Operators rethink food safety approaches

washing hands

A food safety gaffe  the magnitude of Chipotle’s may get the attention of the world. But ensuring day-to-day compliance by employees is what  haunts operators’ waking hours.

In recent months, restaurants and other venues have had to stave off more fears than just E. coli. Mumps, flu and hand-foot-and-mouth disease have reared their germy heads in foodservice. While the factors contributing to outbreaks vary, they shine a light on the constant vigilance needed to keep guests, employees­ and food safe.

Here are three different ways operators from all areas of foodservice are tackling some mundane yet decidedly important food safety hot buttons.

1. Making hand-washing automatic

To ensure staffers are meeting CEO Chris LaRocca’s standard of washing their hands once per hour at locations of Crushed Red Urban Bake & Chop Shop, he installed hand-washing monitoring units next to every hand sink. “When you put your hand under the soap dispenser, it will emit soap, and it will beep,” LaRocca says.

The ethernet-powered units use voice recognition to identify employees when they recite their names and three-digit codes. “It takes about four seconds to record me, and it will display my name on the LED screen and log me into our back office computer as having washed my hands,” says LaRocca. He follows up with employees who don’t meet the quota to improve compliance. “It’s about a $7,500 investment upfront for the equipment. I consider it an insurance policy that I pay on the front end.” 

2. The magic glove approach

With restaurants having beat back glove requirements in California, New York City and other places, one operator is going Michael Jackson with her approach to kitchen gloves. Lisa Lantry—corporate executive chef at Immanuel long-term care communities in Nebraska—teaches her staff the one glove method.

New employees are trained to wear a clean glove on their nondominant hand, leaving their dominant hand free for tasks such as grabbing a pen or other nonfood item. By learning this from the beginning, employees get in the habit of reserving their gloved hand only for handling food. Lantry says her community has had zero deficiencies since adopting the method.

3. Cardboard cutouts

Problems with corrugated cardboard have foodservice operators at hospitals thinking outside the box. They can sop up liquids, dirt and insects from loading docks and other surfaces during transit, leading some hospital certification boards to begin recommending bans on corrugated products.

Christopher McCracken, director of nutrition services for UC San Diego Health system, has directed his staff to debox individual items into large plastic containers—though that solution isn’t without hiccups. “If there’s ever a recall, I don’t know what’s affected because of the serial number,” he says. “Like individual [jars of] peanut butter—they don’t have that information on them.”

There’s also a freshness issue. Eric Eisenberg—corporate executive chef for nutrition, catering, retail and conference services at Seattle’s Swedish Health Services—says he directs staff to rotate old items to the top when refilling plastic boxes, but has no way of knowing if it’s happening. Plus, deboxing requires two resources operators are short on: manpower and space.

“We’re a long way from having a perfect solution,” says Eisenberg. “But I think [deboxing] is going to become a part of peoples’ regular process.”

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