Four Food Safety Fails: What Not to do in Food Service Settings

I recently had the privilege of accepting the 2017 Fellows Award from the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP). The annual award recognizes IAFP members who have contributed to the association and its affiliates over an extended period of time. As a food microbiologist with more than 20 years of industrial R&D experience, I’ve learned a thing or two about food safety, and have a passion for sharing best practices to help businesses reduce risks. Here, I’m sharing a list of food safety fails that every food service operation should avoid:

  • Ignoring TACT: Biofilms are communities of microorganisms that quickly adhere to and contaminate surfaces, and then spread. Kitchen surfaces, drains and mop buckets can easily promote biofilm growth. To control biofilms, pay attention to time, action, chemical and temperature (TACT). Generally, it’s recommended to expose a biofilm to a cleaning chemical for a longer period of time, so don’t rush your cleaning. In most cases, more mechanical action during cleaning will remove a biofilm more easily.  However, excessive mechanical action can inadvertently spread the biofilm’s organisms to other surfaces. With chemicals, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get the best result. Finally, higher temperatures usually result in greater biofilm removal.  However, when temperatures are too high, you can degrade the chemicals with which you are cleaning. 

  • Using the wrong chemicals: Disinfecting destroys or irreversibly inactivates all infectious fungi and bacteria, but does not kill spores on hard or inanimate surfaces. Sanitizers are not meant to kill all microorganisms, but rather reduce the number of microorganisms to a safe level. Sanitizers have a lower level of antimicrobial efficacy than disinfectants, and they are safe for use on food surfaces. In general, any surface that comes in contact with food needs to be sanitized. An exception to the use of sanitizers is concern that a surface may be contaminated with a virus, such as Norovirus. In this case, surfaces should be cleaned, rinsed, disinfected with a disinfectant that is registered with the EPA as effective against the specific virus of concern, rinsed once more and then sanitized as normal.

  • Overlooking the role of technology: Today, technology exists that can drastically improve insight into food service operations, allowing businesses to be more proactive about food safety issues. For example, digital HACCP/food safety management systems give employees access to checklists and provide reports on activities. Temperature monitoring systems use sensors to gauge the temperature of food during storage and send email and text alerts to managers to signal deviations and enable quick corrections. Cloud-based ware washing platforms track dishwasher data to not only ensure hygiene compliance but also attain the highest possible operational performance.

  • Slacking on training: According to the World Health Organization, more than 200 diseases are spread through food, and 1 in 10 people get a foodborne illness each year. Because of the risks, and the fact that food-related industries experience high turnover, businesses must be on top of their training efforts. Conduct training when new employees are hired, following a close call or food safety incident, and as a refresher for all employees on a regular basis. This will ensure consistent and continuous food safety. 

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