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Food Safety Tips: Prerequisite Programs

Food Safety Tips: Prerequisite ProgramsThose of you familiar with the HACCP approach to food safety know that HACCP is just one part of the food safety puzzle in your restaurant.  It’s very good at managing cooking and holding temperatures for food product, which should be considered the first line of defense against pathogens that could sicken customers.

But HACCP also relies heavily on what it calls “prerequisite programs,” or standard operating procedures (SOPs) that keep your restaurant’s kitchen a clean, microbe-free environment at all times.  Without prerequisite programs, HACCP becomes your only defense against food borne illness, and that means unacceptable risk for your business.

Think of these SOPs as the base and HACCP as the tip of a spear in the battle against bacteria.  Most of these procedures are obvious precautions which you probably already have in place in your restaurant, but having a checklist can be helpful in making sure you’re taking a comprehensive approach:

Staff handwashing.  A handwashing sink with posted guidelines on when to wash hands and how to wash hands properly is a fundamental SOP for any restaurant.  Also make sure you train your staff on handwashing procedure and carry out regular enforcement to make sure your staff are handling food product with clean hands.  Learn more here.

Cover up.  Hair and beard restraints, disposable gloves, and proper chef apparel prevent foreign objects from ending up in food.  A properly clothed staff is key to keeping unwanted things out of the entrees you serve your customers.

Sanitization procedures.  Everything that touches food in your restaurant needs to be sanitized on a regular basis.  Food processors, mixers, slicers, countertops, utensils, and cookware are all good examples.  Smaller items like kitchen knives and fry pans can be sanitized using your commercial dishwasher.  Larger equipment like mixers and slicers need to be washed down with a sanitizer solution.  The same goes for surfaces where food is prepared.  Buying concentrated sanitizer for this task will save you a lot of money over pre-mixed sanitizer.

Receiving product.  When your supplier truck rolls up to the back door of your restaurant, you and your staff should be following a standard set of procedures for processing and storing product.  The temperature of cold stored product should be checked as it comes off the truck and a minimum time for getting it into your walk-in should be set.  These guidelines make sure product is arriving at a safe temperature and is stored properly without entering the danger zone over 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Employee health.  Employees that come in direct contact with food during its preparation should be sent home if they exhibit symptoms of illnesses that can be transmitted to customers, including vomiting and diarrhea.  The loss of that employee for that shift is minor compared to the problems your business will face if a customer is infected.

Use potable water.  The vast majority of kitchens have ready access to potable water through existing plumbing.  However, it’s important to have procedures and staff training in place that ensures water used for cooking, washing, or otherwise preparing food product and for ice making is free from pathogens and contamination.  Usually this means preventing the cross-contamination of water after it comes out of the tap.  In the case of ice making, ice machine lines and ice bins should be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent bacterial growth.

Control contaminants and toxic compounds.  Some of the things you use in your restaurant kitchen cannot come into contact with food, like sanitizers, equipment lubricants, pesticides, etc.  Make sure these contaminants are properly labeled and stored in a separate, dedicated place and that machines and surfaces that come into contact with food product are properly washed.

Control pests.  The reasons for controlling pests are obvious.  However, it’s easy to forget about a control program and tempting to save a little money by not calling the exterminator.  Make sure you regularly locate and eliminate pests with an effective program on a regular schedule.

Calibrate hot and cold holding equipment and temperature measuring devices.  Over time the temperature this equipment says it’s at becomes less and less accurate, potentially allowing food to slip into the danger zone between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.  Calibrate this equipment on a regular schedule to ensure temperature accuracy.

Depending on what your kitchen prepares and how it’s configured, additional safety procedures may be warranted.  Consult with your local health inspection official for advice on how to address unique situations you might encounter in your restaurant.

Enforcement is also an important concern.  The best laid guidelines in the world are useless if they aren’t followed properly.  HACCP procedures for monitoring employees create a great, multi-layered system for ensuring guidelines are followed.

Food safety is a constant work-in-progress.  Training employees and then effectively monitoring the implementation of prerequisite programs will create a solid base upon which your food safety program can rest, ensuring you are serving the best food to your customer day in and day out.

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