September is National Food Safety Month and this year’s theme is “The Future of Food Safety.” Foodservice technologies are constantly evolving, and new research findings lead to additional or improved food regulations that help protect your customer’s health. In 2017 the FDA updated the Food Code with several new rules that may affect your operation. The Code also reiterates food safety regulations that have been around for many years and which continue to be important for your staff to follow. Regulators can help you stay on track to follow ALL of these guidelines.
Although it’s normal to feel nervous when a regulator is evaluating your establishment, remember they’re there to keep everyone safe – not for the express purpose of making your job harder.
“It is important for a restaurant to value the inspection process. Both the regulatory agency and the restaurant have a common goal to keep your food and customers safe,” says Vito Palazzolo, Manager of Food Safety and Industry Relations for the National Restaurant Association.
To help make you more comfortable with the process, here are some of the questions that regulators hear frequently from operators:
Q: What are the new rules for the Person in Charge of food preparation?
A: The Person in Charge of food preparation must be designated and certified as a Certified Food Protection Manager. The Person in Charge must always be on site when the facility is in operation and needs to have proof of their certification. There must also be documentation in writing of who is designated on shift as the Person in Charge.
Q: What extra precautions must be taken by food handlers wearing bandages on their hands, and why?
A: If employees are wearing a bandage on their hands, it must be covered with a single-use glove to reduce the risk of losing it in food.
Q: Why might a manager ask you to remove fake fingernails before work?
A: Fake fingernails pose a health hazard because they are difficult to keep clean and could easily break off into food during preparation. Artificial nails can harbor hundreds of thousands of bacteria, even after hand washing, and can increase the potential for pathogen transmission.
Q: When must an apron be worn?
A: Aprons act as a barrier to prevent microorganisms, hair, dust, dirt and other physical contaminants that might be on an employee’s clothing from transferring to the food, equipment, or utensils with which they are working. An apron must be worn in all areas of the back house, including but not limited to, washing utensils, preparing food, cooking food, and in some cases, even during cleaning. Remember to remove your apron when using the restroom or taking out the garbage.
Q: When must gloves be worn?
A: Foodservice employees must wear single-use gloves when handling or preparing ready-to-eat foods and when they are wearing an impermeable bandage on their hands. Gloves do not need to be worn when cleaning tables.
Q: When an employee is sick, how long do they have to wait before returning to work?
A: After experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, or a sore throat with a fever, an employee must be symptom-free for 24 hours before returning to work.
Working with Regulators
Although nobody looks forward to an inspection, regulators can point out areas where you can improve, thereby helping you avoid making mistakes that can cause serious foodborne illnesses. Think of it this way: It’s better to have a regulator instruct you in private than to have negative social media posts about your establishment.
Here are some tips for working with regulators:
- Have a welcoming attitude
- Treat your regulator as you would want to be treated
- Ask the regulator questions about your processes and procedures; a genuine sense of curiosity will help you improve
- Ask for some best practices on common processes such as training, food handling, and food storage. Regulators are a wealth of knowledge.
- Let the regulator know if you are new to a process; don’t hide it and hope they don’t find out. The goal is to get better, not hide mistakes.
- Be proactive, not reactive to changes and new food safety codes.
- Listen carefully, have an open mind, and take notes when a regulator is explaining your inspection.
- When appropriate, if you have a difference of understanding on a violation, approach it with an open attitude.
- Know who your regulator is and make an effort to create a positive working relationship.
- Correct violations before the next inspection so the regulator knows you want to be compliant. This shows that you are committed to food safety and protecting your customer’s health. When a regulator has to document the same violations over and over, it deteriorates the working relationship.
- Try to value the inspection process, both the regulator and you have a common goal to keep customers safe.
Regulators are experts and can help your establishment keep customers happy and healthy. Keep an open mind, stay positive, and have a mindset of learning and you’ll enjoy a good working relationship with your regulator - and improved foodservice protocols.