Imagine waking up to a call from your local health department informing you that scores of guests that attended an event you catered two days ago are reporting that they are sick. Food safety is one of your greatest responsibilities and if you don’t ensure that the correct guidelines are being followed, you can end up like this:
Better get your Burrito Bowl while you can. Chipotle is closing all of its stores for a single day to deal with the fact that its food is giving people E. coli and salmonella. If you can’t live without your extra side of guac, find out when the shutdown is going down so you can prepare.
My colleague Richard Radbil reports from Austin, Texas about some practices he recently witnessed first-hand that could lead to disaster:
The Myth of Gloves and Food Safety
I was at a large hotel that has a cool hamburger outlet with a trailer-like look that opens up to the street. Their menu is simple—burgers, grilled chicken and a few sides. The meats are kept in separate drawers under the flat top and are cooked to order. All of the cooks wear gloves, but,
- I saw a cook grab a thawed and dripping raw chicken breast with his gloved hand. He then wiped his gloved hand on a towel (!) and proceeded to reach for a raw burger that he placed on the grill. This is a classic case of cross-contamination as any bacteria from the chicken were now on the burger. Maybe everyone gets lucky and the bacteria are killed if the burger is cooked properly, but would you take that chance?
- I witnessed another cook flipping a raw chicken breast and then using the same spatula to take a cooked burger off of the grill. Since the chicken breast was only cooked on one side, bacteria could have gone right to the burger, and since the burger was then off the grill, any bacteria could have definitely survived the reduced heat.
- I watched as a cook with gloved hands took an order from a customer since the order-taker was nowhere to be seen. The cook handled money, wiped his gloved hands on a towel and reached into the meat drawer for product.
- At another outlet, I saw a cook open a bag of thawed tenderloin tips, reach into the bag to grab handfuls of meat, and put them on the grill to cook. While the meat was cooking, the worker started assembling bowls of food without changing her gloves.
Recipe for Disaster
I have talked a lot about the perils of micro-management, but food safety is one area where you need to get into your kitchen and see what is going on. While Chipotle--although seriously injured-- will probably survive, you may not. No one is going to want to use the caterer who made everyone sick. The first thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is to become ServSafe Certified. Take the manager course and you will learn:
- The Importance of Food Safety
- Good Personal Hygiene
- Time and Temperature Control
- Preventing Cross-Contamination
- Cleaning and Sanitizing
- Safe Food Preparation
- Receiving and Storing Food
- Methods of Thawing, Cooking, Cooling and Reheating Food
- HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points)
- Food Safety Regulations
Then, make it mandatory for all of your employees to take the employee course. I assure you that no one will ever look at food the same way again after taking this course.
Every business has liability concerns. Accountants could make a mistake that causes IRS problems, the oil change shop could forget to refill a car with fresh oil, and the store that doesn’t shovel snow in front of its entrance could cause someone to slip and fall.
Our potential food safety issues are more intense, however, since we have to be careful about so many different aspects when we handle food. We have to police our vendors, our cooks, our drivers, our clean-up crews and more. One false move on any given day can put us out of business.
Sorry to be so serious this week, but I have personally seen food safety issues ruin more than a few clients. As usual I would be happy to speak to you about this as we at The Corporate Caterer are here to help you avoid serious issues like the ones described above. Contact me anytime, and have a great catering week.