Good Managers + Right Equipment = Food Safety
According to a series of studies by the Environmental Health Specialists Network, part of the Environmental Health Services Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading causes of foodborne illness in our industry are 1. Workers come to work sick; 2. They don’t wash their hands properly; and 3. Managers, especially those certified in food safety training, are not present at every shift. EHS-Net, a federally funded collaboration of federal, state and local environmental health specialists and epidemiologists, conducted the studies over the course of a several years and reported these most recent findings in 2013 with updates last year. Reports can be read at cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/ehsnet/plain_language/.
Having a food-safety-certified kitchen manager on every shift can have a huge impact on workers’ behavior. With an active CKM overseeing operations, employees are less likely to take shortcuts that put food safety at risk. Good managers establish expectations, create the culture and enforce the rules, including washing hands and sending employees home when they’re ill. That second point is not an easy call for a manager who risks being short-staffed. But I’d rather have a customer get mad about slow service than get sick and sue.
In one study, EHS-Net reports that 80% of Norovirus, caused by carriers handling food bare-handed, occurred in restaurants without a CKM; 100% of C. perfringens outbreaks, which result when food is not cooled or reheated safely, occurred in kitchens missing a CKM. Another study found that restaurants with CKMs have safer ground beef practices.
Kitchen equipment plays a huge role in making it easier to follow food-safety best practices, as well. Take a look at the hand sinks in any kitchen you visit. If they’re not equipped with soap and towels, or worse, if they’re piled up with junk and inaccessible— you know nobody’s washing their hands there at all, never mind for the 20 seconds of soapy scrubbing good handwashing really takes.
Walk into the walk-in. Do you see big stockpots cooling on the shelves? Do employees know they should portion batches into shallow pans or use an ice paddle, ice bath or blast chiller to speed cooling? When they reheat foods, do they use a thermocouple to make sure the contents reach 165°F for 15 seconds? Do they even know they need to do that? A good manager will make sure they do.