Recent years in the food service arena have had its fair share of news coverage, such as reports about mad cow, foot and mouth and SARS — all in addition to the already numerous concerns affecting this area.
E. coli, listeria and salmonella are a few other buzzword terms to make visitors weary of a visit to a restaurant.
This is a real concern; according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 76 million cases of food-borne and related illness are reported in the United States each year, causing an estimated 325,000 hospital visits and 1,800 deaths.
And, to heighten their fears, the public cannot see the dangers and most of the time they cannot taste the dangers, so essentially eating out at food service establishments has been a leap of faith for faithful food-goers.
However, they keep coming back for more… and in increasing numbers.
This not only challenges the cooks, waitresses and other employees working at a facility’s food service area, but with a heavy emphasis on cleaning and freeing the area of bacteria and germs, the cleaning and maintenance workforce is also on high alert.
Generations find common ground
Today, according to David Ingersoll, director of Development for Foodservice at Network Services Company, the percent of household income spent on eating away from home is larger today than at any time in our history.
In fact, the industry expects annual growth to continue in the 4 to 5 percent range across all food service.
“The ‘baby boomer’ generation is rapidly becoming the senior citizen group,” says Ingersoll. “They have the largest percent of disposable income and enjoy eating out. The younger generation has grown up with eating away from home as a normal part of their lifestyle. They are willing to spend for fast, trendy foods.”
This mix of lifestyles — along with the growing influence of our foreign-born population — has helped foster new types of dining facilities and food offerings, adds Ingersoll.
Sensational news coverage, a record number of national and international media outlets and the availability of information have all led to an informed public.
“Today’s consumer is much more educated in wellness and health issues,” adds Ingersoll. “The food service industry is facing significant challenges in providing their customers with safe, healthy food offerings. Also, consumer demands for a sanitary environment require a stronger focus on facility maintenance and employee sanitation.”
Whether their concerns are based on “what-could-be” or actual events, some fears cannot be prevented, but actual threats can be overcome with the correct procedures and effective equipment.
Products and procedures to incorporate
Many restaurants have noticed hesitance from consumers to enter food service establishments.
As a result, “open” kitchens have been the most noticeable trend to hit the sector as a direct solution to calm consumer fears.
However, allowing the public to peer into your food prep area can have the opposite outcome if procedures are not up to snuff.
Once the inspector leaves, are your food service employees still abiding by the safety regulations?
The use of personal protection equipment (PPE), color-coded products and modern cleaning tools and techniques can help customers and workers stay compliant and safe.
Color-coding, for example, allows important information to be conveyed without the need for verbal communication, which might prove to be invaluable in multi-cultured establishments.
Cleaning workers should use a color-coded system when cleaning different food service areas — for example, using flat microfiber mops that are red and only using the mop in the restroom.
This practice will prevent the introduction of germs from the restroom to the kitchen, for example.
The same should be done for cleaning cloths and buckets.
Also, the cleaning staff should pay close attention and properly disinfect counters, sinks, utensils, dispensers and anything that is touched or will be in potential contact with food.
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a comprehensive Food and Drug Administration program focused on identifying as well as preventing contamination derived from food.
A good awareness of these standards can help all employees target the “hot spots” and effectively clean and maintain these areas.
Furthermore, let customers see the efforts you set forth to enhance their dining experience.
Today’s food service establishment
Manufacturer effort has been made to help save food service’s reputation.
Both for sanitation and long-term savings, notes Ingersoll, many of today’s facilities are equipped with sensor-operated, touch-free dispensers for water, soap and towels.
“Automation reduces the chance of cross-contamination and controls the amount of product consumed. Single-use napkin dispensers and straw dispensers reduce the number of napkins used per visit, helping to control waste and cost,” continues Ingersoll. “Many operators are now offering their customers hand sanitizers to fight contamination from bacteria. Some are placing sanitary papers near restroom doors for grabbing the handle when exiting.”
Odor control and pest management are other areas to focus on in the food service sections of the facility or facilities that you maintain.
Here, perception is reality; customers want to smell nothing but delectable food and see well-presented meals. They do not want to see rodents or insects.
The Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov
), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov
) and your local distributor are all good sources of information on this topic.
Employ the right techniques, properly train the cleaning and maintenance staff and keep a constant awareness of what enters the food service prep areas.
Nothing can eliminate the looming threat of a cross-contamination breakout, but steps can be taken to minimize and calm customer fears.