DEGREES COUNT: Temperature monitoring at receipt is critical.
This is part two of a two-part article. The first part (see April's RESTAURANT HOSPITALITY) explored the need to establish relationships with reputable suppliers and to train those who handle and store food using programs offered by the National Resaturant Association Educational Foundation and others.
Once the receiving process is established according to recommended guidelines, it's time to forge another critical distributor relationship—with the delivery drivers.
"I can't personally inspect every case that comes in," says Tom Ryan, director of food service at Saint Andrew Life Center, a senior care facility in Niles, IL. "But I do make it a point to visit the dock a couple of times a week to talk with the drivers and do random inspections. I look to make sure the refrigeration unit is running, that thermometers and temperature recorders are working properly, that trucks are clean and that there is no possibility for cross-contamination to occur."
Temperature monitoring at receipt is critical. Cold foods must be at 41°F or below and frozen foods must arrive frozen and free from evidence of temperature abuse (e.g., thawing and refreezing). One exception is eggs, which can be received at 45°F.
Like most foodservice operators, Ryan relies on the drivers to unload shipments according to safety guidelines. That means complying with procedures to maintain the proper temperature and package integrity of delivered product as well as handling procedures to avoid any possibility of cross-contamination. Procedures vary for different types of products and drivers should be knowledgeable about these differences. They should be able to answer customer questions about packaging and the normal/abnormal appearance of food products.
In general, if a driver cannot provide an immediate answer to a food safety question, he or she should know who within the distribution company can. The distributor can serve as both a strategic and on-call safety consultant in the receiving process, providing accurate information on topics like shelf-life, appropriate storage practices and the specific food safety risk factors associated with particular items. (For example, some distributors have dedicated regional managers assigned to answering out-of-the-ordi-nary questions and to assisting customers in obtaining food safety training or in preparing comprehensive food safety plans in response to health inspections).
Your local and state health departments are also allies in such efforts. Most inspectors view their role as educators rather than disciplinarians.
"In the past there have been adversarial relationships between the industry and inspectors," says Cindy Ulch, public health rating and survey officer for the State of Nevada's
Bureau of Health Protection Services. "But there is growing recognition that we still have huge gaps nationwide in food protection and that it is only by working together that we can close or narrow those gaps."
Frank Ferko, Director of Quality Assurance at RARE Hospitality International, which operates and franchises 281 restaurants nationwide, agrees. "There has been a move away from an emphasis on scoring floors, walls and ceilings, which often do not materially affect food safety, and toward a focus on risk factors," he says.
"By looking at risk factors—the things that have proven over time to affect food safety, primarily temperature, cross-contamination and personal hygiene—the inspection process has resulted in the reduction of foodborne illness as verified by CDC/FDA research," Ferko adds.
There is always the possibility for food safety to be compromised by high-profile, disastrous events, as we have seen in the past year. But for most of us, most of the time, it is our ongoing commitment to improving food safety in everyday processes that does the most to ensure the safety of the food we deliver, prepare and serve.
Jorge Hernandez is VP of food safety & quality assurance for US Foodservice and is responsible for setting, implementing and monitoring food safety and quality assurance policies for US Foodservice and its 80 distribution centers and 15 manufacturing facilities. Prior to joining USF, Jorge was the VP of Food Safety & Risk Management for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.
PHOTO: DIGITAL VISION