While many factors go into a restaurant food safety program, avoiding time-temperature abuse along the supply chain is critical. Raw ingredients and pre-cooked foods must be safely transported, received, stored, prepared, cooked or reheated, held and served at temperatures that vary by the type of food and its tendency toward spoilage. A variety of equipment, labeling systems and temperature-measurement technology is available to ensure food safety.
Pairing combi ovens & blast chillers
Cook-chill production methods have proven to be a safe, effective and labor-saving way to provide wholesome, high-quality meals. By purchasing both a combi oven and a blast chiller for your operation, you get an efficient cook-chill-reheat system that maximizes food safety.
Electrolux and Alto-Shaam head a short list of vendors that offer both pieces of equipment. Each company provides pans, transport racks, holding cabinets and an integrated system designed to rapidly chill, hold and reheat cooked food. The system delivers up to five days of refrigerated shelf life, plus the safe reheating of bulk foods or plated meals, without multiple handling. Although the initial cost is high, this multi-function equipment assures safe handling of food by even unskilled staff. However, smaller operators with limited kitchen space and budget might find that the traditional kettle cooking/water bath system can be more cost-effective.
Food Safety Education
The National Restaurant Association Education Foundation (NRAEF) has been in the forefront in developing food safety education and certification programs for the industry. In April, 2006, the NRAEF introduced the Fourth Edition of their ServSafe Coursebook, supported by an online training course and testing. It includes food code updates, a new employee training section, expanded HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) content and “real-world” case scenarios. September is National Food safety Month—the ideal time to get staff up to speed with the latest ServSafe program.
Inventory control & labeling systems: Proper rotation of inventory is also critical to food safety, food quality and, ultimately, customer satisfaction. Several manufacturers offer color-coded, pre-printed labels and handy dispensers that make it easy for employees to label and date packages and containers of ingredients, prepared foods, cook-chill products and leftovers. Suppliers such as Daydots (above) and DayMark Safety Systems have expanded their offerings to include labels designed to dissolve in water, time-temperature freshness indicators and a host of safety-related products and employee training materials. Color coding permits non-English speakers to use the materials without a problem, too.
Combating cross contamination: Avoiding cross contamination of work surfaces and equipment is another cornerstone of safe food handling. Color-coding cutting boards, knife and utensil handles, storage products and cleaning supplies by food group (green for vegetables, yellow for poultry, red for meats, etc.) is an effective way to prevent transfer of pathogens between high-risk foods. Manufacturers including Dexter-Russell, Vollrath and Rubbermaid offer many such products. The scoop-hook system from Rubbermaid (above) allows the measuring scoop to be stored inside the storage bin to protect ingredients from cross-contamination. The product meets stringent National Sanitation Foundation certification.
Not your father’s thermometer: Sophisticated sensors and data logging hardware accurately measure time and temperature and meet HACCP requirements. Digital thermocouples and thermistors with different probes—immersion (for liquids), surface (food or cooking), air and penetration—monitor everything from prep tables to walk-ins. A metallic probe is the least expensive, but an infrared thermometer ($100) can take a food’s temperature without touching and possibly contaminating it. Cooper-Atkins offers HACCP data loggers (above) that record temperature readings and print out or upload results to your PC. This technology costs several hundred dollars, but it’s mistake-proof and efficient.