Memorial Day – the official start of summer. It is also a day to reflect on those who have passed away; many of whom did so in service for our country. I am thankful to these brave men and women who have protected our way of life here in the USA. Because of them, we can enjoy Memorial Day picnics.
It occurred to me that there are many within the military who work diligently every day within the foodservice system to ensure nutritious and safe meals are served to our soldiers. No easy task given war zone conditions. Thanks to you for your efforts. The ISU Food Safety Project works with others in ISU Extension on activities for military families; but we would also like to provide assistance to soldiers and support staff in the field. Please contact me as to how we can help – what types of educational materials or safe food handling resources can help you continue your efforts. We are ready to serve!.
I recently attended a conference about food safety education. Educators, researchers, government agency representatives, and consultants with interest in the topic gathered to share new information and learn from each other. Talk about preaching to the choir! These people get it.
It is ironic when groups of these conference attendees eat out and see how sometimes the message isn’t getting to the right people – usually those working front lines in retail foodservices. Managers and other administrators get it; but often time pressures or the hectic nature don’t allow those working in the trenches to practice (assuming they know the right thing to do). So what is the answer?
I propose the “work smarter not harder” approach. In one of our observational studies, we saw that restaurant workers should wash their hands about 28 times per hour (based on what Food Code dictates as handwashing occasions). Food Code requires a 20-second handwash period – so do the math (28 x 20 seconds is 560 seconds in a 3600 hour – which is 15% or about 10 minutes in each hour). That is a lot of time spent away from production.
Line workers can adopt the chef’s approach of mise en place – which is all about planning and organization. Think about tasks to do when hands are dirty – just cleared a table, then take direct to the dish room or bus station, take out trash, handle money etc. If hands are clean, then stay with the task and get someone else to open the refrigerator door or restock new ingredients that are needed. Think separation – between clean and dirty; raw and cooked. Work smarter, not harder!
Have you ever debated returning an improperly prepared food item to a restaurant kitchen – hesitating because of fear a staff member will express their frustration by spitting on your food or the like?
There are bad stories out there about people working in retail foodservices who probably don’t have the customer service gene in their DNA. Face it, actual physical and technical skills can be taught – like how to serve and clear, refill beverages, or knife skills. Training that will result in changed attitudes is difficult. Incentives (such as tips) might work to a certain degree but I don’t think are the answer. A fundamental desire to help others is needed by staff in service industries, including restaurants and hotels. Matching the person’s Knowledge Skills and Attitudes/Attributes to the right job is the crux of human resources management. How do you know whether a prospective employee in the service field has the right stuff? Many HR offices in the corporate world employ actual tests during the interview process – some very openly, such as personality tests or some that are more discrete, like how many drinks, if any, are ordered at a meal, and which meal).
For a line level position, maybe it isn’t worth the cost to administer a standardized test, but there are some clues that surface about a person’s emotional intelligence and people skills – a manager has to be alert to these. Does the interviewee have a genuine smile? Do they make eye contact? What is their sincerity level? Can they sense if someone needs help – and do they feel inclined to offer it? Hiring the right person for the right job can save headaches – for managers and customers, and avoid having a toxic personality as part of the team. Keep the service in the service industry!
As we close out Food Safety Month, it seems a good time to reflect upon the safety policies we expect retail foodservice employees to follow.
We have all seen the signs in the restroom: Employees must wash their hands before returning to work. There is even a “standardized recipe for the process. Although this is a clear employee hygiene policy I would bet many of you have seen a foodservice worker saunter out of the restroom without washing their hands or only doing the “splash and dash”. WDUD – what is a person to do? Most people may say gross, and then choose not to return to that establishment. The more assertive person might say, Dude, wash your hands – but while the message may be given, not clear it is received.
What is it going to take to get the message across? Some research reports employees even admit they don’t wash their hands! I take it on faith that most retail food workers understand why the policies are in place and make every effort to follow. I also understand, having experienced it my self back in the day, that being busy in a restaurant is an understatement for the kinetic energy being generated. What I don’t get are the situations where there is clearly a “failure to communicate” – for instance, no one has told anyone the soap dispenser needs replacing. What I also don’t get is why more peer pressure is not used.
Please retail food worker, think of yourself and your customers. Most restaurants depend on repeat customers. If there is not a customer coming through the door, there is not a business – and if there is not a business, you don’t have a job.
Challenge a co-worker you see not following SafeFood policies. The policies are not torture imposed by bureaucrats just to make your life miserable – they are put there for the reason of keeping people healthy. My faith is in you!
A well-known axiom in the real-estate world is location. A comparable axiom for foodservice operators is known source of food served to customers. September is Food Safety Month and the experts tell us that food from unsafe sources is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness. Restaurants, schools, and other licensed foodservice MUST purchase food from approved suppliers. Generally, that means the supplier has the licenses needed and have undergone required inspections. A few products (such as most fresh, whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables) don’t require any oversight as the content of the food doesn’t allow for rapid bacterial growth.
Most of these regulations are in place to prevent back street sales of products from unidentified (and possibly unsafe sources). Foods sold through approved channels are monitored. Packaged foods will indicate the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor, ingredients used, and nutritional information. They won’t tell you source of all ingredients used, which was an issue with the pet food outbreak a few years back and a factor to consider when purchasing imported foods (very few of these are inspected in the U.S.) Those who sell food need to be able to identify at least one link back in the food chain, which will allow for trace-back should there be an investigation.
Many people like to buy food direct from a local farmer – this is part of the “food with a face” movement. One friend asked, “Well, I have my doctor and my dry cleaner, so why not my farmer?”
The food supply in this country is pretty safe. Yes, there are a high number of illnesses each year but many are preventable. Do what you can to prevent becoming sick by buying food from known sources, reading available labels, and following directions for preparation.
Last time, I talked about appearances of those working in food operations. Today I want to add to the conversation and note a few observations from the customer perspective. These deal with linens used in retail foodservices – aprons and cleaning cloths.
One thing that really bugs me is when I see food workers (and I have seen this at all types of food operations) use the restroom without taking off their work aprons! Just the other day, when entering the restroom of a large, national grocery chain, I saw a sign posted on the door that reminded all employees to remove their work aprons or smocks before entering the restroom. (There were hooks conveniently located). I had a warm, fuzzy feeling and thought – this place is doing things right. But then, the bubble burst as a staff member followed me into the restroom with her smock on, and she kept it on!
Another thing you have seen sometime or somewhere – an employee wiping tables after guests have finished their meals. At a food court of a large mall the other day, I noticed someone wiping down the tables using a spray bottle and a cloth towel. What I didn’t see was any rinsing of the towel in between the many tables. So, what is the big deal? Food is on trays or wrapped in paper – we aren’t eating off the table. That is true, we don’t eat off the tables directly, but do our hands touch the table, and then our food? Does the plastic fork touch the table, and then our food? Does a loose French fry get scattered to the table? Etc., etc., etc. This is called cross contamination and it is a leading cause of foodborne illness. The same thing happens with the aprons in the restrooms, or packages of food containers on food preparation surfaces, or gloves touching money and then your food.
Something to think about? Help cross out cross contamination.