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Handle with care

Marrying" bottles of condiments has been the bane of servers since the beginning of time... well, at least since the beginning of sidework. But as a customer, I hate getting the overfilled ketchup bottle that requires a deftly inserted knife to start the flow. So I'm pleased when a restaurant serves condiments in wide-mouthed jars with a lid and spoon. That is until I had lunch at a local brewpub last week.

Over the shoulder of my dining companion I watched a young woman remove the lid and dip her french fries directly into the ketchup container. I couldn't believe my eyes. I quickly looked at the ketchup on my half-eaten burger and my imagination took off with my appetite.

A week later, I had brunch at a famous San Francisco restaurant, known for serving baskets of fresh popovers. Reaching for a second popover, I uncovered evidence that the popovers and the linen lining the basket had obviously been used before. We consoled ourselves by rationalizing that the two popovers we had eaten were on top and therefore hadn't been on someone else's table.

Recycling has become part of our culture, and the urge to avoid waste is natural, especially when keeping food cost in mind. But we must be vigilant about food safety and sanitation when training our front of the house employees as well as our kitchen staff. Clean hands are required, and employees are aware that they need to wash after using the restroom. But how often have you seen an employee cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze, then immediately pick up a plate of food? Whether it's replenishing bread baskets, picking up glassware and utensils, or touching food, opportunities abound for cross contamination.

The public's awareness of food safety is increasing as demonstrated recently when 1,036 restaurants were sued after their names appeared on the LA Department of Heath's web site for minor infractions of county health codes. Although the lawsuits were eventually dismissed, no doubt their reputations have been damaged.

To avoid this type of bad publicity, and maintain a safe and sanitary restaurant, train all employees to follow these guidelines:

  • Wash hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your face or hair while working
  • Use gloves, tongs or tissue paper to handle any food
  • Pick up glassware by the stem or handle
  • Hold plates by the bottom or very outside edge
  • Touch flatware by the handles only
  • Discard any bread or rolls that have been placed on a table
  • Don't recycle open condiments, sauces or butter
  • Scoop ice with metal or plastic scoop
  • Replace linens used to line baskets after each customer

We've put these guidelines in a checklist for distribution at a pre-shift briefing. Post a copy in several places for a quick reminder. Check with your local health department for additional guidelines, and review your food handling and recycling policies with all of your employees.

See also:
Safety first
The culinary underbelly
When the mercury rises 

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