Foodborne Illness: It CAN Happen to You.

Foodborne Illness: It CAN Happen to You.

This year, there have been numerous, widespread, serious foodborne illness outbreaks. Many in the food service industry think it won’t happen to them. But it could happen to anyone—and it could ruin a reputation.

Chipotle prides itself on “food with integrity,” but the restaurant chain had multiple reports of foodborne illness outbreaks this year; Norovirus and Salmonella several months ago, and now E.coli in restaurants across nine states. Tainted celery caused an E.coli outbreak at retail chain Costco. Hardee’s had a Hepatitis A outbreak that exposed thousands. Just over a year ago, exclusive Mohonk Mountain House Resort had a Norovirus outbreak that made hundreds of visitors ill. These incidents potentially cost companies millions of dollars in litigation, settlements, plummeting stocks, and lost sales. Not to mention, it takes significant time, money, and energy to re-build the brand after the negative fallout. Some organizations—like ChiChis—never recover from a foodborne illness outbreak. All of the abovementioned companies have implemented corporate policies and procedures to protect against foodborne illness, yet something still went wrong. The risk is real for every company serving food. Here is how to avoid it from happening:

Get your team formally trained in a Certified Food Manager course. This reiterates the importance of the critical rules and regulations that you learned when you began in the food service business. Sometimes, a busy day or being short-staffed distracts employees from following the basic rules. A “refresher” course is a helpful reminder of the fundamentals.

Train your employees using a Food Handlers program. Provide your team with basic, but critical, food safety knowledge. The more educated your team, the safer and more profitable your organization.

If you have refrigerators in guestrooms, monitor the temperatures daily. Keep temperature logs. Guests expect the units to be working appropriately—so ensure they do.

Wash your fresh fruit and wrap it in plastic. If you offer whole fruit in bowls at your front desk or buffet, this protects the produce from guests’ potentially dirty hands as they select their fruit.

Take extra precautions at buffets. Assign team members to monitor these areas constantly for food safety (e.g., correct temps, no cross contamination) and food defense (e.g., customers potentially tainting items).

Conduct self-inspections. This enables you to catch small issues before they become big problems. For example, if you receive a delivery that wasn’t stored properly, you can take corrective action to avoid spoilage issues, cross-contamination, or cross-contact.

Use temperature logs. This helps you spot temperature issues before they become a cost factor or liability issue. By utilizing temperature logs, you can take corrective action prior to having to waste product, therefore decreasing food cost and increasing profit margins. This allows you to find temperature issues prior to the health inspector writing them up as code violations but, most importantly, it’s a proactive means to keeping your patrons healthy.

Hire an agency to conduct third-party audits. Often, bringing in an objective third party will boost your profits and increase your health inspection scores. Another set of eyes from the “outside” will see things from a different perspective, which can be invaluable. They can review key elements that the health inspector will assess, and point out possible infractions. Hire someone reputable, who knows the business and genuinely cares about your outcome.

Utilize single-use gloves properly. Single-use gloves are a protective barrier between your hands and the food you serve. If your gloves become contaminated, they’re useless. Prior to putting on the gloves, wash your hands properly with warm water 100⁰F and soap, then dry them thoroughly on a single-use towel. Never blow into the gloves or roll them to make them easier to put on—these practices cause contamination. Change gloves when they become dirty or torn, when changing tasks, and after interruptions, such as taking a phone call.