Putting Retail Food Safety to the Test

By Lecos, Chris | FDA Consumer, May 1985 | Go to article overview

Putting Retail Food Safety to the Test


Lecos, Chris, FDA Consumer


The owner of the small restaurant glances at the clock and sees that he has only two hours to get everything done before opening. There's chicken to be baked, salads to be made, hamburgers to be readied for the always popular "Burger Special," and a large pot of chili, made the night before, to be reheated.

He takes a dozen chickens from the walk-in refrigerator, portions them into serving sizes on a cutting board, and whisks them into a preheated oven. He takes a cloth, wipes the knife and board, and then chops and mixes the salad ingredients before hand-filing equal amounts into wooden bowls.

He then removes 20 pounds of ground beef from the refrigerator, adds salt, pepper and a touch of garlic powder, mixes it well, and starts packing it into an automatic hamburger patty machine. Within a half hour, he has 80 nearly rounded, ready-to-cook, four-ounce patties--more than enough when added to the two dozen uncooked patties from the day before.

Only a half hour before opening. Remembering the chili, he wipes the meat particles from the patty machine with the cloth, takes the large pot of chili from the refrigerator, fills a smaller container with enough for the lunch hour, and places the chili with the other items on the heated steam table.

Later, after the lunch rush is over, he allows himself a brief break. Sipping a cup coffee, the hardworking owner is pleased, very pleased indeed, with his busy and profitable opening--not realizing he has exposed some of his patrons to possible food poisoning.

He should have been aware that raw chicken--like any meat--is a common carrier of Salmonella bacteria, a frequent cause of food poisoning. Proper cooking killed the bacteria on the chikcen, but the owner didn't clean and sanitize the cutting board after portioning the chickens, nor did he wash his hands before handling the salads and hamburger. He compounded the problem by wiping the cutting board and patty machine with the same cloth, and then failed to dismantle, clean and sanitize the machine. He may even have contaminated the cooked chicken with his hands after removing it from the oven. He also erred in putting the hot chili prepared the night before into the refrigerator in such a large stock pot. It should have been separated into smaller containers so that it cooled rapidly overnight. Further, half an hour was not enough time to reheat the chili to a h igh, and safe, enough temperature on a steam table. It should have been heated on a stove first.

This hypothetical restaurant owner made some common mistakes in the handling and preparation of food, placing both his customers and business reputation in jeopardy. The safe practices he should have followed are only a small part of what any skilled manager ina retail food establishment needs to know about proper food protection. To help ensure that managers have such knowledge is one of the main purposes of a new national effort called the Food Protection Certification Program--spearheaded by FDA--that will get under way in July. The program is designed to test and certify the thousands of men and women who supervise the hundreds of thousands of retail food operations that compete for the billions of food dollars spent by Americans away from their homes each year.

Such supervision places many demands upon a manager. For example, a manager should understand the causes and prevention of foodborne diseases, which in turn means knowing something about how the mishandling of various foods can lead to food poisoning. Food protection is an all-embracing phrase that also includes knowing what to do from the time foods are delivered to storing them properly, or shipping them to another destination, without spoilage. Training employees on their personal hygiene, dress, and direct handling of foods and being aware of any potential diseases an employee might transmit on the job is also a manager's concern. …

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