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Food Service Sanitation Environment
by Ron Gorodesky and Geoff Wexler

The food service industry is facing challenges that are having a profound impact on the restaurateur's ability to remain operationally and financially viable. These challenges stem from problems in production of our basic products, changes in the legal profession, and shifts in media exposure. These elements have culminated in affecting consumer's confidence in food products and in consumer perception of the market. Food service professionals must manage the sanitation and maintenance operations to minimize potential problems.

The food supply is inherently fragile. This is compounded by questionable processing techniques that are in use by the majority of manufacturers in the industry. Our nations' food processing industry has remained largely under supervised and under regulated.

In response to food manufacturing problems there has been a series of high profile television reports which have targeted the industry. These reports have profiled the dangers associated with our food processing industry and food retailers who unscrupulously sold dangerously outdated foods.

Our industry's problems are not limited to the fragile food chain and negative media issues. We as a society are facing a shift in the popular culture that is becoming increasingly litigious. This has been influenced by changes in the legal profession, and lawyers have become aggressive in informing our society of the "wrongs" perpetrated against unsuspecting people. This advertising, combined with media reporting of large settlements, has created a challenging business environment that has produced a large increase in negligence lawsuits.

The net effect of the challenges has produced a more discerning consumer who has become cautious and skeptical of the food industry. The out of pocket costs that are associated with guest illnesses and injury can be staggering. A food service chain recently reviewed their operation in an attempt to improve their profitability. They realized that food related illness and slip and fall injuries to their guests were costing the company approximately $1,000,000 annually. The management found that the average slip and fall occurrence costs them approximately $10,000 per occurrence, while food related illness or injury costs them between $5,000 and $30,000 per occurrence.

The real and perceived threats have placed food operators under great scrutiny. The health concerns of our consumers are raising the acceptable levels of sanitation and maintenance. It is common knowledge in our industry that our customers eat with their eyes and make their dining decisions based on a restaurant's level of sanitation. Food service operators that fail to have an adequate sanitation and maintenance program cannot compete in the marketplace. Furthermore, they are placing their customers and business at unnecessary risk. If a food service operation is cited as the source for a food-borne illness, food poisoning, or slip and fall injury, it could face lawsuits, fines, negative publicity and possible closure.

Preventative Measures Fixtures, Equipment and Design Issues

Restaurants in operation today must take into consideration the aforementioned elements that exist in our business climate. To successfully limit the exposure to potential lawsuits, great consideration must be given in selecting the correct finishes for renovation and/or construction. The correct fixtures are important because they aid in the establishment of a sanitary environment. Listed below are the main points you should consider in operating a sanitary restaurant:

Restrooms

Restaurants should install the best fixtures possible under the present budget parameters, and guests usually appreciate an environment where they have limited contact with surface areas. Many guests are also concerned with excessive water usage experienced in worn and outdated fixtures, and the most essential and modestly priced fixtures to install in commercial restrooms are toilet seat cover dispensers. These can be purchased for a modest price, and installation of the dispenser can be accomplished with a drill, screwdriver and four screws. If your operation has limited funds and new fixtures are not a possibility, toilet seat cover dispensers should be installed.

The "Cadillac" of fixtures, from the consumer's perspective, is the sensor-operated sinks, urinals, and toilets. These are the most expensive style, however they are perceived as the best choice because of their "hands off" nature. Operators unwilling to install new fixtures can retrofit their urinals and toilets with special kits complete with solenoid activated sensors. This accomplishes the desired outcome with substantial savings. The final option would be the time delayed handsink fixtures that are available to operators. These units save water and more importantly reduce customers contact with the fixtures.

Restroom design must consider the hand drying units that are installed. The current conventional wisdom prefers electric hand dryers. Hand dryers are popular for many of the same reasons as the other fixtures including limited surface contact and the environmental concerns. As an operator, I prefer the uncluttered floor found in restrooms with only electric hand dryers. As a consumer I like paper towels. Therefore, I now advise clients that one electric hand dryer, and one paper towel is the best combination.

Lighting

The correct choice in lighting is essential in limiting the number of slip and fall injuries. Common areas such as loading docks, sidewalks, parking lots, kitchens, bathrooms, and wait-stations must have the proper illumination. Fluorescent lighting should be incorporated whenever possible because of its candlepower. In areas where fluorescent lighting is inappropriate, lighting designers should be consulted to ensure proper illumination without jeopardizing the aesthetics of the facility.

Flooring Tiles

Tile floors are the standard for kitchen and high traffic common areas. Commercial tiles are selected for durability and a slip rating, and when constructing a new facility, consideration should be given to purchasing industrial grade tile with an appropriate slip rating. The slip ratings are very effective in high traffic areas that get water and grease spills. If you are renovating an existing facility you can purchase a special treatment to improve the slip rating of floor tiles. This treatment includes an acid application and scoring of the tiles, and the result is a light pitting that is very effective in reducing falls.

Floors Floor Design and Drains

Graded floors should be constructed in all kitchens, bathrooms, and other production areas of the restaurant. The floors should flow naturally toward the floor drains. Floor drains should be an essential element in the design of the facilities, and should be located in the center of the rooms, and be unobstructed. The drains should have wide openings and be level with the surrounding floor as to reduce the chances of causing a fall. Special consideration should be given to the areas adjacent to the ice machines. Many designers provide facilities with large grate covered channels that allow the ice and water to fall harmless below the flooring which is the most effective and preferred design of new facilities.

Dunnage Racks and Shelving

The typical cause of falls in hospitality environments results from cluttered floors in high traffic areas. This could be a result of inadequate storage, and all items must be stored off the floor a minimum of 6" to facilitate cleaning, and to preserve the products and reduce falls. Dunnage racks and shelving should be provided for all items.

Sinks - Handwashing

To provide proper hygiene for your guests and employees, an ample number of hand sinks must be installed. Hand sinks should be installed in the preparation areas, service lines, and wait stations. In areas that do not have access to water and drainage lines, sanitizing solution dispensers should be provided. Many major chemical companies will provide you with solution and dispensers at reasonable rates.

Colored Cutting Boards

One of the most common causes of food born illness is caused by cross contamination. In an effort to reduce this possibility of illness, colored cutting boards should be purchased, and the cutting boards should be in a variety of colors that reflect the product and/or allowable function.

Colored Mops

A major cause of slip and falls is a thin layer of grease that is tracked from the kitchen area throughout the restaurant. This usually results from too infrequent mopping and in using the same mop for spills and cleaning of the guest and production areas. To solve this problem, mops should be purchased in two color schemes: one for use in the guest areas and one for the kitchen and prep areas. In using colored mops you are greatly reducing the possibilities of tracking grease.

Temperature Gauges

Mishandling of food products can be caused by allowing products to be left in the temperature danger zones - 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, where bacteria flourishes. Food products must be monitored constantly to eliminate this problem. Walk-in refrigerators and all reach-in refrigeration units should have independent temperature gauges.

Biotherms

Biotherms (hand temperature gauges), should be used regularly by all chefs and managers. Management should develop the positive habits of randomly monitoring the temperatures of food products. If managers regularly challenge their employees to execute their food products correctly at the proper temperatures, quality will improve, and opportunity for food borne illness will decrease.

Wet Floor Signs

An ample number of wet floor signs in English and Spanish should be available for use at all times. Guests perceive interval maintenance mopping, during service hours, as a sign of quality. The use of the "Wet Floor" sign serves as a reminder that you run a clean and safe environment.

Preventative Measures - Sanitation and Maintenance Programs

A restaurant operator can buy the best equipment, fixtures and services of a great designer but without an adequately managed sanitation program, a poor outcome could result. Training of all staff members is the most important job of restaurant managers and owners. Staff must be aware of cross-contamination, temperature danger zones, the correct cooling processes for products, restaurant hood cleaning, day dots, sanitizing process, and documentation.

Cross Contamination Education

Staff should all be aware of the dangers in using utensils from product to product without implementing the sanitizing step. All equipment must be properly sanitized by either temperature or chemical methodology prior to reuse, and staff must be trained to use the proper tools without shortcuts.

Temperature Danger Zones/Cooling process

As previously mentioned food products must be correctly managed to avoid extended time in the food temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, when cooling sauces or liquids, they must be plunged in an ice bath and regularly stirred to quickly fall in the correct temperature. When cooling other products, they should be initially uncovered and stored on a shelf with good airflow.

Sanitizing Buckets/wiping cloths

In an effort to maintain a sanitary environment, staff must be trained to have a sanitizer bucket filled at each station complete with a wiping towel. When surfaces must be cleaned, or utensils sanitized, they should use the correct solution. Sanitizer can be made by mixing bleach and water, or can be purchased through the chemical suppliers.

Temperature Charts

Temperature charts should be placed on all temperature sensitive equipment, dish machines, refrigeration units. Temperatures should be taken three times daily and logged on the charts. At the close of the month they should be filed with the month end paperwork, and this procedure could support your operation in any food-related injury case. It demonstrates diligence as to the operator's part, and is favorably viewed by our legal system.

Hats/Hair Nets

The head, face, and hair are frequently sited as areas that promote cross-contamination, and hair is one of the most common foreign objects found in food. Therefore, hats and hairnets are an essential element in running a sanitary operation, and the staff must be educated as to the need to always wear hair restraints.

Day Dots/Labeling

The correct labeling and day dotting of all covered food products will help you to properly rotate food products. This rotation is essential in serving the best product possible, and there are ancillary benefits as well. For instance, in requiring staff to sign off on their work, they will take greater pride in their product.

These are only a fraction of the systems and processes that operators follow to manage their operations safely and effectively. You can successfully implement several of these items, and improve your operations while reducing the chances of generating a food-borne illness, slips, and/or a fall injury.

Remember the restaurant chain mentioned at the beginning of the article? The company analyzed and modified several operational standards and invested in training their managers. The areas that were modified were the finishes (e.g. tiles); the equipment (e.g. mops/chemicals); the design (e.g. floor drains); and the training, (a partnership with their chemical vendor). The result from these changes was a 45 percent decrease in guest and employee accidents that resulted in savings of over $600,000. You could have similar results by effectively analyzing and managing these important areas.



Restaurant Advisory Services provides full-service consulting services to the restaurant and hospitality industries. The firm offers a full menu of advisory services focusing on every aspect of the life cycle of restaurants and other hospitality organizations, from pre-opening and conceptual planning, to day-to-day operations, to design and brokerage.





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