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How To Keep Food Poisoning Out of Your Restaurant

Food Poisoning

There’s no trick to keeping food poisoning out of your restaurant. Prevention is key, but when that doesn’t work, swift & honest corrective action is imperative.

Nobody wants to deal with food poisoning. Seriously, it’s the worst. Your customers don’t want to suffer the effects. Your employees don’t want to be accused of causing it. Restaurant management and ownership don’t t want to have to overcome an accusation of it. There are plenty of steps that can be taken to prevent food poisoning from striking. Education, training and discipline work to keep your restaurant clean, which is the majority of the battle.

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Safe Food Starts With Smart Staff

The Health Department enacts strict cleanliness and safety guidelines for a reason. Be sure your staff understands why it’s necessary to follow food safety rules at all times. It can be easy to make mistakes or cut corners during a busy rush, but that’s the time when sticking to the right way to do things matters most. Food poisoning occurs when contaminated substances come in contact with food going out to customers. It might be from an employee using food that should be treated as waste. It might be because an employee doesn’t properly wash their hands. A well-trained employee knows how to prevent either of these problems.avoid food poisoning

Another cause of food poisoning comes from one of the harsh realities of the restaurant business: sometimes, staff comes to work feeling sick. They may need to pick up an extra shift or they cannot afford to take a day off and lose the hours and money that come with taking a sick day. Sick employees become liabilities for many reasons. Any interaction with food when sick increases the risk of spreading illness. Sick employees can spread their illness to other staff, increasing the likelihood of customers interacting with a sick employee. You can help prevent the spread of illness and germs by enacting clear sick leave policies and sending home sick employees unwilling to take the initiative. It may cause some stress in the kitchen because you’re short staffed, but the more ways you remove food poisoning risks and contamination risks, the better things will be for your restaurant in the long run.

Sanitation Forever

A proper cleanliness policy starts with a clean prep area. If you take the time and effort to clean the area for the health inspector, take the time to keep it clean the rest of the time. Ensure trash is regularly disposed of properly. Be aware that even brief glimpses into the kitchen can tell a customer a lot about the cleanliness of your restaurant.  This also goes for food storage areas. Don’t assume that because something is in a refrigerator or a freezer, it’s safe from contamination. Pay close attention to food storage temperatures and ensure food never reaches the danger zone where food-borne contamination is likely. Never allow food to sit out longer than the recommended time, and be sure food containers and other supplies are covered, stored correctly, and prepared properly to avoid food-borne illness. Proper storage is just as important as proper prep.

Clean bathrooms are also an important part of reducing food poisoning outbreaks. A well-maintained bathroom is a sign your employees pay attention to sanitation in your restaurant. Strictly enforce the policy that employees must wash their hands before returning to work. Clean bathrooms are also a common way that customers judge a restaurant before they decide to try the food. If your restaurant is accused of food poisoning and your bathrooms look like a back alley brawl took place inside, fighting off those allegations becomes that much more difficult.

Putting The Genie Back In The Bottle

avoid food poisoningMost food poisoning reports don’t go to the health inspector. Usually, they show up on your restaurant’s website, social media or other signpost out on the Internet. Taking down a negative review, if possible, can seem like an admission of guilt. Addressing the concerns directly and making it up to the customer is commonly considered the best tactic in these situations. Customers appreciate a proactive and sincere business dedicated to solving problems, rather than attempting a coverup. Everyone makes mistakes, but the effort made in fixing the mistake will benefit your reputation as a respectable establishment.

Sometimes, engaging with a wronged customer doesn’t help. They’re sick, angry and lashing out. Regardless of whether they’re in the right or not, there’s another resource you can use to counter their bad review. Reach out to your regulars and happy customers and ask them to leave good reviews. Encourage these review writers to focus on what they love about your restaurant. They don’t need to refute the bad review if they talk about the things your restaurant does best. It usually takes many positive reviews to balance a negative one, but most customers know not everyone can walk out a satisfied customer.

Food poisoning is a serious issue for restaurants. An ounce of prevention goes a long way. Be sure your staff follows safety and cleanliness guidelines. Enforce sick day policies and do your best to accommodate staff for the sake of keeping your restaurant safe. Follow kitchen, prep, and storage sanitation guidelines and train all staff on these rules extensively. If an incident occurs, address the issue directly and professionally. Asking your loyal customers to rally to your side doesn’t hurt either. A case of food poisoning is not a death sentence for your restaurant – prevention and corrective action determine how your business will fare.


Featured image and post image courtesy of Flickr user Franklin Heijnen. Post image “Zauo restaurant” courtesy of Flickr user Thierry Draus. Images licensed under CC by 2.0.

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