I read an article about hot recruitment taking place within fast food and casual dining segments due to high annual job turnover rates of over 100%! That means every staff member has been working at your fave eating away from home spot for less than a year. While the “I just started here” used to be a common ploy by wait staff to elicit sympathy from customers (been there, done that) it could back fire with SafeFood customers thinking about potential for mistakes. Those who eat out a lot might begin to wonder why someone is always new –a reverse of “it’s not you (or the restaurant), it’s me”, and begin to dine elsewhere. Working when most others play is perhaps a big part of the turnover recipe but another ingredient is that food away from home is an ever expanding market. Think about all the places where quick or casual foods are served. The C-Store biz is getting into foodservice in a big way too. The article by Leslie Patton for Bloomberg News mentioned high stakes recruiting for experienced managers and staff – in some states (those without living wage policies) hourly rates for line staff are over $9 an hour. True, hard to support a family on that but currently above minimum wage with lots of opportunities to advance. And certainly a good return for the high schooler saving for prom (or a car, or college, or entertainment). Let’s hope part of the experience quotient includes attention to food safety; with all the newbies each year, there is a lot of potential for mistakes that could lead to a food borne illness outbreak. Experienced managers should have the skills to communicate best safe food handling practices to their staff in a way that the information is understood and acted upon, monitor workers are walking the talk, and take action when they don’t.
Those in charge of places where food is prepared and served to others know the challenge in getting everyone to “walk the talk”. Former students frequently lament the difficulty in getting team members on board – they know what to do but obviously can’t do it all so they have to work through others. Welcome to the world of management! Policies and procedures may be in place – but don’t get practiced. On the job peer training is pretty common and while there are many good aspects of this approach, it can mean new hires get the “low down” on how we really do things here, never mind that pesky manual. So, what is a manager to do? Some try to monitor compliance through use of technology (and for some things this works, such as handwashing monitors). Others go old school with MBWA (management by walking around) with hope of correcting improper practices before there is an outbreak on their watch. Ideally, a combination of all of these practices (standard operating procedures, aka SOP, peer influences, and good leadership) contribute to a culture of food safety. The role of peers, the work tribe, is critical. While diversity is touted for its many benefits, there aren’t many alternate ways to ensure safety of food that is prepared and served to others. The organization’s employment tribe should include only those who accept that the way we do things here is the way things should be done. Safe food handling practices are not very complicated – it really is a matter of common sense, and a willingness to take the time to follow. A free webinar on Food Safety Culture will be offered Wednesday March 8th courtesy of FoodHandler as part of their SafeBites®webinar series. Food safety expert and former member of the Iowa State University Food Safety Project Team Dr. Jeannie Sneed will present.
A few weeks ago my colleague Rachel blogged about a study of the food safety practices followed (or not) by TV chefs. In that study, compliance with Food Code recommendations was seen at a rate of about 30%. I thought of that as I watched the movie Burnt this weekend. This is a show about a celebrity chef launching a comeback; Bradley Cooper stars (ok, I buried the lead!). There are wonderful scenes of food preparation showcasing the art of the culinary world. Every ingredient is beautiful – free of any blemishes and very colorful. Rightly so, as the chef calls for PERFECTION with ingredients arranged just so on the plates. Nothing less than PERFECTION is accepted. The plates for the unsuspecting guests indeed looked beautiful – unsuspecting diners because not ONCE was there any showing of handwashing or glove use (much needed when a common tasting technique is using a finger as a dipping spoon!). Nope, the rule seems to be Bare Hand Contact Only rather than NO Bare Hand Contact with foods ready to eat. Further, there were scenes with the chefs taking a smoking break on the dock (by the dumpster) in their culinary garb (yep, the same coat or apron worn) and earrings and unrestrained hair (including Mr. Cooper’s beard). Sanitation practices aside, the amount of up close and personal with the food involved lots of hunching over the counter and cross reaching of garnishes to perfect the plate – I felt my back ache just watching this! Are ergonomics not part of culinary schools? Or time-motion economy practices? Some celebrity chefs have written about the physical toll the work takes on them. If this movie depicts the real world, then no wonder! After watching this movie (and there have been a few others) I can appreciate the art part of culinary arts, but am convinced some scientific applications to the work place could result in a win-win. Consider this an appeal to those bringing the chef experience to us couch potatoes – can we include some sanitation please?
My sister told me how one of her co-workers was very upset when her son’s school shut down his entrepreneurial food sales to classmates and Mom had to go bail him out. Apparently, there is mention that this is a no-no in the Student Handbook, which all students are expected to read and sign a statement to that effect. So, what is wrong with this? Is this a case of school administrators stifling the entrepreneurial spirit of a student? Or is school administration protecting students? With food, issues pertain to product ID and known source, handling practices, temperature controls, and protection from contamination. In this case, the snacks were unwrapped candies the wannabe entrepreneur had repacked into zip lock baggies. While the original source was legit and buyers assumed the packaged item indeed was candy (based on seller’s word as there were no labels), inquiring minds might wonder what exactly was in the package and how and where the candy was transferred. No worries about temp controls as a shelf stable food, but was there any chance the food could have become contaminated, intentionally or unintentionally? What about food allergens? Not to mention district Wellness policies and whether the snacks met the Smart Snacks guidelines from USDA. It is good to see entrepreneurism flourish, but like so many great ideas, the devil is in the details. Hopefully, the budding salesman learned doing his homework would have been instructional. Maybe there is a lesson here for everyone to be mindful of what foods we purchase and the source!
It’s here – it’s here! Or it will be on Sunday – that’s right the big food-beer-football-something gate fest (aka the Super Bowl) kicks off. I was in Houston over the holiday break and prep plans were in full swing. Restaurants and bars were hiring for extra help and a beautification scheme was underway. Once teams were determined, party givers ramped into warp speed creating fan based snacks for their crowds. Or maybe you aren’t a football fan but tune in for the commercials. Regardless of motivation, here are a few tips to be sure no one is ill on Monday – at least not ill from the food! Consider these game strategies:
Offensive Play: Informally set the rules of the game by staging the wishbone offense with where and how of food and drink service spread out. Keep a work zone with uncooked foods separate from those ready to eat. A beverage station positioned away from the food will avoid blindside tackles. Rollout a staging area (think of it as your locker room) for plating food onto service ware. Have a designated area for guests to place soiled dish and glass ware (consider disposables if a large crowd). Getting the traffic patterns established early in the game will be your first down!
Play the clock: Each quarter, refresh serving dishes – this keeps snacks looking attractive and avoids time temperature abuse. So, rather than setting out at beginning of party ALL the guacamole that has been made, break it into four batches and bring it on at the start of each quarter. You may miss a few minutes of the game but not the commercials!
Hold the line: Plan on a defense strategy from contamination. There is always that guy (or girl) who doesn’t follow basic hygiene social norms – such as the double dipper. Provide guidance (and defend others) with having serving utensils prominently displayed (and a few in “secondary position” close by in case they get dropped or that guy/gal also uses it as a tasting tool).
A new USDA report making headlines found the most frequently appearing item in grocery baskets was – wait for it – pop (yeah, that is the Midwest coming through, you may know it as soda or soft drinks). Maybe not a big surprise but the article led with finding this was the most frequent item when purchases were made with food stamps as part of the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). But, let’s go beyond the headlines – sweetened beverages were the second most frequent appearing item in grocery baskets paid for with cash or credit (non-SNAP participants). Data was from monthly reports shared by one national grocery chain so there is possibility that shoppers at that store don’t mirror the population. Plus, the complexity of the data (there were 26 million households involved!) makes it difficult to analyze. The full report explains the methods used if up for some light reading! Questions of how tax dollars should be spent aside, perhaps the bigger headline is that all Americans are buying (and presumably consuming) too much pop. On the upside, it is certainly a shelf stable item – don’t think any outbreaks traced back to soda. But in terms of contributing to general health, and ability to ward off infections (food or other) healthier choices in the shopping cart might be better!
Media was full of trends articles at the New Year – I am just a little late to the topic! My colleague Marlene Geiger blogged about some trends just last week on Answer Line – but we aren’t the only ones. At that makes sense as in our nation of foodies, food was part of many identified “new things”. Interest in veggies continues with increases in these as center of plate features or coupled with cheese boards. A new item on the market is a plant based burger that bleeds, just like meat. Because of interest in food waste, new food items from previously unused byproducts are being developed; whey is one ingredient in some new menu items such as a probiotic drink or vegan mayonnaise from leftover liquid after cooking of chickpeas. Canned fish (think old school tuna fish) is making way for tinned fish – apparently specialty fish items like imported white tuna belly in olive oil are available in trendy bars and restaurants. Mobile food trucks are so “last year” with “pop up restaurants” now taking center stage. Sandwiches and wraps are yielding to the bowl – partly driven by gluten free rage and low carb diets. The bowl lends itself to multiple cuisines as well. Eggs and other typical breakfast foods are now anytime anywhere – McDonalds opened the door with all day breakfasts – but now egg pot pie may catch on. Classic French Cuisine apparently is on the rise with new restaurants featuring old guard French dishes. But even the concept of a restaurant is changing with food delivery apps, home cooked meal kits, online delivery, and home chefs to name a few of recent restaurant innovations. Food entrepreneurship itself is trending! Some of these trends are offshoots of existing practices. A closed loop, 360° systems of food production have been part of sustainable food mantras for years. For instance, byproducts are already used in the food cycle – like orange peels from the making of orange juice used as part of cattle rations. Recognition of the value of these practices among all stakeholders helps close the communication loop. I am sure there are other trends in the making. This should be an interesting year with compliance dates for new food regs and a new political administration. SafeFood in 2017!
With winter weather translating to an uptick in large screen TV sales and more watching – our team wondered about what folks were seeing. Nutrition and Wellness Specialist Rachel Wall wrote the following for the recent edition of WOW – Words on Wellness. Some food for thought!
Flip to your favorite cooking show and you may observe the chef licking their fingers or even cutting vegetables on the same surface as raw meat. Cooking shows are fun to watch – but do they demonstrate safe food handling practices? A recent study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests there is room for improvement.
The study involved a panel of state regulators and food practitioners completing a 19-question survey, which measured safe food practices, use of utensils and gloves, protection from contamination, and time and temperature control. The panel completed the survey while watching ten popular cooking shows. Lead author Dr. Nancy L. Cohen stated, “The majority of practices rated were out of compliance or conformance with recommendations in at least 70% of episodes and food safety practices were mentioned in only three episodes.”
A number of safe food handling behaviors were not being done by TV chefs that could lead to a foodborne illness and make someone sick. Areas for improvement include wearing clean clothing, using a hair restraint, handling raw food safely, and washing hands. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are leading sources of foodborne illness in the United States, yet less than 10% of the shows demonstrated proper washing of produce. Don’t be a “TV chef” at home, always make sure you’re following safe food handling practices. For food safety tips, visit http://www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsafety.
A common theme in many 2016 articles appearing in consumer oriented publications, such as New York Times and The Economist, as well as scientific journals, such as Journal of Child Nutrition and Management, was that of wasted food. It IS an issue with many contributing factors. Sometimes there is food wasted on the plate (over service or service of unpopular items) or food in the storeroom or fridge is tossed due to date marking on package (because of concerns regarding safety). The National Resource Defense Council has reported 9 out of 10 shoppers are confused over the different labels; “sell by”, “best by”, and “use by” terms do NOT mean the same thing! But because of the confusion, it is estimated households toss over $1,500 worth of perfectly edible food each year.
The USDA is hoping to alleviate some of this confusion by suggesting manufacturers only use the “best if used by” stamp. The idea is this phrase will communicate to the food seller an estimate of the product’s freshest quality peak. This is NOT the same as an expiration date nor is it a date that will tell if the product is unsafe. Steady controls of proper storage temperatures and other handling practices affect quality and safety of foods. Characteristics or nature of the food ingredients and composition also come into play – some simply have a longer shelf life, even if stored at same temperatures. For example, generally shell eggs will stay fresher longer than milk. Packaging materials also affect product quality. Recent research has shown clear plastic milk containers will negatively affect taste of milk more so than opaque containers – something with exposure to lighting. But flavor is a quality aspect, not a safety issue. The expiration dates are confusing and intended to provide guidance. We all know that milk doesn’t become unsafe one minute into the day after the expiration date! The USDA hope is that this new date labeling guidance will save consumers money (Yea!) and reduce the amount of unnecessary food waste (waste not want not!).
As we start the New Year being mindful of how we treat our food will help our health and protect our food investment. Whose household wouldn’t want an extra $1,500 over the year?
The word culture gets used a lot! Sometimes it describes characteristics of those who hail from a certain place, attributes of a certain location, or the climate of a certain organization. A culture reflects the core values and beliefs of the entity. At Texas A&M University graduation last Friday for my nephew (Yea Trent!) and LOTS of others (seven colleges were part of this one ceremony and there were two others that same day!), the Aggie culture and the institution’s core values was woven into speeches and presentation of candidates for graduation. At the end, graduates sang the school fight song and with the “sawing of horns off line dance” done by all. During the ceremony (give me a break – it was a long ceremony and we were not the only ones entertained by our phones!) my sister entertained me with a Facebook website of actual photos taken at WalMart stores around the country – a different type of culture! This all reminded me of the power of a SafeFood culture in places where food is prepared and served – your home, high school concession stand, or a restaurant. What actions does the person in charge take or what resources do they provide to ensure there is attention to important safe food handling steps? For instance, do employees in all restaurants get sick days? Some people will show up for work even when they shouldn’t because they need the money. Does food safety just get lip service – or is it a case of not walking the talk? I remember working as a teen-ager at a foodservice place (years ago) and being told in response to my question about cleaning something between use “we don’t do that – we don’t have time”. Good news though, maybe because of the whole Chipotle mess last year, there is increasing recognition of the importance of food safety culture. We have done some work at Iowa State on this issue and found it isn’t that difficult to ensure a SafeFood climate. If you want to know more, check out a webinar on March 8th , 2017. My friend, former Iowa Stater, and well recognized retail food safety expert, Dr Jeannie Sneed, will be giving a webinar on this topic courtesy of Food Handler as part of their SafeBites®webinar series.