I was lucky enough as a food safety auditor, having the ability of visiting several restaurants and food companies, to gather the necessary experience on this field. Especially in the field of restaurants I have a lot to remember. Nowadays as an entrepreneur in the same field I am asked by younger food scientists fellows or clients which are the most common mistakes in relation to food safety in restaurants. In the beginning of my “trip” in this amazing world of food safety I remember I started writing down the observed non-conformances after a visit. After a respectable number of visits some non-conformances jumped from the “random” category to “systematic” and by that time I realized that these non-conformances had a tendency in repeating.
There was no correlation between these mistakes and the geographical scatter of the stores, or the gender of the restaurant manager or the brand or the season or the loyalty of the personnel or even the budget of the store. These mistakes were strongly connected to the lack of knowledge in the food safety or the of food safety “culture” if you prefer.
I share with you the 5 most common food safety non-conformances observed:
- Hand washing station was full of smallwares
The problem: when somebody goes to wash his hands and sees the above picture, psychologically he wants to turn to someplace else. 2 things can happen here: either he will go to another sink (not dedicated to hand washing) for example to the one that is dedicated for washing vegetables, or he will not wash his hands at all! Of course both cases are not desirable. The solution: hand washing station must always be clean, not blocked and must have a proper set up.
- The store lacks of HACCP documentation.
The problem: clearly and simply the owner faces the dreadful reality of a food safety penalty from the authorities (in Greece this fine sits between the amount of 500 and 5.000 euros). And that’s only for not implementing HACCP. If we dig deeper, experience shows that when HACCP is absent there is …anarchy in the way of how food safety is managed in a store. I believe I described it with an elegant way…
The solution: HACCP implementation. As simple as that!
- Personnel is not trained in food safety.
The problem: imagine young soldiers using guns without knowing how to use them. Or if you like imagine, young drivers using cars without attending training lessons. You can even imagine a young doctor – surgeon in his first operation without the necessary training on where and how to do it! We do not find any reason why food operators shouldn’t be trained in food safety! These are the people who are responsible for the every-day feeding of respectable amount of souls in all the world. Oh did I also mention that a non-trained personnel in food safety consists food law violation? The owner of the store should know that!
The solution: yes it is simple as the above – personnel food safety training! Also it would be a good idea to have the necessary certificates of each member of the store on site in case of inspection from the relevant authorities. However allow me a comment here – the point is WHAT the operator really knows, understands and does. This can be checked through frequent food safety checks (written tests for example) or through observation.
- There is a lack of care in the expiration dates of first materials (usually the opened ones)
The problem: it is more than sure that an expired product will be received by a customer. How the owner of a store, in such a case, will confront the angry customer if the latter discover the truth? Things in this case become tough for the owner. Problems also arise when expiration dates of some ingredients are thrown away together with their initial packaging. In this case imagine the awkward moment between an inspector from the local authorities and an operator when the former asks “when did you opened this? ” over a sliced piece of ham! (comment: please do not expect that the inspector will believe you without evidence when you give him the answer “today!”)
The solution(s): either keep first materials in their original packaging (having both the expiration date and the lot numbers!) or write down the expiration dates of the first materials you use and according to the HACCP study that the store should have (another way to check how useful the HACCP is for a store).
- No paper towels (of single use) in the personnel’s restrooms.
The problem (sneaky enough): toilet paper and paper towels of single use for hands are two different things. Each one was designed for specific reasons. The hands of the operator leaving the restroom should be clean, free from pathogenic bacteria, parasites, fungi, etc.
The solution: use of paper towels of single use or dryers in the restrooms. Toilet paper in the restroom should not be there for hands’ drying otherwise it will be responsible for cross contamination (this includes the case where two toilet papers exist: it is sure that both will be used).
Sure there are many more mistakes but these were one of the most common. There is always solution to a problem. Solutions to mitigate the risks of the above non-conformances exist and are all simple. So this is my answer to younger food scientists and clients. Together with the answer I remind them the quote of Frank Yiannas (Vice President – Food Safety / Walmart) which should always be kept in the mind of food safety professionals (and food business owners as well) for long-term successful results: “The goal of the food safety professional should be to create a food safety culture, not a food safety program”.
Vasilis Theodossiou, Food Technologist,MBA, Professional Member of the Institute of Food Technlogists (IFT)