By Michael Ferrari, Staff Writer
Adding a foodservice programis an excellent way toincrease profitability and developa more loyal, destination-mindedcustomer base. Committing to foodservice,however, opens the door to new dangerssuch as foodborne bacteria and virusesthat could cause illness for customers andstaff alike.
According to U.S. Food and DrugAdministration (FDA) estimates, close to76 million people become sick each yeardue to foodborne illness from which 5,000deaths occur each yeara staggeringnumber for anyone in the food business toconsider. Because of this, a priority for successis maintaining an immaculate level ofsanitation and safety in the kitchen to preventthe possibility of contamination.
Keeping the kitchen safe is always aconcern for George Salinas, deli supervisorfor Austin, Texas-based Triple SPetroleum. The company operates theSignature of Austin chain of c-stores, 11of which have a proprietary foodserviceprogram featuring everything from pizza,hot wings and breakfast and deli sandwichesto a wide assortment of ethnicMexican items.
Salinas, who has an extensive backgroundin the restaurant business, placesa strong emphasis on food safety and sanitationin each of his foodservice locations.
“Foodservice safety is very importantand, fortunately, it’s easier than ever forus to prepare for it in convenience stores,”said Salinas. With how extensive foodservicehas become in the industry, storesare now fully capable of finding the rightequipment and procedures necessary toproperly prepare a store. “There’s a lotmore that can be done to be safe, but it’seasier now to equip sinks and sanitizersback in the kitchen area to keep everythingclean.”
Tools of the Trade
One of the most important ways toprevent cross-contamination is having thetools for the job, added Salinas. The chainutilizes three different sinks for three verydifferent tasks: one three-sectioned sinkfor food washing and preparation, a handsink for employees to keep clean and amop sink in the back. By keeping each ofthe sinks to their own exclusive functions,chains can automatically lower the risksinvolved with bacteria and germs that cangrow in the environment.
When a new employee comes to workat the store, Salinas immerses them into awhole regimen of training to ensure thenew addition is aware of what goes into a sanitary kitchen. Salinas, who is alsoa certified food safety instructor, trainsthe employee himself by going throughthe steps involved in each part of foodpreparation and storage, as well as helpingthe employees develop good safetyhabits of their own. It’s during this timethat the staff is taught healthy sanitationhabits that Salinas and other storemanagers enforce vigorously. As for managers,every store leader is required togain food safety certification to continueworking in the store.
Holding times can be an issue for anyfoodservice establishment. Products, evenwhen refrigerated, can still become contaminatedor even spoil. To prevent this,Salinas orders all the raw products frozenand in short supply to prevent themfrom sitting around for longer than theirshelf life.
“Most of our supplies fly so fast thatluckily we don’t need to worry as muchabout holding times, but we do keepa chart up to remind employees of theproper holding times so there’s no confusion,”Salinas said, adding that foodservicesanitation can be very simple, but it’s notjust a matter of having the right tools forthe job. It’s also a matter of assessing andremoving weaknesses.
“One of the most overlooked strategiesto food sanitation is glove handling,”Salinas said, noting that the right toolsaren’t a cure all. “Sometimes an employeemay think that they have gloves on andeverything is safe. They have to realizethat gloves require precaution too, suchas making sure hands are washed everytime a new pair is put on to preventcontamination.”
Educating the Masses
Education is an essential element ofsuccess for Savanna, Ga.-based Parker’sCos. and its foodservice offering. The 23-store chain has a robust program in nineof its locations, which includes delis andChester’s fried chicken franchises, whichoffers retailers Hazard Analysis CriticalControl Point (HACCP) classroom sessionson everything from equipmentsafety to proper hygiene to contaminationtraining. The first step towards ensuringa safe foodservice program was sendingall the deli managers for ServSafecertification, according to Amy Lane,director of operations.
“Once all of our managers are certified,compliance is the next importantstep,” said Lane. “Each of our store anddeli managers regularly go through a foodsafety and sanitation checklist to makesure that all the proper guidelines arebeing followed.”
The checklists review everythingfrom the functionality and cleanliness ofthe kitchen equipment to the hygiene ofemployees to the overall appearance ofthe store. On top of following the checklist,Lane personally visits each store everyquarter to ensure that safety operationsare running smoothly.
Aside from the checklist and the regularmeetings and trainings that go into theprogram, communication plays a largerole in making sure store level employeescomply with the strict safety policies.
“Safety and sanitation is a majorpart of our stores’ culture,” said Lane.“Constant communications between delimanagers, store managers and myself isessential. We’re always keeping on topof new safety guidelines and constantlysharpening the saw when it comes to ourmethods and procedures.”
How Much is Enough?
“Every year, we’re learning more andthere’s more to do,” she said. “It can be overwhelmingif you’re not careful, which meansstorekeepers really have to focus on what’scritical.”
Robbins explained that there’s a differencebetween food sanitation and foodsafety. Sanitation covers basic cleanliness,such as making sure floors and equipmentare clean, and food safety adds factors liketemperature control.
“Many times, the emphasis is on sanitationversus safety. The two aren’t mutuallyexclusive. Sanitation can be critical, but foodsafety can be much more involved and thedecisions can be more difficult,” Robbinssaid.
The difficulty with food safety is that a retailermay not know when food is safe or not.While it may look fine, it could still be contaminated,posing a threat to the consumer.“The safest answer in a situation when aretailer is unsure is to throw it out,” Robbinsadvised.
She added that while a lot of retailers aresuccessful in meeting guidelines set by thehealth department, it still may not be enoughto properly protect a kitchen. Managers, storeownersand employees may need to domore, and they always need to make gooddecisions about food safety.
“If you’re driving down the road and thespeed limit is 55 mph and there is blackice on the road, it’s your responsibility totake that into consideration to best controlthe situation,” explained Robbins. “The lawsenforced across the U.S. are minimum standards.Anything above that is voluntary andin the retailers’ best interest.”
For example, the FDA code recommendsa temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit orcolder to store cold products. “The pr