You are here

Do No Harm

Imperial Dade logo
September 20, 2022
Written by John Thomas, Director of Health and Wellness at Imperial Dade
Imperial Dade is the leading North American distributor of foodservice packaging, sanitation supplies, dish machines, and cleaning equipment. We have been serving the restaurant and hospitality marketplace since 1935. Put our experts to work for you!
Do no harm is a basic tenet of medicine.  Although the goal is always to treat disease and alleviate suffering, a physician must always try to protect the patient from any further injury.  Likewise in the food service industry.  Restaurants want to create and deliver enjoyable experiences to their customers.  That’s why they’re in business.  But, just as with healthcare, they also need to protect their customers from foodborne illnesses. Simply put, they need to safeguard the customer, the staff, and the brand.
Safely preparing and serving food products has always demanded diligence on the part of food service managers.  Now, dealing with the business complications arising from the pandemic, the opportunities for the spread of foodborne disease within a food service operation are on the increase.  These challenges are many – staff turnover, managing raw material vendors and deliveries, supply chain disruptions. 
When discussing this with operators of food service operations, the common refrain is that due to current staffing shortages, no one has time to worry about food safety.  But, consider the situation where a customer claims that your business gave them food poisoning.  Now you’re dealing with a possible hit to your reputation, additional regulatory oversight, and maybe even liability and legal concerns. For these reasons, restaurants and other food service operations need to establish a food safety culture as a way of breaking this chain of infection.
There are no magic solutions to these challenging times, but there are resources available to help develop and manage a culture of food safety with minimum investment in time or money.  This approach is supportive of your other efforts to increase your customer satisfaction as they are all a part of providing that rewarding customer experience. 
To start, operators need to focus on a few areas where they can achieve the biggest impact for the resources available.  One of the first steps in establishing a simple food safety culture is to start with proper hand hygiene.  Yes, as we’ve learned from two years dealing with the pandemic, it’s all about washing our hands.
Proper handwashing is critical to preventing staff from contaminating food.  However, it is estimated that most food service workers wash their hands either improperly or not often enough.  According to the ServSafe food protection program, it is the responsibility of a manager to ensure that the operation has a good personal hygiene program and to make sure that it is being followed.  Instructions must be easy to follow and consistently enforced.  Furthermore, a focus on proper hand hygiene reinforces the continuous need to eliminate opportunities for cross-contamination of food items, especially with regards to allergens and other biological contaminates.  It’s all about protecting the food.
Closely related to the need for proper handwashing is the use of cell phones by staff in both the front and back of the house.  This is causing increasing concern and inspectors are taking note.  We know that cell phones go where we go, including the restroom.  In fact, studies show that cell phones can be contaminated with fecal material and that the associated pathogens remain viable long enough for further transmission.  Remember foodborne illness follows the fecal-oral route so what’s on the phone can get on the hands and into the food.  As inspectors are taking note of this situation, having an open dialogue with staff on this threat may yield some workable solutions which meets everyone’s needs.
Controlling foodborne pathogens in both the front and back of the house involves an array of cleaning chemicals and food service sanitizers.  The staff needs to be properly trained in the preparation and use of these products so that full efficacy at removing pathogens can be achieved.  As the pandemic has heightened customer awareness of the importance of environmental hygiene, effective cleaning and disinfection practices are expected in the front of the house.  Customers want to see that tables and frequently touched surfaces are cleaned, sanitized, and even disinfected on a routine basis.  Properly labeled containers and sanitary wiping tools go a long way in achieving desired results and allaying customer concerns.
In the back of the house, Health Departments are finding more issues with ice machines not being properly maintained.  Ice intended for consumption needs to be treated as ready to eat (RTE) food and must be made from water that is safe to drink.  As with other RTE foods, only use appropriate dedicated ice scoops when removing ice from containers or from the ice bin and only use the appropriate (NSF approved) containers to transport ice.
To help meet these food safety challenges, most food service operators should have reliable supplier partners, suppliers who have the expertise and resources that can help support the development of a food safety culture.  These suppliers should be able to provide guidance and assistance in the following areas –
Hand hygiene programs – A number of leading manufacturers offer economical hand soaps and hand towel products that provide premium performance.  With ongoing sales promotions, up-to-date dispensers for these products can be acquired at little or no cost.  Some dispensing systems are even hands-free which further encourages use and improves hand hygiene outcomes.   Training aids such as posters and wall charts are also available and suitable for display near hand wash stations.
Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting practices – Chemical suppliers should provide the correct labels for secondary chemical containers.  And, where possible, automated systems for diluting and dispensing chemical solutions should be implemented to ensure product effectiveness and to reduce waste.  Chemical manufacturers have the training aids and programs needed to make sure the staff is in compliance.  Many of these programs are available online which greatly facilitates the onboarding of new employees.
Ice Machine operations - Ice machines must be dismantled and sanitized every 6 months by properly trained service technicians.  This cleaning and sanitizing process should ensure the removal of all black mold from the ice making compartment and ice storage area, as well as, removing and cleaning the air filter.  For dispensing and transporting ice, NSF certified scoops and ice totes can reduce cross-contamination, ice spillage, and employee back strain, while improving efficiency.
Reviewing your operation and determining where your operation measures up is part of a food safety culture.  Your Imperial Dade sales consultant has the expertise and resources to assist in areas that you feel warrant further discussion or solutions.  Let us know where we can help.
Submitted by RAMW member: Imperial Dade