(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the April/May 2018 issue.)
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According to a 2017 report by the National Restaurant Association, turnover in the hospitality industry—sometimes referred to as the “quits rate”—topped 70 percent for the second consecutive year. This means that restaurant staffers, both in the front and the back of the house, must be replaced about every six to eight months.
There was a significant decline in the turnover rate during the Great Recession. The reasons for this were likely because there were fewer jobs in the industry overall and those who were lucky enough to have a job kept it.
But times are different now. Because the economy is doing much better, many staffers keep their eyes open for new opportunities and are quick to jump ship when they find them. Further, restaurants hire a significant number of teenagers and students. Invariably, many of these employees work on a temporary basis, due to school and other factors.
Don’t forget that seasonal staffing is common in the restaurant industry. A resort-area restaurant in Michigan, for example, may be bustling during the summer months, but have few customers in the winter. Obviously, this will impact how many employees are working at the property throughout the year.
Whatever the reasons, turnover creates challenges for restaurant owners and managers. And, one of the most significant challenges that must stay at the top of the list is food safety.
When a whole new crew comes on board, all must often be taught some fundamental food safety rules, whether the employees stay for six months or six years. And many of the most critical safety concerns, especially if workers are involved with food handling and preparation, revolve around food temperatures: freezing, chilling, unfreezing, and cooling food after it has been cooked, all in an attempt to prevent bacteria growth.
The following are some of the most important of these temperature safety rules that “newbies” should be aware of.
The U.S. FDA mandates that refrigerated products be kept at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or colder and frozen foods at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Staff should also know that chilled food should be placed in the fridge or freezer as soon as it is delivered. If the temperature of chilled food tops 40 degrees Fahrenheit, known as the “danger zone,” or frozen food is allowed to thaw before being placed in the freezer, food-poisoning bacteria may grow.
Food contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms usually looks fine, may taste great, and can smell very inviting. However, pathogenic bacteria in food can cause various health risks, from mild indigestion to severe food poisoning. In many cases, this type of bacteria develops when food is left out too long to cool and reaches temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
What may come as a surprise to many new staffers is that certain types of bacteria thrive in cold temperatures. Referred to as psychrophilic (cold-loving) bacteria, these microorganisms can grow slowly at very cold temperatures. This usually does not result in food spoilage.
However, once food that has been contaminated with psychrophilic microorganisms is left out to unfreeze for cooking, the bacteria can begin to grow, and grow very fast. The best way to prevent this growth is to allow the food to unfreeze in the refrigerator, instead of on a counter, and keep continuous tabs on the food’s temperature while it is unfreezing.
Ready-to-eat food may be delivered to a commercial kitchen fresh but could become contaminated when it is placed in the fridge or freezer. What your staff needs to know is that these food items should be wrapped and placed in a separate area in the freezer/fridge to avoid contamination. Additionally, the food should be date-coded to make sure it is used within the recommended period.
One of the most important concerns when it comes to food temperatures is what to do if there is a power failure. When the power first goes out, do not open the freezer. Usually, the food will remain safe in the freezer for up to 48 hours. However, here are some guidelines staff should know:
- If the food is still frozen, leave it in the freezer or look for an alternative freezer;
- If the food has begun to defrost, allow it to continue, and then cook it as soon as possible;
- Fully defrosted or thawed food, such as raw meat, fish, or poultry, should be cooked immediately—then it can be re-frozen; and
- Food that has thawed, if not cooked, must be discarded.
Most of these issues can be addressed, ensuring food is safe and healthy, if food temperatures are regularly monitored. Traditionally, this has been accomplished by manually checking fridge/freezer temperatures or the temperatures of food that has been left out to unfreeze or cool after cooking. These checks should then be followed by a staffer who prepares hand-recorded logs.