The scene behind the gaming floor of a casino can be quite intimidating.

After leaving the casino floor, you enter an endless maze of hallways that connect one kitchen to another; leaving the glamour, glitz and excitement of the tables and slots to transport carts whizzing past, pots and pans banging and the hustle and bustle that occurs when feeding thousands of people on the property every day. As the saying goes, “It takes a village.”

To feed all of these guests, many things must happen and it starts at the top, with the leadership. To ensure that every food service facility operates like a well-oiled machine, there must be a strong leader. In most cases, it’s the executive chef who is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in their food service arena. This includes food safety and that’s where I get involved.

As a food safety training and inspector with Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., I’ll never forget the first time I entered the “back-of-the-house” in a major casino years ago. I’d been hired by a global insurance company to conduct food safety risk-based audits at several of their assets. As someone that loves the high-energy, fast-paced casino environment, I was excited about this assignment.

This was a very nice venue with a good reputation. I entered the kitchen, met the executive chef, and began the audit. First stop: a large warming cabinet filled with prime rib. I opened the door and noticed that it didn’t feel warm. Upon taking the temperature, I discovered prime rib being held at 80¡F—in the danger zone for bacteria growth—and there were 17 roasts in that oven! A few had been in the holding cabinet since the previous evening; others were placed in the warmer at approximately 8:00 a.m. During my inspection hours later, I realized that those roasts had been sitting at unsafe temperatures for a very long time.  I asked to see the temperature logs, and was told there were none. I had no option but to discard this meat. Given my vast background in foodservice, I was sick at the thought of what this would do to the facility’s food costs, but there was no way they could serve those roasts that could potentially make guests violently ill.  The chef was very angry when he discovered that someone had inadvertently unplugged the warmer, and no one knew when.

Then I checked the many walk-in coolers. When I entered the (raw) poultry cooler, I noticed a rack of (uncovered) cooked chicken wings—they must have been placed in the cooler to cool (which made no sense because this facility had multiple blast chillers). I took the temperature of the wings:  90¡F, which was, again, a dangerous temperature.  A seven-foot rack was filled with wings that were unsafe to serve.

Prior to my visit, I had been told that this facility had a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan, but it was clear that they weren’t following it.  If you create a HACCP plan and don’t follow it, it’s just a book setting on a shelf collecting dust. If there had been temperature logs and the products had been properly checked and labeled, maybe they wouldn’t have had to discard so much food, losing a tremendous amount of money in the process.

SAFETY FIRST

A food service industry leader has a tremendous amount of responsibility that includes creating and updating menus to maximize profits and minimize loss, testing and developing recipes, monitoring customer satisfaction, maintaining inventory of kitchen supplies and food, ensuring that food and facilities meet all governmental regulations and, perhaps most importantly, implementing food safety programs. Here are some tips to ensure that your facility serves safe meals to your guests:

Stay current and get your team formally trained in a Certified Food Manager course. This will reiterate the importance of the critical rules and regulations that you learned when you initially began in the food service business.  Sometimes, a busy day or being short-staffed distracts from following the basic rules, and a “refresher” course can be a helpful reminder of the fundamentals.

Train your employees using a Food Handlers program. This will provide your team with basic (but critical) food safety knowledge. The more educated your team, the more profitable your organization.

Conduct self-inspections.  This will enable you to catch small issues before they become big problems. For example, if you received a delivery and it wasn’t stored properly, this gives you the opportunity to take corrective action, reminding staff of proper protocols. Otherwise, there could be a spoilage issue, a cross-contamination or cross-contact problem, or other challenges that may not be noticed until it’s too late. Hold one another accountable.

Use temperature logs.  This is a valuable tool that will assist you with spotting temperature issues before they become a cost factor or liability issue. By utilizing temperature logs, you can take corrective action prior to having to waste product, thereby decreasing food cost and increasing profit margins. This valuable tool aids in finding temperature issues prior to the health inspector writing them up as code violations, but, most importantly, it’s a proactive means to keeping your patrons healthy.

Hire an agency to conduct third party audits.Often, bringing in an objective third party will boost your profits and increase your health inspection scores. Another set of eyes from the “outside” will see things from a different perspective, which can be invaluable.  They can review key elements that the health inspector will be assessing, and point out possible infractions.  Hire someone reputable, who knows the business and genuinely cares about your outcome.

Implement an Active Managerial Control program. The purpose of Active Managerial Control is to focus on controlling the five most common risk factors for foodborne illness:

  • Purchasing food from unsafe sources;
  • Failing to cook food adequately;
  • Holding food at incorrect temperatures;
  • Using contaminated equipment; and
  • Practicing poor personal hygiene.

Taste correctly with a clean utensil every time. Double dipping is more than an annoying habit; it is very unsanitary from a food safety standpoint.

Utilize single-use gloves properly. Single-use gloves are a protective barrier between your hands and the food you serve. If your gloves become contaminated, they’re useless. Prior to putting the gloves on, wash your hands properly with warm water at 100¡F (38¡C) and soap, then dry them thoroughly. Never blow into the gloves or roll them to make them easier to put on—both of these practices will cause contamination.

Single-use gloves must be changed as soon as they become dirty or torn, when changing tasks, after interruptions (such as taking a phone call), or after handling raw meat, seafood, or poultry and before handling ready-to-eat food.

Holding a leadership role in the food service industry isn’t an easy job; it often features long hours, high stress situations, and working for many days straight without a day off. Despite all this, a food service executive needs to be a positive role model for a team. Leaders should model the importance of proper food safety protocols, ensuring that their entire team follows these important rules.  By doing so, you’ll improve your business benefits (higher profits, strong customer loyalty), and keep your valued guests safe.