The most important thing to remember on the job is that what you do is important. This may sound simple, but it is true! Your adherence to food safety practices contributes to the success of your establishment and the safety of your customers.
We recently interviewed two health inspectors, Irene Mackay and Douglas Patrick, to learn about shocking food safety violations that could have easily been avoided if food workers had been more aware of simple food safety practices. Here are four of the violations they shared with us:
1. Holding Food at Wrong Temperatures
Can you imagine eating from a salad bar where the shrimp has been sitting out at room temperature for hours? Imagine taking a bite of one of the shrimp and it’s not only warm and mushy, but it tastes like it has spoiled.
This is the kind of situation that Irene Mackay, a health inspector in Texas, regularly comes across during inspections. Often, workers will set out food onto a buffet or salad bar and think it is good to go until the pan is gone. This isn’t true! Food can easily become unsafe when held at improper temperatures.
Solution: Have someone check temperatures at regular intervals, depending on the situation, maybe even just once an hour is sufficient. Keep a record of these temperatures. This makes it easy to identify when a food is too close to the temperature danger zone, and the situation can be corrected.
“Anytime anyone has a problem, I say, ‘Okay, think of a solution. If you just present a problem, you’re just complaining.’” says Mackay.
To avoid wasting food, Mackay suggests using two containers of shrimp and keeping one on the buffet table and one in the refrigerator. Then when the one on the buffet table gets close to the temperature danger zone, you can switch it with the one in the refrigerator. This simple practice can not only avoid foodborne illness outbreaks, but also decrease product loss and increase profits.
2. Cleaning Food Contact Surfaces Improperly
Any surface that can come into contact with food can potentially contaminate it. Douglas Patrick, an Environmental Health Specialist in Texas, has seen food contact surfaces that come out of the dishwasher with food debris still stuck to them. Can you imagine getting a plate of delicious food and, when you’re done, noticing there was old food caked onto the plate? Not only is that disgusting, but it’s dangerous too.
Solution: Clean regularly and thoroughly. Food managers must make sure workers understand the importance of cleaning, in addition to knowing how to properly clean. It’s also important to remember that all food workers have an important job.
“Although dishwashers have what is perceived as the ‘less desirable job’ it is actually an incredibly important one,” states Patrick.
Every food worker must realize that they play an essential part in protecting customers from getting sick.
3. Forgetting to Clean Ice Machines
Imagine concluding an audit with an inspector. Everything has gone great; the inspector is very impressed with your establishment. Right before the inspector leaves, she asks to look inside your ice machine. You both go over to it and look inside. You see a thick cover of slime growing on the inside of the machine, right above where the fresh ice cubes come out.
Mackay describes this as a common experience during inspections, “Everything is perfect, and I’ll get to the ice machine and it’s contaminated.”
Unfortunately, this happens way more than it should. Ice machines are one of those things that a lot of people don’t think of as a food safety risk. But actually, the FDA defines ice as ‘food’ because it is common for customers to put it in their drink or food. It’s very easy for people to get sick from ice that has been contaminated.
Solution: The good news is that ice machines don’t need too much attention to stay clean. Clean them at least a few times a year, or whenever you notice they’re getting dirty. Make sure to remove all the ice before you clean and sanitize the machine. Some machines may have a ‘clean’ or ‘wash’ button so they can clean themselves. Make sure to throw out the first batch of ice made after cleaning! Above all, read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to maintain your machine.
4. Allowing for Pest Infestations
Picture walking into a restaurant; everything looks clean and you’re excited to eat there. But, as you glance into the kitchen, you see a cockroach run across the floor. If you see cockroaches in plain sight, chances are there are a lot of them and they are contaminating your food.
Douglas Patrick was inspecting a food establishment when he found a cornmeal batter with twelve roaches inside of it! Of course, customers were eating foods made with that batter and they had a very likely chance of getting sick.“If you let it go, it’s a huge undertaking,” says Doug.
“I opened up the refrigerator and there were probably thirty or more roaches on the meat inside and they just scattered.”
Solution: Clean your establishment daily! Prevention is much easier than dealing with an infestation. Remember to clean hard-to-reach places where pests like to live. Keep records of when areas were cleaned so they don’t get overlooked. Along with that, make sure to keep track of how old food is so it can be thrown away before it will attract pests. If you start to notice signs of pests, contact a licensed pest control operator to find a solution before it becomes too dangerous.
These are real situations that inspectors come across often. But they do have simple solutions. In food service, there are no short cuts to serving safe food. More often than not—it is the little daily things that keep your food safe and your customers happy. These food safety violations would have been easy to avoid if the workers had done the simple daily tasks needed to keep their establishment clean and safe.
As always, feel free to check out our trainings that cover this information and more. Use these tips to maintain a clean establishment that inspectors would love to come see!