THE “JOURNEY OF FOOD” A MANAGER’S TALE
As we speak, there are millions of bacteria on you, your skin, in your body and on your clothes. They are also present in every single food product!
However, no need to panic. The clear majority are what we call friendly bacteria and we need these to live. This course concentrates on the small number of bacteria that can cause harm.
As a manager, (or person in charge) of a food operation, you need to understand these dangerous bacteria, what conditions they need to live in, how they can grow and multiply to the dangerous levels that can cause harm to a person. You then need to know how to control them, kill them or reduce them to a safe level.
This course looks at three key areas:
- Understanding the risks to food safety
- Simple yet effective steps to reduce the threat to food safety
- Management and your role in leading a team of food handlers in producing safe food, day in and, day out!
One point we will keep reminding you about is that “You Are in Charge” It is your team, and you are responsible for safeguarding your customer’s safety. It’s a very important point that you always need to remember.
In this chapter, we are going to take a look at the challenges to food safety, the cost of a foodborne illness to the business, how it happens, who is most at risk, and some of your legal responsibilities. Important points you and your staff need to understand.
It’s a good chapter to keep referring to as these are the points you need to keep in mind throughout this course.
PERSON IN CHARGE
To begin with, we actually want to spend some time talking about you!
If you have recently been promoted to the position, then from myself and the team, congratulations and we wish you well in your new role!!
If you are already a manager and looking to renew your training, then welcome. We hope we can refresh your knowledge and maybe demonstrate some new safety approaches that you may not have considered.
One thing we would strongly recommend to both new and more experienced managers is to find out exactly what you are responsible for. It’s important that you fully understand your role and your responsibilities, especially if something goes wrong and there is a foodborne illness incident. It may be that you are responsible for more than you thought.
Talk to your manager or the owner to ensure you understand your role. Here’s a quick checklist:
Who Is Responsible For?
- Planning the day’s production & assigning tasks
- Team meetings
- Training staff
- Monitoring staff
- Dealing with suppliers
- Equipment purchase or maintenance
- Dealing with pest & garbage contractors
- Completing paperwork related to your Food Safety Management System
- Carrying out opening checks
- Carrying out closing checks
- Implementing corrective actions if something goes wrong
- Dealing with Dept. of Health Inspectors
In a perfect world, with a brand-new restaurant, a state-of-the-art kitchen, experienced staff, and a steady and controlled flow of customers through your operation, food safety would be relatively easy to manage.
However, welcome to the “real world” in which you will probably live!
You will be faced with many different challenges:
- Time is a commodity you do not have, especially at peak service, and this is where mistakes happen.
- Staff Turnover is another big issue in our industry. You get everybody fully trained in food safety and then they leave! As a result, staff training is an ongoing role that will never stop.
- In all likelihood, you will have staff from many different cultural backgrounds and many with a language that is not your own first language, making communication difficult at times.
- Education and literacy can also play a part and training will be more challenging.
- Complexity of your menu and the volume of customers you serve.
- You may also serve high-risk customers, the young, the elderly, sick or pregnant.
Your role as the manager is to overcome these issues and ensure that ALL staff understands how to handle food safely. We did say, welcome to the world as a manager!
Detailed next are some of the skills and qualities that will help you become a great manager:
- A good practical knowledge of Food Safety
- Understanding the role management has in food safety
- Good communication skills
- Good management skills
- Ability to consistently maintain good operational standards
- Ability to train, re-train and monitor staff
- Accept and handle responsibility
- Confidence to speak out and take action when safety is compromised
If you are new to management, it may seem a lot to take in, however, there is help at hand. This course will certainly be of benefit, and we can also provide both Food Handler Training and Allergen Awareness Training courses to help with training your staff.
WHAT DOES FOODBORNE ILLNESS MEAN?
As the name suggests, it’s an illness that’s a result of the food we eat.
Let’s start by briefly looking at the three main causes of a foodborne illness. We will go into more detail as the course progresses.
This is the most common cause and the greatest threat to food safety. You will hear the term “pathogenic bacteria” or the word “pathogens” a lot throughout this course as they are the single biggest cause of a foodborne illness. We will also talk about toxins, viruses, parasites, and fungi.
We will spend much of this course detailing simple yet effective methods to reduce these to a safe level.
Usually, an easy mistake is made by the incorrect use of chemicals such as detergents and sanitizers. For example: spraying a sanitizer near open food.
These mistakes can be reduced by simple processes and strict monitoring.
This is where something such as a bandage, dirt, glass, or plastic can fall into food. It can also be naturally occurring such as a fishbone. Again, these mistakes can be reduced by simple processes and strict monitoring.
IS YOUR FOOD SAFE?
It’s actually very easy to turn perfectly safe food into a foodborne illness, and throughout the course, we are going to go into a lot of detail on how this happens and the steps you can put in place to reduce the risks.
Most, if not all, are simple measures and your role will be to train, lead by example, and constantly monitor these practices. Let’s be honest, if staff know you are watching closely, their standards improve!
A great phrase to remember is to “separate the acceptable from the unacceptable”.
There are four key reasons why food becomes unsafe:
Poor personal hygiene and cross-contamination due to poor food safety skills. We are the worst offenders and the perfect “vehicle of contamination”.
Allowing pathogenic bacteria to be transferred from raw foods to cooked or ready to serve foods. For example:
- Incorrectly used wiping cloths.
- Using the same knife and cutting boards without firstly cleaning and sanitizing.
- Poor staff handling and poor cleaning techniques.
Time & Temperature Abuse
Not storing foods at the correct temperatures, leaving food in the preparation or service areas for too long, cooking at the wrong temperature, food not hot held, reheated, or cooled correctly.
Cleaning & Sanitization
Not cleaning correctly and not cleaning as often as is required to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
The rest of the course is looking at these key areas and will be suggesting best practices to reduce the risks to a safe level. As you can see, there are four main danger areas, and if we were to name the most important danger to overcome, we would have to say staff.
Correctly trained staff who understand the risks, and just how important their role is in the food safety chain is the key to a safe operation.
As we have already said, your role is very much about ensuring staff is fully trained, and you monitor their activities on a regular basis.
VEHICLE OF CONTAMINATION
We just mentioned the term “Vehicle of Contamination” and it’s worth explaining what we mean:
Pathogenic bacteria cannot move on their own, they need someone or something to help them move. Typical “vehicles of contamination” are food handlers and equipment, such as knives and cutting boards, and unclean food contact surfaces such as cutting boards and preparation tables.
In the vast majority of cases, it is a mistake, (inappropriate practices), by a food handler who acts as the “vehicle” either accidentally or because of a lack of training.
Correct training and monitoring of practices will help reduce the risks of cross-contamination significantly.
WHICH FOODS ARE MOST LIKELY TO BE AT RISK?
While all food can be at risk, there are two main food groups that are considered very high risk and as a result, need a lot more care and closer supervision.
Ready to Eat Foods
- The risk with these types of foods is that they are ready to eat!
- Most will be manufactured and delivered to your operation ready to eat. The important point is that they will undergo little or no preparation and will not have a final cooking process, (a kill stage), before being served to a customer.
- Typical examples of ready to eat foods are cooked meats and poultry, cheese, egg-based dressings such as potato salad and shellfish to name but a few.
- Most ready-to-eat foods are high in moisture and often, (but not always), high in protein. Pathogenic bacteria love these types of conditions, and we will discuss more as the course progresses.
- Strict Time & Temperature Controls will be vitally important.
Time Temperate Control for Safety (TCS) Foods
- Commonly known as TCS Foods, pathogenic bacteria absolutely love these types of food!
- Allow pathogenic bacteria the right amount of time, and at the right temperature, they will quickly multiply to a dangerous level.
- Most of these foods are high in moisture, (water), some will be served as ready-to-eat foods, such as milk, dairy products, sliced melon, cut leafy greens, and tomatoes. Other TCS Foods are also high in moisture and protein, for example, raw meat, poultry, shellfish, and fish.
- While some may have a final cook, (kill), stage, if pathogenic bacteria have already built up to a dangerous level, it will still be a serious threat to food safety. We will discuss this in the next chapter.
- Strict Time & Temperature Controls will again be vitally important.
The following are all that we consider being TCS Foods:
- Milk & Dairy Products
- Meats – beef, lamb, pork
- Shellfish & Crustaceans
- Baked Potatoes
- Heat Treated Plant Food – cooked rice, beans, vegetables
- Tofu & Soy Protein – meat alternatives
- Sprouts & Sprout Seeds
- Sliced Melon/Cut Tomatoes/Cut Leafy Greens
- Untreated Garlic & Oil Mixtures
Which People are Vulnerable to a Foodborne Illness?
For the vast majority of people, a foodborne disease is highly unpleasant, aggressive, and thankfully, usually short-lived. It is unlikely to cause any long-term or lasting damage.
However, complications can occur, especially within certain, vulnerable groups, and also from exposure to some of the more “aggressive” pathogenic bacteria.
Vulnerable Groups include:
- Pre-School Age – where the immune system has not yet fully developed.
- The Elderly – where the immune system weakens with age.
- People with an illness or suffering from an ongoing chronic condition – where the immune system is weakened or not yet fully recovered.
- Pregnant Women – where the immune system is weakened.
In addition, there are certain pathogenic bacteria that are considered aggressive. An example of this is Listeria.
A frightening statistic is that if you contract Listeria, you have a 1 in 5 chance of dying. In practice, your chances of survival are heavily influenced by your health and speed of treatment.
People most at risk from Listeria are the young, the old, the sick, and someone who is pregnant.
If you work in a sector such as pre-school, health, or the elderly, you must be aware of the increased risks and ensure your staff fully understand these increased risks.
SYMPTOMS OF A FOODBORNE ILLNESS
Symptoms can differ between people and the type of foodborne illness, however, they all share some similar symptoms:
- Abdominal Cramps
- Jaundice, (yellowing of the eyes and skin).
If you have ever had a foodborne illness, you will understand just how uncomfortable and distressing it can be.
IMPACT OF A FOODBORNE ILLNESS ON YOUR OPERATION
In the next section, we are going to talk about the governmental agencies and the regulations and responsibilities you have. However, before we look at this, consider the impact on your operation if you are involved with a major outbreak of foodborne illness.
The damage to an operation can be long lasting and can impact in many ways:
- Loss of reputation and damage to your brand
- Loss of sales and customers
- Negative media exposure
- Legal costs and lawsuits
- Reduced staff morale
- Difficulty in recruiting staff
- Bankruptcy and closure of the operation!
We can all remember at least a couple of major restaurant chains that have been involved in a foodborne illness outbreak, and how badly they were affected by the news coverage. This course concentrates on providing safe food to protect the public, however, it is worth remembering that the impact on your operation of a foodborne illness can be both damaging and long-lasting.
GOVERNMENT AGENCIES & YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES
As a manager or owner of a business, you need to be aware of the Laws required to operate a food business and your responsibilities under these Laws.
Most of these Laws are common sense and are in place to protect the health of the consumer. Always remember that you have both a moral and legal responsibility to provide safe food.
It is also said that a safe business is a profitable business!
A range of food safety and premises hygiene legislation exists to protect the health of the public.
Let’s start with the FDA, (Food & Drug Administration), Food Code. This is the foundation of all laws and is adopted by every Department of Health jurisdiction in the US. These laws govern what you can and cannot do in a restaurant operation, (QSR, Fast Food, Retail), pre-schools, schools, hospitals, nursing homes.
In addition, we have the USDA, (Department of Agriculture), the CDC, (Center for Disease Control & Prevention and also the PHS, (Public Health Service).
As you can see, there are many agencies that help to protect food.
As a food operator, your main point of contact will probably be your State and Local Health Authorities. They look at all the above legislation, and then either adopt the regulations or sometimes change to match local conditions.
Your key contact will usually be a DOHI, (Department of Health Inspector).
For more information, please click on the following link: https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/GuidanceRegulation/RetailFoodProtection/FoodCode/UCM595140.pdf
Food Safety Legislation affects ALL food/restaurants and foodservice sector operators including distributors and retailers. That includes restaurants, hospitality, schools, care homes, mobile catering, childcare, charities, and voluntary groups.
If you produce or serve food, the same law applies to all organizations. It doesn’t matter if you are a large, national chain or a charity serving free food to the homeless, the same laws apply to everyone.
Person in Charge (PIC)
We are back to mentioning Person in Charge again. Depending on how your business is set up, it may be your responsibility as a PIC to implement, manage and document some or all of the food safety requirements. We will discuss these requirements as we progress through the course.
Check with your manager, business owner, and also DOHI. You need to fully understand your responsibilities, as you may be legally responsible for more than you actually realize.
Ignorance is no defense; you cannot just say you didn’t realize or thought someone else was dealing with it.
Less is expected of an hourly employee, for example, a food handler or server.
However, all food handlers still have legal responsibilities that relate to their conduct.
All Food Handlers and Servers must demonstrate good personal hygiene, wear suitable clothing, and report to their Person in Charge if they are suffering from or think they may be a carrier of a disease likely to be transmitted through food.
Also, any infected wounds or skin infections that could contaminate food must be reported immediately.
We will discuss these requirements in Chapter 3.
As we mentioned, food safety legislation is usually enforced by a Department of Health Inspector (DOHI). They usually work for the Local Authority where your premises are based. Some jurisdictions are supported by court tribunals to enforce fines and/or penalties.
- Investigate reports of a foodborne illness
- Investigate reports of dirty premises, poor process or staff not following basic hygiene rules
- Undertake food hygiene inspections and enforce improvement notices
- Collect samples for lab testing (however, this rarely occurs)
- Ensure all food business owners and staff understand how to operate safely
- Ensure compliance with all appropriate Laws
A DOHI (or other appropriate enforcement officers) is allowed to:
- Enter food premises without prior notice at any ‘reasonable’ time or date (during its hours of operation)
- Take photographs and seize any documentary evidence
- Seize food deemed a danger to public health
- Provide a report of all findings
- Take part in legal prosecutions if the breach is serious
- Assign letter grades based on the results on inspection (A, B, C or Grade Pending)
DOHI Inspections, Enforcements & Your Responsibilities
We are not going to go into detail at this point. However, we have provided a downloadable pdf that details what happens in an inspection, and your responsibilities. We suggest you download a copy and look at it before your next inspection.
Due Diligence Defense
To end this chapter, we are going to look at a Due Diligence Defense. Reporting a serious hazard to your manager, business owner, or a DOHI, means you have personally demonstrated “Due Diligence”. This could be very important to you if the matter results in criminal prosecution.
Due Diligence means following the correct procedures to protect you and the operation in the event of a failure that could result in a prosecution under food safety law. It is one of the main reasons why you and your team undertake accredited training.
A Due Diligence defense means that you can prove to a court, (ideally through documentary evidence), that you have taken all reasonable efforts to ensure that your business operates in a safe manner.
It is worth mentioning this point again. The key phrase is ‘all reasonable efforts and we will repeat this throughout the course.
Typical Due Diligence Defenses include:
- It was the fault of another business, for example, a supplier
- The offense was “”out of your control””, for example: a member of the public
- Employee training and monitoring had been carried out prior to the incident
- Robust systems and procedures were in place when the incident happened. Prove It paperwork
- You acted responsibly and in good faith prior to, during, and after the incident.