September 10, 2012 |

Primer for Food Safety

By Katie Ayoub

There’s nothing sexy about food safety. But running a professional kitchen with proper food-safety protocols in place is the most important aspect of an operation. Not only can a poor health inspection be costly through fines, it can also devastate the restaurant’s reputation. And with a branding of unsafe practices, an operation has a difficult, some would say impossible, task of regaining a community’s trust and business.

So, here then, is a primer on food safety.

Getting Ready for Inspection

  • Be ready for an examination at any time. To do this, managers should conduct weekly internal inspections. Follow the protocols that health inspectors use, looking at areas both outside the premises and in.
  • Share the results of the inspection with kitchen staff. Those weekly meetings allow the operation to stay on top of any infractions and also keep safety issues top-of-mind with employees. Crucial areas that require vigilance from kitchen staff are food temperature, awareness of food types to avoid cross contamination and hand washing.
  • Operators must follow municipal regulations on certification. They should ensure that some, if not all, staff attend food-safety training programs and become certified.

How to Handle the Inspection

  • Managers should never refuse an inspection — no matter how inconvenient the timing. If an inspector has to return with a warrant, the inspection will most likely be a lot more thorough.
  • A staff member should accompany the inspector and take notes on areas inspected and violations found. This illustrates camaraderie to the inspector, and allows an on-the-spot fix of smaller infractions.
  • Once the inspection is over, the restaurant employee should ask for the results to be shared with the rest of the staff, so improvements can begin immediately.

What to Do If Cited

  • Small problems should be fixed during the inspection to illustrate good faith.
  • If violations cited need clarifying, staff should respectfully ask the inspector to explain his/her findings.
  • If the operator disagrees with the findings, he/she should appeal the decision through the local health department — disagreeing with the inspector on site is not a good idea.

Food-Safety Training

Many training programs are available, both online and in classrooms. ServSafe is a food-safety program that is widely recognized by local, state and federal health departments, and is administered by the National Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation. Programs such as these award food-safety certification, and are crucial to any operation. Material covered in these courses include:

  • Food-safety hazards, including contaminants, allergens and foodborne illness.
  • Flow-of-food hazards that covers issues such as cross-contamination; time and temperature control; safe receiving; food storage; preparation and serving; and cooling and reheating.
  • Sanitation, including personal hygiene and how food handlers can contaminate foods.
  • Pest control, including identifying pests and using and storing pesticides.

Many operators only certify upper-level management. But food-safety practices are so important, others certify all members of the kitchen staff.

7 Principles of HACCP

  • Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points is a preventive government protocol. A strict adherence to the principles of HACCP ensures safe food-handling practices. For more information, go to the USDA’s site,
  • Hazard Analysis. Hazards are identified as biological, such as a microbe; chemical, such as a toxin; or physical, such as ground glass or metal fragments.
  • Critical control point identification. Points are markers in a food’s production — from its raw state through processing and shipping to consumption.
  • Establishment of critical limits. Preventive measures are set up with critical limits for each control point, such as minimum cooking temperature and time needed to eliminate harmful microbes.
  • Monitoring procedures. Critical control points need to be monitored. For instance, protocols need to be set in place for how long and by whom cooking time and temperature is monitored.
  • Corrective actions. When monitoring shows that a critical limit has not been met, there should be corrective actions in place to deal with the issue.
  • Record Keeping. Establish procedures to ensure that the system is functioning correctly.
  • Verification procedures. Document your HACCP system with spot-on record keeping, such as records of hazards and their control methods.