Keeping pace with trends in safe food preparation helps us update and improve the ways in which we educate food handlers. Organizations such as the International Association of Food Protection and their peer-reviewed publications provide great insights into this area, and operators benefit from finding innovative ways to put proven techniques and technologies into practice in their daily operations. Here are a few recent highlights:
Improving hand hygiene
Compliance with recommended hand washing was the focus of a paper by authors from Clemson University, N.C. State University, Ohio State University, University of Geneva and 2GO JO Industries, Inc.
Citing research that points to low compliance for hand washing among food handlers, this paper suggests that research needs to be done to determine what type of hand hygiene is necessary for various activities found in foodservice operations. For example, do food handlers need to use the same hand-washing procedure for touching their apron as they do after touching raw meat? The authors contend that part of the reason for poor hand-washing compliance is the time it takes to wash hands as frequently as recommended by health authorities. One example they point out is a deli worker who should wash their hands 27 times per hour. Based on a realistic time allotment of 50 seconds to complete the task, the worker would spend over 20 minutes of each hour washing their hands. Compliance in this situation may be low because it is not practical.
But what are the alternatives? Research from the Centers for Disease Control found that many alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not effective against Norovirus – a common source of outbreaks.
Look for a trend toward more research on hand-hygiene requirements for specific food-handler tasks. A ‘risk-based’ approach to hand hygiene that would see food handlers whose behaviour is high risk, such as handling raw animal products, require more stringent hand-washing requirements versus lower risk behaviour where a less stringent approach would be required. Perhaps a more practical approach that balances risk against realities of the workplace would result in higher compliance and hopefully, safer food preparation.
Public perception of dining out with allergies
Researchers from Kansas State University and Auburn University pulled feedback from a focus group of restaurant customers who suffer from allergies, revealing the challenges to safely serving this sector of our society.
When customers were questioned about their experiences they displayed a range of emotion from pleasant to frustrated. While some operators went out of their way to ensure the food had no allergens, others demonstrated potentially dangerous behaviour. Consumers pointed to several factors that contributed to allergic reactions in foodservice operations:
Hidden ingredients in foods such as sauces
Miscommunication from people serving to those preparing the food
Cross contamination where equipment used to prepare one food is not cleaned properly and allergens are carried over to another food
Incomplete food labelling
The authors suggest more empathy for customers with food allergies would go a long way to improving their perception of foodservice operations. This is a growing segment of our society and those operators that can effectively manage allergen-free food preparation will benefit. Establishing training and procedures for handling allergens in food will be a trend we see in more restaurants.
Cooling food safely
Researchers from Kansas State University and Bradley University conducted research on two-stage cooling as recommended by U.S. and Canadian health authorities. What they found was quite shocking. In their testing of chilli and tomato paste only one of the several methods recommended for cooling food safely actually worked!
According to regulations, food must be cooled to 21C in two hours and then to 4C within an additional four hours (there are slight variations between countries but this is essentially the idea). The researchers tested the following cooling methods:
Cooling food in shallow pans at a product depth of 5 cm (2 inches) in a refrigerator;
Cooling food in shallow pans at a product depth of 5 cm (2 inches) in a walk-in freezer;
Cooling food in shallow pans at a product depth of 5 cm (2 inches) in an ice bath, in a refrigerator.
They repeated the three methods above with food at a product depth of 7.6cm (3 inches).
They also used a chill stick (called a cooling paddle) left in a stock pot with 11.4L (3 gallons) of product. The stock pot with the chill stick was placed in the walk-in refrigerator.
The researchers found that only the shallow pan with a depth of 5 cm of product placed in the walk-in freezer met the requirements of the food safety regulations. Methods such as the chill stick worked well for the first stage of cooling, but left in the product, actually slowed the cooling process, taking over 24 hours to meet the safe temperature of 4C. As researchers do, they recommend more research. They did not research cooling of solid foods, which may be even harder to cool than liquids.
The moral of this story is that operators need to actively measure the temperature of foods they are cooling rather than assuming the procedure will be successful. Often this process comes at the end of the shift and food handlers leave the food to cool unattended, never knowing if the food cooled in the required amount of time to a safe temperature. Actively checking temperatures would require recording temperatures throughout the six-hour cooling process. The good news is that this can be done with automated data loggers so humans are not required.
Food Protection Trends, December 2012, Rethinking Hand Hygiene in the Retail and Foodservice Industries: Are Recommended Procedures Based on the Best Science and Practical under Real-world Conditions? Food Protection Trends, December 2012; Exploration of Past Experiences, Attitudes and Pre-ventive Behaviors of Consumers with Food Allergies about Dining Out: A Focus Group Study; June hee Kwon 1* and Yee Min g Lee 2 Food Protection Trends, January 2013; Cooling of Foods in Retail Foodservice Operations; Kevin R. Roberts,1* David A. Olds,2 Carol Shanklin,3 Kevin Sauer1 and Jeannie Sneed
About the author
Kevin Freeborn is an award-winning consultant, author and speaker with 30 years’ foodservice experience. Founder of Freeborn & Associates, he has been retained by leading North American organizations to develop food safety programs and training. Freeborn can be reached at 1-888-829-3177. Visit www.NFSTP.ca.