20.8.2020

The Cost of Poor Food Hygiene

Written by Austin Chegini

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Across the world, the cleanliness of hospitality businesses has become a matter of public record. Prospective customers can check any of the listed businesses throughout the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and other nations at the touch of a button. If your establishment does not meet the government standards, you can be sure that fewer customers will be attracted to your venue.

Official inspections should not be a restaurant’s only concern — consumers also have their eyes out for violations. For example, a viral social media video forced a restaurant to close its doors after it caught the health inspector's attention. With this increase in consumer access and awareness, establishments must understand how to eliminate the causes of poor food hygiene.

What is food hygiene?

Most people understand the basics of food safety. They know to cook food thoroughly, refrigerate leftovers, and wash their hands after touching eggs or raw meat.

However, food hygiene at a restaurant involves far more than just these steps. Foodservice workers also need to be aware of:

  • Proper storage requirements: What must be refrigerated? When do certain items expire?
  • Cleanliness standards: Does everyone wear the proper protective items? How do you prevent cross-contamination?
  • Cooking requirements: Do you always use a kitchen thermometer?
  • Serving Policies: How long can food sit before it reaches a diner? Can you reheat food from earlier in the day?

Food safety guidelines per country

Poor food hygiene is expensive

A Checkit report revealed the lasting damage poor scoring could inflict on hospitality businesses unprepared for, or unfamiliar with, food hygiene legislation. 61% of hospitality customers refuse to dine at an establishment scoring 2 or below on the United Kingdom’s Food Service Administration hygiene rating scheme.

However, a lack of business is the least of your worries when it comes to food safety. The financial and reputational damage following food safety violations can be irreparable.

In 2015, Chipotle saw its quarterly profits fall by 44% following a spate of food poisoning scares, resulting in the total company value being reduced by $11 billion. The company did not recover its losses until 2019.

Jack in the Box was another chain that caused national panic due to an E. coli outbreak, infecting over 700 people and killing four. Today, E. coli outbreaks occur and are managed effectively. At this time, however, it was not very well known at the time, and diners were hesitant to return to Jack in the Box. For the next 18 months, the company lost a reported $160 million due to decreased demand.

As a result, various United States agencies introduced sweeping changes to address the problem and prevent similar outbreaks. Multiple states also updated their guidelines in the years to come, resulting in the city of Los Angeles seeing a 13.1% decrease in hospital admissions from foodborne illnesses. This shows an increased focus on food safety can protect the public and defend hospitality businesses against the negative consequences of poor food hygiene.

The benefits of proper food safety

What is food hygiene’s role in your business? It should be an ever-present thought. By placing safety standards first and identifying the causes of poor food hygiene at your business, you will reap many vital benefits.

Social recognition

Few people walk into restaurants these days without checking online reviews. If customers see any causes for concern, such as a review that someone was sick after eating a meal, they will look elsewhere for food. Ensuring your food is safe will eliminate this risk.

Certification

Government certification is mandatory for operating a restaurant in almost all places. You will need to reduce many causes of poor food hygiene to stay in business.

However, merely passing your certification is not enough if you want to have unquestionable success. If your restaurant received a B or C rating, it shows that there is some room for improvement. And in places where you must publicly display your rating, it may cause diners to second guess their plans.

How long are health certificates valid?

  • United Kingdom: A food safety officer from a business’s local authority first inspects a restaurant upon opening. The rating certificate will be valid until the next inspection, which can happen anytime between 6 months and 2 years
  • United States: Businesses must abide by their state’s terms. For example, Florida restaurants must contact the Department of Business & Professional Regulation, and the length of validity differs with various types of businesses
  • Canada: A Public Health Inspector issues a certificate when a restaurant opens, but the time between then and the next inspection varies by region. In Alberta, for example, inspectors can conduct 1 to 3 monitoring inspections per year
  • Australia and New Zealand: For the same reasons as the governments listed above, businesses earn a certificate upon opening. Continuing inspections occur from between 3 months to 2 years

Reduce legal costs/risks

As mentioned above, restaurants lose vast sums of money due to improper food hygiene. While large chains can absorb these costs, small to medium restaurants may go out of business after a lawsuit. Even multi-million dollar establishments have shut their doors permanently due to lawsuits.

According to Katharine Vickery, partner and leading food lawyer at Eversheds LLP, "Very small businesses could now be fined thousands of pounds, rather than hundreds, and larger businesses could be forced to pay millions in serious cases. When individuals are prosecuted, there is also a greater chance of custodial sentences being imposed for serious cases."

A UK pub chef and manager went to jail for falsifying records, putting hundreds at risk and possibly killing one person. The owners of the pub paid a £1.5 million fine because of their poor management. The staff must have committed a serious crime for the government to impose such heavy penalties, right? Well, an investigation found that the illnesses were due to turkey meat that was not adequately cooked or not correctly reheated.

Steps to eliminate the causes of poor food hygiene

In the previously mentioned Checkit survey, 66% of respondents declared unclean premises would be the primary reason for not returning to a hospitality business. Even more telling, 75% of consumers said they would never return to a restaurant that had suffered a food hygiene incident.

So, how can businesses guarantee a 5-star rating will decorate their door? The best approach is to create a company culture dedicated to ensuring only high-quality meals. Your employees will want to see that all leaders buy into the idea. If not, workers might ignore safety practices and put the business in jeopardy.

Track inventory

There is no use in following the best cooking practices if your inventory does not meet the standard. Expired food is a significant cause of food borne illnesses, and anyone should obviously throw it away. Why then, are health inspectors routinely finding expired food in restaurants?

Businesses who successfully achieve good feedback from the government agencies have rigorous management procedures in place. Monitoring inventory is part of the process. You want to have complete oversight of all items in stock.

With a restaurant point of sale system, you can track what is in stock and know when an item will expire. Taking inventory is effortless, and making it part of your daily routine will ensure all past due items never reach your guests. Not only will this ensure fresh ingredients, but it will also help your establishment score higher during health inspections.

Keep your workspace clean

The health inspector should smile when walking into your kitchen. Even if you have a cramped, unorganised space, the supplies and environment can be totally sanitary.

Equipment

Ensure all supplies meet commercial kitchen standards. Your bowls, pots, pans, and other equipment must withstand the commercial cleaning process. If you use inferior equipment, inspectors might consider them unsanitary. Make sure all items have the proper certifications, such as the NSF mark, to demonstrate their commercial applications.

Instead of using paper cooking slips, your restaurant can install a kitchen display system. With this addition, your staff will reduce their chances of contacting contaminated surfaces.

Staff

Promoting good hygiene amongst staff is also key to limiting exposure. Anyone handling food or equipment should follow handwashing procedures. There is no room for error, and many restaurants receive citations for workers who do not wash. Proper washing includes using antibacterial soap, scrubbing under the nails, and getting under the nails.

Additionally, all workers should show up to work healthy and in clean clothes. If an inspector sees a worker who appears ill, your restaurant may violate health codes.

Floors and surfaces

While you always want to have sanitary surfaces, you should not risk contaminating your food in the process. All too often, workers clean kitchen surfaces but leave chemicals behind that might leach onto the food.

The best way to clean surfaces is to implement the standard red bucket/green bucket system. Red buckets hold water and a rag for wiping away debris from a surface. Green buckets contain soap water and a rag for sanitising surfaces. Use these appropriately to ensure counters are clean and sanitary.

If you use chemicals like bleach to disinfect floors or other surfaces, make sure your staff understands how to calculate the proper dilution ratios and how to apply the chemical. Using too much bleach could cause serious side effects, and using too little could leave surfaces unsanitary.

Cooking and Storage

Anyone working in a kitchen should know the leading causes of foodborne illnesses, especially cross-contamination and undercooking.

When preparing meats and vegetables, a cook should never use the same utensils. If a chef uses the same knife or cutting surface for raw chicken and fresh lettuce, bacteria in the chicken can taint the lettuce. Using separate food preparation stations in the kitchen can avoid this contamination.

When it comes to cooking, time and temperature are vital to ensuring food safety. These factors differ depending on the type of food, so be sure your staff should review the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Charts. You can also print out these thermometer placement guidelines to prevent misunderstandings that could lead to foodborne illnesses.

Food hygiene is not difficult to implement as long as you take the time to understand the risks and adhere to the legislation. Restaurants, takeaways, pubs, and cafes are all responsible for serving safe food.

Instilling the importance of good food hygiene in your staff will protect your customer's health and the reputation of your business. It will help you reduce your risks, including multi-million dollar lawsuits and other ramifications.

For more business advice and guidance, visit our resources hub. To find out more about what an Epos Now system can do for your business, get in touch today.