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“Bride suing hotel after norovirus outbreak at wedding reception”
“Report: Hotel chef ‘most likely’ source of norovirus outbreak”
Each of these is an actual news headline from recent years.
Today, travelers expect the hotels they choose to offer food, whether it’s a full-service hotel with restaurants and banquet services, or a limited service hotel that offers snacks and microwaveable meals. To customers, the responsibility of ensuring that these food items are safe falls to you; and failing to ensure that standard operating procedures (SOPs), staff, and vendors are all adhering to food safety standards could leave your hotel at the center of headlines like these.
But with a myriad of services offered by hotels today, food safety often goes beyond the obvious risks. Every operation is unique, and risks can vary depending upon the food services provided. Even the smallest slip in one area could result in a serious food safety crisis for a property, or create ramifications for the entire brand if it’s a franchised or corporate-owned location of a larger chain.
While the risks are serious, there are a number of actionable steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of an incident at your hotels.
1. Conduct a thorough gap analysis to identify areas of potential risk. When considering a food safety program, you need to assess risks throughout the facility. Kitchens may initially seem like the only area of real risk, but the truth is there may be dozens of other opportunities for potential foodborne risks. Does your hotel offer room service? Serve food poolside? Have an in-room gift service that may leave food sitting out? Do you regularly check food pantry, snack areas, or mini-bars for potential issues with refrigeration or pest infestation? Are all of your food handlers and servers fully versed on food safety practices? Do you have an allergen awareness program? Are your cleaning SOPs for food service equipment followed and enforced? Do you have a receiving policy in place for food items? Do your vendors know your food safety standards? Are you partnering with any food delivery services that provide guests with meals? These are the types of questions you or a food safety partner should ask during a gap analysis.
2. Ensure that all staff members have enough training to know the risks. Kitchen workers, bartenders, and food handlers should all receive in-depth food safety training in order to be prepared to handle a variety of circumstances—the food safety risks for a buffet will differ from those for table service. Hotels that host meetings and special events also serve guests in high volume, which requires knowledge of food safety risks that occur in these situations, including temperature controls for high volume foods.
Food handlers and servers should know key food allergens, understand where potential allergy risks exist in menu items, and be able to answer customer questions about them. Food allergies don’t just cause discomfort—for some guests, they can be life-threatening. In addition to initial on-boarding, conduct regular training to not only keep staff up to speed on changes in operation, your menu, and food regulation, but also to continually remind them of proper food safety practices.
Signage can also help serve your team as a continual reminder about important food safety practices. That said, be aware that any sign in place long enough can become “part of the environment” for food workers and be overlooked. If using signage, keep it fresh so that employees don’t become “sign blind.”
Beyond staff that directly work with food, be sure that all of your staff members—from front desk to housekeeping—have a basic understanding of food safety and know where to go for help or assistance in an emergency. For example, housekeepers may play a role in delivering food gifts to rooms—but do they understand why it is dangerous for food to remain unrefrigerated for longer than four hours? Is there a policy in place to ensure checks on these deliveries? Or, if a guest were to complain about becoming sick from food, would the front desk staff know the proper procedures to follow? If someone becomes sick in the buffet area, does the janitorial staff know the proper procedures to take for cleanup to prevent others from becoming ill? These are all food safety-related practices that could protect your brand from a serious illness incident.