified and addressed. Again, FDA’s Food Code is a valuable resource for the written food safety plan.

10. The food safety plan should be reevaluated regularly to account for menu, employee and facility changes. Third party audits may be helpful to verify the quality of the written food safety plan and to assure that all requirements are being met. New employees should be trained and existing employees retrained regularly.

These recommendations would certainly reduce the risks of foodborne disease associated with restaurants. The food industry has learned that effective interventions are required to produce safe food. The same lesson applies to restaurants.  

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