Food safety is top of mind for foodservice operators


Food safety is always top of mind for foodservice operators. And while the regulations pertaining to safe handling, storage, and preparation have been relatively consistent for years, a few areas have changed.

“There are a lot of emerging factors to consider. From delivery to merchandising, hot food, grab-and-go, cook/chill/retherm — all of which have the potential to introduce variables that make managing food safety more complex,” says Gary Meehan, executive marketing consultant in Toronto.

Sometimes it’s not enough to follow the rules, A growing number of customers are scrutinizing food-safety practices in all aspects of handling and preparation — from farm to fork.

Since COVID rocked the industry, operators not only have to be more vigilant about food-safety training and practices, many are adding the extra step of including it in their messaging to suppliers and consumers. “Since the pandemic, consumer and employee’s expectations have changed and, in turn, processes have changed,” says Mandy Sedlak, senior manager, Food Safety and Public Health at Ecolab. “Retail establishments may have the same standards of cleaning, but they have made cleaning more visible.”

In addition, supply and staffing shortages have increased pressure to have the procedures and equipment in place to ensure regulatory guidelines are met and maintained.

Supply-chain disruptions have also led to some new challenges, says Sedlak. “Product shortages mean substitutions, and ensuring substituted products have the same quality and food safety standards. This is a necessary and time-consuming task.”

Where it all starts
According to the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the biggest risks for foodborne illness are poor personal hygiene, improper food-holding temperatures, cross contamination from equipment or the environment, improper cooking and unsafe food sources, Sedlak notes.

The Canadian Institute of Food Safety reports that failure to protect food from contamination/adulteration is one of the most common food-safety breaches cited by health inspectors across the country. Another is improper temperature control of food.

“It’s important to focus on proper handwashing and not work when sick. Also be sure to ensure food is cooked and maintained at the proper temperatures, that food-production equipment and the environment are clean and pest free, and that food is sourced from trusted and vetted sources,” says Sedlak.

A benefit coming out of COVID is that kitchen staff who are sick are no longer handling food, says Hagler Chanthilath, company chef, GBS Foodservice Equipment in Oakville, Ont. “It’s a mixed blessing with the staffing challenges, but it’s a good thing that staff aren’t coming in when they shouldn’t.”

Equipment in demand
When it comes to equipment, Chanthilath stresses three important basics. “Food safety is about temperature, speed and exposure. You need powerful equipment to heat up and cool down food as fast as you can to minimize exposure.”

Beyond the basic cooking and refrigeration/freezing appliances, there has been a growing focus on items such as blast chillers, pressurized steamers and holding cabinets, he notes. “If you want to combat how much time food is waiting in freezers and its exposure to airborne viruses, blast chillers and freezers allow you to cool items down much faster and limit air exposure.”

As restaurants increasingly rely on takeout sales and third-party delivery services, it’s no longer acceptable to hold food under heat lamps, adds Chanthilath. “A lot of operators have moved to heating cabinets to store the bags for drivers.”

Pressurized steamers are handy for off-premise events, as they can be powered by natural gas, propane or electricity and can maintain holding temperatures for food, he explains.

He also reports an uptick in vacuum sealers, yet another way to limit exposure of food to air while maintaining its integrity. Other more visible equipment that helps reassure customers includes contactless glass and cutlery polishers

The people factor
While there is an array of monitoring and control systems and tools that can help operators stay ahead of the curve. “It still takes a person to ensure the systems are performing and will take corrective action for out-of-compliance practices.” says Sedlak.

“There are some innovations like anti-bacterial surfaces, better freezing techniques, remote monitoring (refrigeration), specialty tags (that monitor temperature during transit), cooking probes etc. but again, it’s the practice of proper techniques that assures food safety overall,” cautions Meehan. “Equipment can only assist — the operator must know what must be done, full stop.”


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