Seminar: Food Safety 3

In this lecture we learned about sanitizing, crisis management, and pest control and about the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP, pronounced “hassip”) system, which I think is pretty cool because it’s all about thinking ahead and anticipating problems so you can prevent them.

Pillsbury developed HACCP in the 1960s when NASA contracted with them to make the food that went up with the astronauts. If you’re in a spacecraft and your meal doesn’t agree with you, you have a very serious problem. Traditionally, finished products (in any industry) were randomly inspected for quality control. Pillsbury laid out the procedure for preparing the food from beginning to end and called that flow of food. A critical control point is any step in the flow of food where food can be contaminated, especially where microorganisms can grow to the point of making someone sick. Pillsbury then determined corrective actions for potential problems.

In 1993, an outbreak of E. coli was traced to burgers served at Jack in the Box restaurants in the northwestern United States, most of them in Seattle. The E. coli was traced to the burger supplier (i.e., the burgers hadn’t been contaminated at the restaurant). The federal government decided they should use Pillsbury’s HACCP program as the basis for food-handling regulations and food service inspections. HACCP was made mandatory for fish and seafood products in 1995 and for juice production and packaging in 2001. HACCP is now mandatory for meat and poultry production and voluntary for milk products. Inspections of restaurants are now HACCP based, so HACCP needs to be designed into the food service operation. HACCP in restaurants mandates things like placement and use of hand-washing sinks in the kitchen and those menu notices about consuming raw eggs or meat and about ingredients that are common allergens.

All this food safety stuff can seem excessive, but if you’re not obsessive about it, and people get sick, you can be ruined. If one person gets sick after eating in your restaurant, that’s a problem. If more than one gets sick, that’s officially an outbreak. The health department will shut you down, it’ll be all over the news because anybody who ate there will have to be notified so they can be tested, and your business might never recover. Keeping food-contact surfaces clean and sanitized and checking the temperature of your ingredients and food go a long way to preventing disaster. We had quite a lecture on the five-step dishwashing protocol and procedures for cleaning and sanitizing work surfaces and floors. For example, food-contact surfaces in continuous use (e.g., countertops, ice cream scoops) must be washed, rinsed, and sanitized every 4 hours.

Crisis management, like HACCP, is about thinking ahead and planning for a problem rather than having to figure out what to do when you’re in the middle of an emergency. What do you do if one of your ingredients is recalled? Suppose your power goes out or there’s a flood? If the electricity goes out and you don’t have a backup plan, you’ll have to close the restaurant because your refrigerators and freezers won’t keep food at a safe temperature.

Pest control was the last part of the lecture. Any food service operation should have a contract with a pest control company. And you don’t just give them a key and let them come in while you’re not there; you should be there with them so you can see what the problems are and how they’re being treated. The first thing you do is make sure everything is sealed up; you want tight-fitting doors and no holes anywhere. A mouse can get through an opening the size of a pencil; a rat can get through an opening the size of a quarter. The standard for shelving is 6 inches off the floor, which makes it easier to spot pests and also isn’t cozy enough for them to nest in. Insect pests come in on your shipments of food, either in the containers or on fruit. In fact, you should wash your fruit when you get it home from the store, because that’s the source of your fruit flies. Rodents are bad, but flies are worse because they can go anywhere and can pick up and leave germs on everything.

Fortunately for anyone who eats in any kind of restaurant, inspections are done twice a year routinely, and they can also be made for complaints or other problems. Inspectors can show up any time; an inspection doesn’t let you off the hook for the next 6 months, though; the inspector can show up for a routine inspection any time before that. A good restaurant following all the food safety practices and therefore has nothing to fear from an unannounced inspection.

About linguina

For most of my life I've loved to read and to make stuff. My mother says I taught myself to read when I was 4, and I never looked back. I also liked fooling around in the kitchen, but my mother wasn't really into cooking, so I learned a lot of that on my own, too. My sister and I had the Betty Crocker New Boys and Girls Cookbook (1965), and naturally I had to make the Enchanted Castle Cake. I learned how to bake bread when I was 14, and I bought a copy of the Joy of Cooking when I was 17. My aunt and uncle gave me Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my 19th birthday, and the first thing I made was soufflé. I've always been more of a baker than a cook, though. When our niece used to visit us during her breaks from college, she'd get me to show her some cooking things (including soufflé, of course!), but I kept having to tell her, "This is just how I do it. I have no idea if it's the right way." Finally, I took a basic cooking class, and that changed my life. After that class, I signed up for a 4-day baking class at King Arthur Flour. That's when I knew I was really a baker. Now I'm taking the professional pastry program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. With this training, I'll become a pastry chef.
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