Don’t be responsible for a foodborne illness outbreak
Chipotle is in the news again. This time, it’s not another foodborne illness outbreak, but a criminal investigation! The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California with the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations is conducting the investigation, which pertains to a Norovirus outbreak in Simi Valley, CA last summer. Chipotle is currently battling the CDC, FDA, and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Their sales are tumbling, stock is plummeting, and lawsuits have been filed by customers who allegedly became ill from eating their food. This is not a good place to be, and it was all preventable.
According to CBS News, the DOJ opened an investigation into Blue Bell Creameries in December of 2015. The same unit that prosecuted Peanut Corporation of America executives is in charge of the inquiry. The Peanut Corporation of America was the first company in U.S. history to have executives criminally charged and convicted due to a foodborne illness outbreak. Both Stewart and Michael Parnell have been in custody, serving 28 and 20 years in prison, respectively.
You’re probably wondering, “What does this have to do with me and my dessert business?” Quite frankly, these situations are very significant to you and your livelihood. Reputable pastry chefs, bakers, cake artists and chocolatiers use the freshest ingredients possible, giving them a distinct edge over the competition, and making their recipes taste so incredible. Some chefs even boast “organic”, “locally grown”, or “farm fresh” ingredients. While consumers are drawn to these buzz words, not one of them necessarily means safe, though consumers believe they do. Whatever ingredients you use – including locally grown or organic items – you MUST check out your suppliers thoroughly and carefully.
Here’s how to make certain you’re choosing reputable suppliers:
- Make certain your supplier is licensed and inspected by your local regulatory authority.
- Visit the facility to be certain it’s clean and operating effectively.
- Ask for references from current and past clients.
- Request a copy of their HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) Plan.
- Determine whether the facility tests products to make certain they are microbiologically safe. Ask how often they’re running tests. Obtain copies of the results for your records.
- Ask whether they have a food safety training program for their employees and transportation team. (They should!)
- Determine whether the company has implemented a food defense program.
After the products are delivered to your facility, you still have a responsibility to maintain the safety of your products. You must regularly ensure that the food and facilities you use meet all governmental regulations. It’s also crucial to implement food safety programs and protocols.
Here are some tips from Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc. to keep your kitchen safe:
- 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 food service 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.
- 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.
- Keep multiple calibrated thermometers on hand. The easier a thermometer is to find, the more likely your staff is to use them.
- 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 aids in finding temperature issues prior to the health inspector writing 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 audits. 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. They 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, and after interruptions (such as taking a phone call).
- Wash, Rinse, and Sanitize all food contact surface. All three steps are imperative to prevent foodborne illnesses, as well as food allergy reactions.
None of us want to be responsible for a foodborne illness and they are 100 percent preventable! Most foodborne illnesses are the result of carelessness on someone’s part. Don’t let it be yours.
Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including food safety training, food safety auditing, food allergy training, responsible alcohol service training, writing HACCP plans 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 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.