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Food safety

What your employees don’t know may put you out of business


March 25, 2008
By Diana Coutu

Topics

Proper food handling is paramount to our business,
especially since our business is built on repeat business. Sadly, many
operators don’t give food safety any thought, and many more operate
without so much as the minimum certified food handlers on staff.

What your employees don’t know may put you out of business

Proper food handling is paramount to our business, especially since our business is built on repeat business. Sadly, many operators don’t give food safety any thought, and many more operate without so much as the minimum certified food handlers on staff.

A statistic from the city of Winnipeg health department states that 60 per cent of all foodservice employees don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom. I’m told that it’s a fairly consistent statistic across the country. 

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Very few operators have any initial or ongoing food handling training for their employees. Operators like that should be heavily fined and shut down – period.

Last year one of my regular clients told me a story: her sister went out to eat with some friends in an upscale restaurant, in a nice area of our city. A week later she received a phone call informing her that there had been an incident and she needed to get tested for Hepatitis A. Guess what? Her nice salad gave her a nasty liver disease. If the restaurant in question had its priorities in order, it never would have happened. That ‘salad boy’ would have had training, educating him to wash his hands after going to the washroom, and again, before making any food. 

I’ve got to wonder, what if this restaurant had no idea who this lady was, or who else was in her party? How would they contact her? Would she realize where she contracted the disease? Or would she assume she had touched a contaminated doorknob in a public bathroom? All this from a simple dinner salad that she probably thought was a healthy choice.

Once, I actually had food poisoning so bad that I had to be hospitalized overnight. I lost over 10 pounds and it took me a week to recover. It was from my father-in-law’s cooking. Maybe he was trying to tell me something. But my first-hand experience has practically given me a complex about food-borne illnesses. 

Proper food handling training starts on the first day of employment in my company, and it’s ongoing. Eighty-seven per cent of my staff have completed a city certified food handling course – even my phone girls and drivers. I pay for half of the course, and the staff member pays the other half. 

Why? Insurance. 

I can’t be on the floor all the time, and I can’t be watching every employee, every second. Nor do I want those kinds of employees in my company. I’d rather they become educated as to the dangers of improper food handling, and apply that knowledge in their lives. And it’s my experience that when a staff member pays for half of the course, they then have a vested interest in getting a great passing grade. It’s become a competition amongst my staff – who received the highest mark, and when can they go on to level II. Education is rarely a bad thing.

The amazing thing is the number of changes I see in my staff once they have taken the course. Just about all of them come up to me and tell me how they now understand why I’m always hollering at them to, “make sure you wash your hands properly.”

One of my drivers won’t eat his mom’s cooking anymore. After taking the course, he recognized that his ongoing upset stomach and flu were actually a result of his mother’s bad food handling habits. She’s pretty upset, but he hasn’t been sick since – so the proof is in the pudding, as they say. I believe he’s going to pay to send his mom to the course.  

Almost all of my staff members say the course is pretty much common sense. I say common sense is not really common to everyone, which is why sending your staff through a city-certified course will actually protect your business in the long run. It then becomes part of the certified food handler’s responsibilities to teach and train other employees, on an ongoing basis. It makes my job easier, it makes my company better, and it gives my clients and I peace of mind.  •