The recent E. coli outbreak at Chipotle is only the latest in a series of financial disasters owing directly to improper kitchen procedures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, E. coli are bacteria that live in the intestinal tract of humans and other mammals. E. coli infections can cause severe intestinal problems, and some strains can even be fatal to some people. E. coli is passed when microscopic bits of fecal matter are transferred into food. This often occurs when kitchen workers use the restroom and don't wash their hands, or when animal droppings get into farms' water supplies. E. coli infection is among the most preventable of diseases commonly labeled "food poisoning," but it takes constant vigilance and a strict set of food safety rules to make sure your restaurant isn't among those contributing to the problem. Food safety is crucial for your bottom line, as well as for the public health, and it starts with you and your kitchen staff.
Make food safety a large part of orientation and training in every employee's first week. At least some of the people working in your kitchen should be food service safety certified. Use their knowledge to guide less-informed team members in their actions when it comes to cleanliness and food safety. A nonnegotiable list of cleaning and food safety rules should be posted in multiple places around the kitchen, and team members breaking these rules should be coached. Those who continue to ignore the rules should be replaced—you can't afford to take a chance on having an E. coli outbreak just because someone forgot to follow procedure.
The single most important thing every employee can do to prevent disease transmission is to wash his or her hands multiple times each day, but they have to follow the right procedures when doing so. Keep liquid soap and paper towels at every handwashing station, and make sure the staff knows to scrub their hands for the regulation 20 seconds every time they wash. Simply rinsing off one's hands never gets rid of germs, no matter how clean they may look.
After improper hand washing, dirty produce is the next most likely culprit in the spreading of E. coli. Rainwater can wash all sorts of bacteria into streams, whose water is then used to irrigate crops. Farmers rarely wash vegetables well before sending them to market, so the odds are good that your fruits and vegetables have germs on the surface. Use commercial produce cleaner, and simply float or soak the produce in a sink for 10 minutes before allowing it to air dry. This applies to fruits you cut, such as melons and lemons, as well as those that are eaten whole, like berries. Make sure you clean any surface that dirty produce rested on by spraying it with a cleaning solution and using a squeegee to remove the moisture and germs. This removes dirt and bacteria more quickly and more efficiently than other cleaning methods do.
For more information on controlling the spread of germs created in restrooms, click here.
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