Joseph M. Carbonara, Editor in Chief
Joseph M. Carbonara, Editor in Chief

National Food Safety Education Month kicks off on Sept. 1 with a focus on protecting at-risk consumers. Coincidentally, the past few weeks have been loaded with all sorts of reminders about how important proper food safety practices are to the continued success of the foodservice industry.

From eggs tainted with salmonella to the Chicago Cubs setting up a peanut-free zone at Wrigley Field to an operator settling a case where a customer found a condom in his soup, it seems like we've pretty much seen it all these days when it comes to food safety and food allergies. While some of these examples are more sensational than others, they drive home two fundamental food safety points.

First, food safety and food-safe practices should forever be top of mind of every foodservice operator. With customers harder to come by than in recent years, it is important to ensure that each and every consumer that walks through the doors of a foodservice operation must have an excellent experience and that begins with providing a safe product. If this egg recall and previous similar challenges have taught operators one thing it's that they can't always blindly trust that their suppliers are always acting in the most food safe manner. No effort is too great and no detail is too small when it comes to food safety.

Second, foodservice operators can't do this alone. To remain vigilant in their attempts to maintain a food safe environment, operators need to leverage the experience and expertise of their supply chain partners to help them develop best practices, introduce new tools that help create a food safe environment and train staff members on how to properly clean and sanitize all pieces of foodservice equipment and supplies. Simply put, there's too much at stake for the operator community to travel down this path alone.

"Restaurant owners stand to lose a lot if they aren't paying attention to what is important to their customers," said Donna Duberg an assistant professor in Clinical Laboratory Science at Saint Louis University.

With that in mind, Duberg, who is also a member of the Tork Green Hygiene Council, offers the following food safety tips for operators.

1. Help high-risk patrons steer clear of undercooked foods.
Remember to always cook food to the required minimum internal temperature and use a thermometer to ensure you've reached that appropriate heat. Wash properly. If cloth must be used, remember that cloth used for cleaning should be sanitized by washing in hot (at least 160 degrees), soapy water.

2. Color-code your products.
Using color-coded cleaning products, such as wipes, can be very helpful in the prevention of cross contamination as each color can be designated for separate uses or certain areas of the restaurant.

3. Eliminate cross contamination.
Since bacteria can live on cloth for a considerable amount of time, the risk of cross contamination is far greater with cloth than with nonwoven wipes. Cloth allows for bacteria from back-of-the-house tasks to easily migrate to the dining area.

4. Use paper not cloth.
Contrary to popular belief, cloth towels are not as hygienic as single-use nonwoven wipes when it comes to cleaning, according to the CDC. Bacteria can live for days on a surface and for weeks on cloth. Because cloth rags and towels used for cleaning are generally kept in dark places and are not always completely dry before they are put away, they become the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Single-use wipes clean surfaces and are then discarded.

Duberg's points offer a good refresher on some of the more fundamental points of maintaining a food safe environment and serve as a good starting point for a conversation between operators and their supply chain partners. If either party has not initiated a food safety discussion, now is as good a time as any.