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Food-borne Illness Equals Foodservice Disaster

An estimated 87 million cases of food-borne illness occurred in the U.S. last year, including 371,000 hospitalizations and 5,700 deaths, according to an Associated Press calculation that used a formula devised by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and current population estimates.

A food-borne illness outbreak is defined by the CDC as an "incident in which two or more persons experience a similar illness resulting from the ingestion of a common food.”

Every day restaurants, fast food and convenience store food services are operating in a very high-risk environment. A food-borne illness outbreak creates legal exposure and a public relaxations disaster. In the c-store business it will affect overall gas and inside sales as consumers avoid locations.

A new report by Virginia's Hollins University found alarming levels of bacteria in convenience and fast-food soda fountains. Forty-eight percent of machine beverages tested contained coliform bacteria -- which can originate in fecal matter. Everyone has procedures for cleaning fountain units, but is it getting done daily and more importantly, is it being executed correctly?

In my opinion all levels of foodservice management should be ServSafe certified by the National Restaurant Association. This certification will give management an extreme amount of information to avoid food-borne illness. More than anything else, it will create a high level of awareness of the risk they are working with daily and probably not taking seriously enough.

Best practices to avoid a food-borne illness:

-- Avoid cross contamination storage. Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from all ready-to-eat foods.
-- Date all products upon delivery and utilize a first in first out procedure.
-- Refrigerate foods promptly. If prepared food stands at room temperature for more than two hours, it may not be safe to eat.
-- Reheat foods properly, to kill the harmful bacteria. Reheat cooked food to at least 165 degrees.
-- Employees need to wash their hands properly. I see kitchens out of soap, sanitizers and towels. Even after employees wash their hands, they can be observed touching their hats, hair and dirty aprons.
-- Wash utensils and surfaces before and after use with hot, soapy water followed by a sanitizer.
-- Maintain hot cooked food at 140 degrees or higher.
-- Divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.
-- Continually talk about food safety, particularly at team meetings.
Ask what should you do if you experience a food-borne illness.
-- Train employees to refer consumer calls to management.
-- Train managers to collect information and commit to the consumer an investigation. Never take responsibility until the investigation is finalized, avoiding legal exposure starts at the store level in regards to how they handle the situation.
-- Communicate to managers that a food-borne illness is a 911 issue. If a store gets more than two complaints, they should be called at home.
-- Immediately contact the health department. Many companies try to do their own investigations but the health department will be more thorough. It is important to build a positive relationship with health departments.
-- Senior management should be notified and should be prepared to create press releases.
-- Discuss food safety at all employees meeting and incorporate it into newsletters.

Remember food is an integral part of your organization, and a food-borne illness is a big risk.

Other columns by Dean Dirks:

The Fine Line Between Paranoia and Reality

The Value of Foodservice

Calorie Count Laws Provide Marketing Opportunities

Fast Food Franchisee Challenges

Never Let the Customer Leave Unhappy

Food Safety Paramount, Especially in C-store Business

Marketing in Today's Foodservice Environment

Learning from the Competition

Managing Foodservice Labor

The 1 Percent Edge

If you have a question for Dean, please e-mail Convenience Store News at [email protected].

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.
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