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Being proactive about cleanliness in your foodservice operation

Vollrath Guest - Chef Seth VanderLaan -

Being adaptable and resilient has always been in the job description of anyone forging a career path in the hospitality sector. These challenging times are certainly a test of those skills.

While there is a lot of uncertainty in our industry right now, one thing you can bank on is we will bounce back! Another thing you can bank on is that, when we do bounce back, there will be an increased focus on safe handling of food and personal hygiene practices in our operations.

It's important to obtain the highest possible scores in food safety inspections. At the same time, we also have a moral obligation to provide our guests the highest quality foods in the safest possible manner.

While your obvious priority at this time is the safety of you, your family, and your employees, use these next few weeks to examine your operation with a critical eye. Ready yourself for returning to regular business hours by assessing your kitchens, self-service areas, and dining areas for safe food handling improvement opportunities. Once the doors open back up, the added threat of coronavirus and other communicable diseases will still be fresh on peoples’ minds.

Are your packaged condiments easy to grab and put out (in limited quantities) to prevent possible bulk contamination?  Is this location easily cleaned and visually appealing? When it comes to condiments and single-use items, look for dispensing options that are easily stocked, maintained, and cleanable.

Once you are back to regular business hours, walking each of your locations will be vitally important because peoples’ perceptions of public spaces will have drastically changed. If there is even a whiff of uncleanliness or disorganization, that may lead to a loss of customers.

Back in the kitchen, look over some of your operational equipment and personal hygiene SOPs [standard operating procedures]. When I teach my ServSafe Manager classes, I hammer home that bacteria are best managed with proper time and temperature control procedures, but viruses are not always slowed in the same manner.

Because proper cooking and cooling might not destroy these viruses, your best line of defense is always practicing good personal hygiene and proper handwashing.

  • Review your procedures.
  • Make sure your hand sinks are always adequately stocked and all sinks are working properly.
  • Ensure access to hand sinks will not be blocked in any way during busy service times. Re-train your employees to only use these sinks for proper handwashing and stress to your employees they must never block access to them in any way.

But clean hands only go so far if the utensils you are using are contaminated. Consider changing out some of your older dishers, ladles, and tongs while keeping in mind the benefits of antimicrobial handled utensils.

Most of the time we focus on upgrading larger equipment because it is so much more obvious to us (not to mention expensive) when these items break down. However, smaller items like cutting boards, dish racks, and silverware caddies are often quite old and in need of replacement -- and can be a breeding ground for pathogens if not cleaned properly.

If you have a HACCP [Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points] plan, take some time to make sure it is up-to-date regarding any new equipment or procedure modifications. If your staff are working from home, some of the applicable procedures and SOPs make for great reviewing materials, given they are rarely studied in-depth during business hours.

We are in unprecedented times, but our industry will prevail. It’s important to stay positive and plan how your business will adapt to the changes. Keep your family safe, your mind active, and your thoughts optimistic. We are all in this together!

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