Restaurant Health and Safety

A couple of weeks back I had brunch with a friend whom I have only known for a short time, and in that short time have had a couple of great conversations with her. She works in the public health field and on occasion is responsible for doing restaurant inspections.

While we sat down for brunch I had some questions that I wanted to ask about the inspections she does in restaurants, and while we were eating I managed to squeeze in a few. Being the wonderful person she is, told me if I had any other questions I could just ask.

After brunch I went home and wrote down 12 questions I wanted to ask, I had some already written down but after brunch, I had some new questions in mind. After choosing 8 of the questions I emailed them. I asked that the answers be focused more towards the front of house staff and not the back of house. When people think of health and safety inspections they first think about the kitchen, while it is a part of it, other areas of the restaurant are also just as important.

So here is a list of the questions I asked and the answers:

Question 1.  What’s the first thing you look at/for when you enter an establishment?

The first thing I look at when I go in is general cleanliness, so floors clean, tables clean, everything in order. That is in front of the house. Once I go into the kitchen the first thing is also cleanliness but more on the food side so is food everywhere or is the kitchen organized properly so it flows well. Depending on the responsibilities of the wait staff they are also who I look at. For example, in some places, they are required to prepare salads or desserts. Hand hygiene is critical in this instance because they handle money, plates that can have leftover food on them.

Washing hands is one thing but there is also using the proper utensils to prepare salads or desserts. Minimal touching of the food with your hands before it goes on to the plates is very important because this is the last place for possible contamination before it is given to the customer. This is especially important when dealing with raw ready to eat items like salads because they have never been cooked to kill any bacteria that may be left on them.

Question 2: What are some common problems with front of house standards?

Common problems, people not washing their hands after smoke breaks, before and handling any types of food, before and after handling money, after coughing or sneezing. Basically, hands need to be washed every time different tasks are started. The potential to contaminate food is something that servers do not take into consideration. If you think about it they are the last ones to touch the food/plate before the customer gets it.

Other problems include leaving milk/cream out on tables at room temperature for too long (more than 2 hours). Also refilling ketchup and other condiments in old dirty containers. Need to use new clean containers, also customers often see this so it is gross to them. Anytime customers can see you doing your duties be aware. For example, handling money and then cutting a piece of pie or whatever.

Using dirty cloths to clean the countertops, this happens way too frequently. Cloths need to be stored in bleach water (200 ppm) at all times. The concentration needs to be tested with required sanitizer test strips to make sure concentration is accurate. If below 200ppm or water is visibly dirty then water must be changed.

Question 3: What do you expect most from the staff on-site?

Frequent hand washing, proper sanitize techniques when cleaning countertops and also in the dishwashing area, dishes must be sanitized properly as the last step. No towel drying because towels are usually dirty.

Question 4: What’s the worst excuse you have received about an infringement?

Worst excuse, “I don’t have time”, “It’s not my responsibility”, dishwasher not working…”we don’t have bleach”. Basically not taking responsibility for actions in a restaurant. I can tell if the floor is dirty because its lunchtime and it’s busy or if it’s dirty because they haven’t cleaned it for weeks. Front of house, look under tables to see where dirt has accumulated. Also on chairs too. Those are things I remember from when I was a server. You can tell if they don’t move the tables when they vacuum.

Question 5: What’s the best excuse you have received about an infringement?

Not sure about this, I think best and worse go hand in hand. I can’t think of a good excuse right now.

Question 6: Number one reoccurring problem?

Reoccurring problems: no handwashing between tasks, no sanitizer in cloth water, food left on the counter to “cool” happens all the time. People do not understand that the sooner it goes in the fridge the sooner it will cool down, decreasing the risk of bacteria growth.

Question 7: What’s the most important thing in your opinion when it comes to restaurant cleanliness and safety?

7 and 8 kinda go together and it is mostly what I have already said. It’s about hand washing, proper disinfection. Another thing I haven’t mentioned is if people are sick don’t go to work, you are increasing the risk of spreading your illness if you do so. Not only colds but diarrhea, or any other symptoms because people don’t realize that the chances of making others sick are very high. So if you are sick do not go to work.

Question number 8 was “What would your number one piece of advice be when it comes to your job?”

A big thanks to my friend for answering these questions for me. I must admit that when I first started serving I never realized how often I should have washed my hands, and as you can see in the answers above its something that is stated repeatedly, so it’s important. It doesn’t take long to get into a habit of washing your hands often, it quickly becomes second nature. It’s both important for you and your guest’s health.

Thanks for reading, you have a good day.