Over the years, there have been a number of food-borne illnesses which have challenged many international hotel and restaurant chains, as well food manufacturers. Especially in recent years, food poisoning cases are involving campylobacter, salmonella, e coli and listeria in raw and processed meats, chicken and fish, staphylococcus aureus in pastries and pasta, and an outbreak of the norovirus in hotels in Japan. Some of these incidences have led to prolonged hospital confinements, court cases and even death.
One of the common solutions adopted by the industry is comprehensive food safety management programs that undertake regular sampling and testing of critical food items, including water and ice, and kitchen sanitation audits, including assessing the hygiene practices of food handlers, as well as swab-testing of food contact surfaces. In addition to the testing and auditing, delivery inspection and supplier product evaluation are further carried out.
Hotels, restaurants and food manufacturers implement a comprehensive food safety management system (FSMS) in accordance to certifiable international standards, such as ISO 22000, FSSC 22000, BRC version 6, and IFS, amongst other internationally reputable standards.
All of these are engaged through an independent body providing food safety services and are aimed to monitor food quality and safety by preventing cross-contamination of food to ensure the consumer is always protected when dining in hotel restaurant outlets.
Kitchen Sanitation & HygieneEnvironmental conditions and facilities in the kitchen are also important parts of food safety and handling processes. They are assessed by its conformance to accepted standards of sanitation such as the Codex Alimentarius, Recommended International Code of Practice, and General Principles of Food Hygiene.
In particular, many hotels and restaurants have been successful at implementing Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety assurance plans for a number of years. During a typical kitchen audit, independent auditors carry out a number of visual checks, including inspection of the receiving bay, down to the various kitchen areas, such as dry storage, walk-in chillers, freezers, main kitchen and a variety of specialised areas for example international cuisines, pastry section, room service kitchen and right through the buffet display.
Each area or kitchen is evaluated on a number of levels, including the hygienic conditions of ventilation and exhaust systems, the lighting fixtures, walls, floors and ceilings are also assessed to ensure that they do not cause potential physical or microbiological hazards in food.
SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget, Stockholm, Sweden
Similarly, potential points for insect entry and harbourage are identified and eliminated through an effective pest control program to prevent ground for microbial growth alongside hygienically controlled disposal & handling of kitchen refuse.
In addition, it is imperative that a review/assessment of equipment is not missed. It is compulsory to ensure that all hand-washing facilities have complete supplies of hot water, soap, nailbrush, disinfecting solution as well as hand dryers or towels to allow full implementation of personal hygiene procedures.
Dishwashers must be working perfectly, walk-in chillers, freezers, hot-holding and cold-holding cabinets must be well-maintained and temperature gauges must be well-calibrated.
The accuracy of reading of temperature gauges is very important to define food safety relative to the growth of microorganisms. Normally, microorganisms exhibit logarithmic growth at the temperature danger zone (TDZ) of 4.4—60 deg C. Temperature control and an accurate temperature reading eliminate exposure to the TDZ.
Hygiene InspectionAs an integrated approach to the kitchen sanitation and hygiene audits, check the food handlers’ personnel hygiene, working practices during food handling and food preparation. This necessitates a high level of understanding by the staff on the personnel hygiene commandments, Prep-It-Safe and Serve-It-Safe.
It is necessary for all kitchen workers to undergo training on food safety, hygiene and serve safe practices to ensure that the food handlers themselves apply hygienic procedures, and that they do not cross-contaminate the food with any type of pathogenic bacteria during handling, processing and service.
The basic rule is: keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Avoid prolonged exposure of the food to the TDZ.
The workers’ knowledge of the different types of foods hazards (physical, chemical, microbiological) is key to implementing preventive measures on cross-contamination. Personal hygiene cannot be totally implemented without the provision of appropriate hand washing facilities in the work areas complete with hot water, soap, nailbrush, disinfecting solution and hand dryers. Food handlers in hotel chains are reminded to do frequent and proper hand washing method through signage’s or posters on walls.
Cleaning & DisinfectionSo how clean is considered safe? Let’s look at swabbing, a common practice on evaluating cleanliness of surfaces. Swab samples are used to detect the presence of certain bacteria in food-contact surfaces as a result of cross-contamination or improper cleaning and disinfection process.
During kitchen audits, food-contact surfaces such as those of utensils, chopping boards, knives, pots, pans and food processing equipment are randomly swabbed and analysed for total microbiological content.
The purpose of this activity is to check whether the cleaning and disinfection process completed by the kitchen staff is carried out correctly on correctly prepared surfaces which have been treated by right dosage of sterilising solutions.
It has been a myth to many that once you change the recommended dosage of the chemicals or disinfectants, the efficacy or germ-kill ability of the solution becomes less and it is likely to no longer work to eliminate the bacteria on these food-contact surfaces.
Swabbing of the hands of food handlers works in the same way as food-contact swab and determines if hand-washing is done properly by the kitchen staff.
First-In-First-OutIn general terms, Food safety assurance and hazards control starts at receiving. All foods accepted must be carefully inspected and correctly stored to ensure their highest quality and to protect them from contamination and deterioration.
Supplies of raw ingredients and pre-processed foods must be carefully inspected right at the receiving and the lag period for the unloading of deliveries must not be for an extended period especially for frozen and chilled items to avoid prolonged exposure to temperature danger zone.
Normally, the procurement and cost control group will have set-up material specifications and guidelines for acceptance or reject dispositions.
Proper storage of foods and raw ingredients must follow the basic principle of First-In-First-Out (FIFO), this means to utilise the items bought or delivered with reference to expiration or use-by dates. This principle helps to avoid losses and spoilage.
FIFO cannot be successfully implemented without proper date labelling and segregation. Walk-in chillers and freezers must have designated racks or shelves per food category to allow proper segregation and avoid potential cross-contamination. Special attention is given to condenser areas in chillers and freezers and no food of any type must be stored underneath as condenser drippings can potentially cause cross-contamination of foods stored.
Likewise, dry foods or foods stored at ambient temperatures must be carefully segregated, labelled, there should be no bloated cans, damp cartons or torn packages. Be mindful of crawling insects as they love to linger around open or torn packages and make it their place of abode. Food is for your customers and not the insects!
The bottom line is really how brands can leverage on the ideas and start building up a safety culture within the organisation or even at the industry level to help consumers enjoy the quality food without even need to look at what are the audit certificates you have earned, if that is really possible.
Having said that, engaging with FSMS is definitely helpful to hotel and restaurant operators and other brand owners, helping them to systematically achieve a wholesome culture of food safety. As we always say, food safety can never be fully implemented without the provisions for workers to observe proper personnel hygiene.