Ignoring fundamental food safety practices can result in foodborne illnesses, which directly affects both businesses and their customers. If an employee is not properly trained in foodservice sanitation and safety, and does not take these tasks seriously, their place of work will inevitably suffer. Unfortunately, many times, food safety falls to the wayside when there are issues either finding or keeping quality employees. Luckily, there are easy steps any owner or manager can take to eliminate potential problems.

The foodservice industry employs people from all cultures who arrive from a variety of socio- and economic backgrounds. Unlike many other lines of work, these individuals are more likely to move in and out of this industry as the job market fluctuates. Those who want to be part of the foodservice world enter for various reasons. Some do it because they feel a passion for the work; some think it can lead to money or fame; some start because they could not find a job elsewhere. The sad but true reality of those factors, and several others, results in some people becoming employed as foodservice workers even though they may not have been appropriately educated in professional practices.

It is rarely the intention of an employer to hire someone that does not have proper training. Often, when deciding to hire a new employee, one needs to assume that the applicant’s earlier employment history (if accurate) demonstrates that they are well-versed in everyday foodservice sanitation procedures. Unfortunately, that is not always a correct assumption to make.

Additionally, many foodservice workers encounter an environment where the leadership may have hired and trained various individuals swiftly, breezing over common-sense practices. Of course, there are other measurements in place to catch these types of hires. One example is a county certification to show the needed proof of knowledge of food safety. Unfortunately, even training established by a governing body can be swift and ineffective for continuing practice and comprehension.

The higher demand for employees in today’s restaurant business can often result in a position being filled by a worker who may not always be the best fit for it. It’s not uncommon to see a dishwasher helping with prep, for example, chopping onions and peeling potatoes. When a less-than-reliable employee shows up late, someone else might be pulled aside to plate a few salads, ideally with direction. If that same employee shows up in a state that results in their termination, that reliable dishwasher might become promoted to pantry cook, perhaps with no additional or official training.

Some of the best restaurant employees have been the people who have worked their way up the brigade system—those who were not trained in a classical or formal sense and may not have received some of the training that is needed. Every kitchen has that employee: the one you need to go behind and clean up after, constantly remind to wash their hands, the ones that need to be reminded everyday of simple tasks to keep the kitchen a clean and safe environment.

It is not uncommon to come across professional foodservice workers who have a pessimistic attitude about food handling safety. This person rarely cleans effectively and only occasionally washes their hands, incurring several food code violations. How do we fix this?

The first step is to take a little extra time. Mangers and other trainers must consistently train and retrain employees in sanitation effectiveness. The same emphasis that is put on teaching knife cuts and presentation should also be given to sanitation. Failing to train any employee—especially the least experienced or least energized employee—can lead to serious problems that may lead to the end of a business. No matter where contamination happens in the flow of food preparation, we must be aware of the severity of its aftermath. We can speak all day of procedures and plans but we need to ensure that a precedent is set; the best teacher is one who teaches by example.

What are those examples?

•    Train all employees on proper temperatures of cooking, cooling, storing and reheating products.

•    Make single-use gloves available, and remind employees how and when to use them.

•    Place signs near hand-washing sinks, and remind employees when it is required for them to do so.

•    Make clean aprons and towels available for all employees, and provide a proper disposal area for them.

•    Do not allow any employees to work while ill.

The first issue that comes to mind is when a person contracts a foodborne illness. Many questions are raised in this situation: How does a business handle the situation? Has that illness been proven by a doctor or a government agency? Has the source of the illness been discovered? Has it been contained, tested and documented? Have the proper procedures been followed? If the answer is “no” to some of these questions, the cost of the medical, legal, and personal monies that may be demanded by litigation may be high, but the overall injury to the business itself can run much deeper.

These are some of the other costs that an establishment, regardless of its size, can encounter due to a foodborne illness:

•    Reduced revenue

•    Battered reputation

•    Damaging media coverage

•    Extensive legal fees and litigations

•    Low staff morale

•    High employee absenteeism

•    Increased insurance premium/loss of coverage

•    Loss of time and money spent on staff retraining

A 2016 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that more than half of foodborne outbreaks were linked to restaurants. Are you concerned about improving your sanitation practices while keeping your staff numbers at needed levels, despite employee training?

Here are easy steps you can put in place:

•    Create a sanitation plan; communicate that plan verbally and visually; then follow-up.

•    Include employees in the sanitation plan, and allow for collaboration through meetings and team ownership.

•    Train employees efficiently during on-the-job work training; if it is a part of your standard operating procedure, it will be simple to implement.

•    Create online sanitation training and testing practices to meet orientation guidelines, and for continuing training for all employees.

•    Limit food contact in preparation; the clean, separate, cook, chill1 guide simplifies food handling practices.

•    Use best practices for safety and regulations.

For business owners, the direct impact is personal, yet it has a ripple effect. The business ends up losing out, and all stakeholders are affected in many ways, by a foodborne illness.

Chef Danielle M. Gleason C.H.E., C.S.C. has been an instructor at Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies in Louisville, Ky. for 13 years. She is a ServSafe-certified instructor/proctor and also teaches online sanitation courses. She sits on the board for the Salvation Army in Louisville and is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International.

1. www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/teach-others/fsis-educational-campaigns/check-your-steps.