As warmer weather and summer travel swing into full force, so do cases of foodborne illness, according to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The busy summer travel season can make it difficult for restaurant kitchen staff members to keep up with the many details of food safety — and a slip up in this area can compromise the health of customers, which in turn can lead to a big hit on a restaurant’s bottom line.
“Maintaining a sanitary environment, in both production and service of foods, is key to protecting the health of guests,” said Chef Steve Browe of Paul’s 5th Avenue in Grandview Heights, Ohio, just west of downtown Columbus. “A foodborne illness outbreak is the deepest nightmare of a restaurant operator. Ultimately, an outbreak can ruin a business, first by reducing the daily number of people who frequent the operation, and in time, by building a negative general impression through word of mouth.”
The summer months are especially important to restaurants. In fact, more than two-thirds of tableservice restaurant operators consider tourists important to their business, according to the National Restaurant Association. And they should, since according to the Travel Industry Association of America, dining out is the most popular activity planned by tourists once they reach their final destination.
To ensure that their summertime guests are healthy and happy after they leave the establishment, restaurant owners should be knowledgeable about the types of foodborne illnesses and how to prevent them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are four commonly recognized foodborne illnesses: Salmonella, E. coli, Norwalk and Norwalk-like viruses, and Campylobacter. One major cause of these illnesses, especially Campylobacter, is cross-contamination, which is defined as the transfer of microorganisms from one location to another.
“By eliminating opportunities for cross-contamination during preparation, storage, production and service, operators can ensure the wholesomeness of their products and maintain the trust of their clientele,” Browe said.
The first line of defense in preventing the spread of illness is hand- washing, and according to the USDA, unwashed hands are a primary cause of foodborne illness outbreaks. For that reason, restaurant workers should wash their hands frequently throughout the day and immediately after handling raw foods.
It’s also important to keep raw and cooked foods separated. This means using different cutting boards and utensils for cooked and raw foods during the preparation process and making sure to clean preparation surfaces after every use. Foods also should be stored properly, at the right temperature and in food-grade packages and containers.
Finally, cleaning and sanitization of dishes, preparation surfaces and even floors can help prevent the spread of disease.