Food Poisoning: How To Keep It From Happening

So this one was inspired by a real-life incident that happened this week. After my day at One Fat Frog, I went to join a friend of mine at a popular restaurant for some dinner (for the business’s sake, I won’t mentioned who it was). Long story short, my buddy texted me the next day to share that his stomach was killing him. It was food poisoning, and that’s something no restaurant wants to hear. Sadly, it is a reality and must be dealt with properly. Here’s a reminder of what you should do to keep your customers safe:

1. Store and cook food properly. When refrigerating food, it must be kept at the right temperature. Remember that between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit is consider the “danger zone” where bacteria can grow on food. Make sure your refrigerators and freezers are below 40 and you cook food above 140 to avoid bacterial growth.

2. Watch for cross contamination. This can happen in lots of ways. Make sure you wash your hands and wear gloves before touching any food (even if you wear gloves, you MUST wash your hands). Also, if you touch certain foods (like raw chicken), make sure you wash your hands and change gloves before you touch anything else.

3. Practice FIFO. For you newbies, that stands for “first in, first out.” So if you get a shipment of lettuce in on Monday and another one in on Thursday, use all the lettuce from the Monday shipment first. Date and label everything in your refrigerators and freezers so you know what must go out first.

4. Clean your restaurant! This one is obvious, but if you watch as many kitchen-related reality shows as I do, I can tell you this doesn’t always happen. And when I say, clean, I don’t just mean spray and wipe off. I mean dig in between equipment, scrub the floors and the insides of refrigerators, sanitize all of your utensils and pots and pans, and really take it seriously.

Of course, even if you practice every single proper health mandate and procedure, there is always the chance that something can happen. If, and we all hope it doesn’t, you get a call from a customer who believes they got sick from your food, here are some steps to handle the situation:

1. Apologize. The customer knows it wasn’t done on purpose or maliciously, and they want to know that you’re receptive to the problem.

2. Try to find the problem. Find out what the customer ate, then examine what went into that meal so you can see if there was a bad batch of something, like the vegetables, and toss it.

3. Tell your cooks! If the customer got sick by undercooked meat, for example, your cooks need to know so that they are more focused on doing it right.

4. Offer compensation. This isn’t a requirement, but it can be a nice gesture. If you do this, it’s up to you how you’d like to do it. I can tell you this though: a free meal may not be the best idea as they will be very hesitant to eat there for a while, if at all.

Remember, this stuff can happen, and it really does not feel good when it does, not for the person dealing with the illness (obviously), but also not for you as a restauranteur who prides yourself in making sure everyone has the best dining experience they can have at your establishment. Practice the above principles so you can prevent it as best you can, but be ready if it unfortunately does happen.

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