The truth is: One foodborne illness can destroy a restaurant. We hate to pick on Chipotle, but their prolonged food-safety crisis is hard to top in the restaurant industry. Just this year, 647 people who ate at one of their Ohio restaurants experienced gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, and fever due to Clostridium perfingens, a bacterium that forms when food is left out at unsafe temperatures.
In 2015, the popular food chain experienced an E. coli outbreak that spanned 14 states and infected at least 60 people with 21 of them being hospitalized. Sales slid by more than 30 percent.
In spite of this, they are making a comeback with their current CEO promising that all restaurant employees will be retrained on food safety. Shares surged 74 percent this year before mid-December’s overall stock market slide.
They certainly aren’t the only chain to be experiencing bacteria-blues. McDonald’s has had its own share of foodborne illnesses with 300 people getting sick from norovirus in North Carolina and 400 people in 16 states becoming ill from a Cyclospora parasite found in their salads.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 48 million people in America get sick every year from a foodborne illness. The good news is that there are steps your restaurant can take that will help prevent you from becoming part of the foodborne illness statistic.
What Can Restaurant’s Do to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses?
- Make sure that your employees are trained in and understand the importance of committing to food safety. Understanding the possible ramifications can help them take this subject seriously.
- Food safety training includes educating employees regarding internal food temperatures, color-coding cutting boards for different types of meat and vegetables as well as ready-to-eat foods, and returning food to cold storage in a timely matter. Bacteria multiply rapidly between 40°F and 140°F—a range known as the “danger zone.”
- Consider a yearly refresher course with a food safety expert or online training after initial hiring. It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday demands and lose sight of consistent food safety protocol. A new set of eyes is always helpful.
- Take time out from your busy schedule to conduct an internal audit. Utilize checklists and have multiple staff members involved. Some specialists recommend performing this self-inspection once a week.
- Keep a watchful eye on employee’s handwashing routines. They should be washing their hands before every shift, before touching food, after emptying the trash and using the restroom. No exceptions.
- Don’t let food preparers work sick. I know this is a difficult one to follow through on. It’s a Saturday night, the place is packed, and your prep chef is looking a little green and spending more time in the restroom than on the line. The consequences of letting him continue to work are more severe than finding a replacement or doing it yourself. Norovirus is highly contagious and commonly spreads through food or water. Symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. One of the main risk factors is eating in a place where food is handled with unsanitary procedures.
Many of you were probably toddlers when E. coli almost took down Jack in the Box. It was 1993 when 73 locations across 4 states served undercooked patties during their “Monster Burger” promotion. Four children died, 178 people were left with permanent damage, and the breakout affected a total of 732 individuals.
The good news is that creating a food safety culture that emphasizes specific protocols goes along way in ensuring that your customers are provided with a safe and healthy dining experience. Your guests will thank you for your efforts.