Each year, 48 million people get sick and 3,000 die from (preventable) foodborne illness in the United States. From mystery meat in chemical buckets and mouse prints in soda syrup to tears in a parking lot and threats of being shot, Francine L. Shaw's “Who Watches the Kitchen?” takes readers on a rollicking, astonishing journey through the hidden truths of the foodservice industry. Alongside wild stories detailing how foodborne illnesses can happen, Shaw offers practical solutions to avoid food safety breaches. By the end of the book, readers will know how to protect themselves (and their customers).
Shaw is a food safety specialist, podcaster, founder of Savvy Food Safety, co-founder of My Trusted Source, and an entrepreneur, author, and speaker who spent 30+ years working in the foodservice industry. Her career has included performing services (operating partner, corporate/private trainer, health inspector, third party inspector, adjunct professor) in various sectors of the foodservice industry.
Shaw has worked with some of the world’s most well-known brands, including McDonald’s, Target, Walgreen’s, Subway, Atlantic Club Casino, Sheetz Convenience Stores, and many more. In fact, she has experienced every aspect of the food industry: learning the ropes as a fry girl, managing restaurants, inspecting businesses for the health department, and educating and improving food safety for corporate brands, academia, and regulatory bodies. Revealing what it’s really like to serve as a health inspector, she tackles the issues and experiences many inspectors face but rarely discuss in public forums.
Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine asked Shaw why she wrote the book, food safety challenges for restaurants and the impact she anticipates AI will have on the industry. Read on for an excerpt from "Who Watches the Kitchen?"
Why write this book now?
As a writer, I have always dreamt of penning my own book. And after eighteen months of dedicated effort, I have finally been able to turn my vision into reality. With the help of a skilled team, because let's face it, writing a book requires an army of talented individuals, I have managed to transform my thoughts into a tangible piece of work. Having written over 300 articles for national trade magazines, I am often asked about industry-related topics. However, I strongly believe that incorporating real-life experiences is crucial in creating an impactful read. As time passes by, the relevance of my stories will only grow stronger.
What’s s your favorite story in the book?
It is difficult to select a single favorite among all the chapters because each had a profound impact. While many of the stories possess elements that I could call a favorite – such as the hysterical story of the turkey escaping from my mother's oven and scurrying across the room – if pressed to name one, I would have to say chapter 21.
What do you hope readers take away from reading the book?
My aspiration is for restaurateurs to understand that health inspectors are not adversaries, but rather valuable resources available to assist them with any questions or concerns. It is important to not wait until a situation becomes dire or potentially leads to closure due to severe regulatory violations, but to seek help early on.
I also hope that consumers recognize the significance of health inspectors and their crucial role in ensuring the safety of their communities.
For future sanitarians, I want them to understand that there will be both good and challenging days, but each one holds valuable lessons. Whether it is teaching someone something new, preventing illnesses, or even saving lives, every day offers opportunities to be proud of the work they do. They are a valuable resource.
What are the most common mistakes you seen restaurant owners make and not understand about food safety.
The most common mistake I see restaurant owners make is not creating a good food safety culture, which includes setting an example for their team. Training and education are imperative. This includes explaining the "why's" for policies and procedures and the way they are done.
Not implementing proper cleaning and sanitizing procedures can be a big issue. Many restaurant owners may not understand the difference between cleaning and sanitizing and may not have a proper cleaning schedule in place. This can lead to cross-contamination and foodborne illness as well as cross-contact and a food allergen issue.
Another mistake I see is the improper storage and handling of food. This can include not keeping food at the correct temperatures, storing raw meats above ready-to-eat foods, or not properly rotating and labeling food items. Proper storage and handling procedures are crucial in preventing foodborne illness.
Not having a proper pest control plan in place is also a common mistake. Pests can carry and spread bacteria and can contaminate food and surfaces in the restaurant. Having a regular pest control service and implementing preventative measures can help prevent these issues.
Many restaurant owners don't understand the importance of personal hygiene for employees. This includes having policies in place for handwashing, proper grooming, and not allowing sick employees to work with food. Without proper hygiene practices, employees can contaminate food and spread illness to customers.
According to the NIH (National Institute of Health) restaurants are the most common settings of foodborne norovirus outbreaks (81 percent) and almost half (46 percent) of restaurant-related foodborne outbreaks are caused by norovirus. Infected food workers are the most frequent source of food contamination in foodborne norovirus outbreaks (70 percent). Having personal hygiene and employee wellness policies in place and enforcing them could reduce these occurrences.
Overall, it is important for restaurant owners to understand that food safety is not just about following regulations, but also about creating a culture of food safety within their establishment.
Overall, it is important for restaurant owners to understand that food safety is not just about following regulations, but also about creating a culture of food safety within their establishment. By taking the time to educate and train their team, implementing proper procedures, and consistently monitoring and enforcing food safety practices, restaurant owners can help prevent foodborne illness and ensure the safety of their customers.
What do you feel restaurant operators need to know about food safety?
Restaurant owners need to understand that food safety is non-negotiable. They have a responsibility to the people they serve to ensure that the food they purchase and consume is safe to eat and it will not make them sick or kill them or their families.
They also need to protect the reputation and integrity of their business by adhering to proper food safety practices.
Here are some key things restaurant owners need to know about food safety:
1. Proper storage: Raw ingredients and prepared foods must be stored at appropriate temperatures to prevent bacterial growth and contamination. Use separate cutting boards, utensils, and storage containers for raw meat and produce to avoid cross-contamination.
2. Personal hygiene: Employees must maintain proper personal hygiene, such as washing their hands regularly and wearing clean uniforms to prevent the spread of bacteria.
3. Sanitation: Restaurant owners need to maintain a clean and sanitary environment in their kitchen and dining area. This includes regular cleaning and sanitizing of equipment, surfaces, and utensils.
4. Food rotation: Proper food rotation is essential to prevent the use of expired or spoiled ingredients. The first-in, first-out (FIFO) method should be followed to ensure that older food items are used first.
5. Employee training: All employees, especially those involved in food handling, should receive proper training in food safety practices. This includes understanding the dangers of cross-contamination, correct handwashing techniques, and proper food storage and handling.
6. Allergen awareness: It is crucial for restaurant owners to be aware of the potential allergens in their menu items and to inform customers of their presence. Proper communication with customers who have food allergies is essential to prevent severe reactions.
7. Regular inspections: Owners should conduct regular inspections of their kitchen and dining areas to ensure food safety measures are being followed. This can help identify areas for improvement and prevent potential violations.
8. Temperature control: Maintaining proper temperature control is critical to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. This includes keeping hot food hot and cold food cold, and regularly checking the temperature of refrigerators and freezers.
9. Proper food handling: Employees should handle food with care to prevent contamination. This includes using gloves, tongs, and other tools when handling ready-to-eat foods and avoiding touching food with bare hands.
10. Compliance with regulations: Restaurant owners must comply with all local, state, and federal regulations regarding food safety. This includes obtaining necessary licenses and permits and undergoing regular inspections.
11. Social media marketing is adding a whole new level of responsibility: The images are a personal representation of the business. Consumers, vendors, insurance companies, etc., judge the operation based on their social media accounts and daily habits. Social media can heavily affect a company's sales positively and negatively. Branding is an essential part of the business.
The book includes stories of rats and cockroaches, among others. Why did you feel it was important to include such graphic examples?
I believe it is crucial for readers to understand the true nature of the job of a health inspector, and that includes the less pleasant aspects. The presence of rats and cockroaches are just a few examples of the daily challenges that inspectors face. By sharing these experiences, I hope to give readers a realistic and honest portrayal of the work we do.
Moreover, including these graphic examples also serves as a wake-up call to the public. Many people may not realize the potential health hazards lurking in their own homes and communities. These stories shed light on the importance of regular inspections and the crucial role of health inspectors in maintaining the safety and well-being of the public.
I wanted to humanize the profession of health inspection. Our work is often viewed as bureaucratic or simply conducting routine checks, but the reality is that it involves dealing with complex and often disturbing situations. By sharing these stories, I hope to give readers a glimpse into the challenging and often underappreciated world of health inspection.
I also wanted to shed light on the realities of food safety and sanitation in the food industry. These are very serious issues that can have serious consequences if not taken seriously. I wanted to highlight the importance of the work that health inspectors do and the impact it can have on the health and safety of the public. By including graphic examples, I wanted to show the level of detail and scrutiny that goes into inspecting food establishments and the kinds of hazards and violations that we encounter on a daily basis.
Ultimately, my goal with this book was to educate and inform readers about the important work of health inspectors and to raise awareness about food safety and sanitation in the food industry.
Furthermore, I think it's important for readers to have a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes in food establishments. Many people may have a misconstrued perception of how their food is handled and prepared, and I wanted to provide a candid and unbiased view of the realities. By including stories of rats and cockroaches, readers can see the potential risks that can arise when proper food safety and sanitation practices are not followed.
I also wanted to empower women in the food safety industry and encourage them. It is crucial for us to increase female representation at the top in this field.
Ultimately, my goal with this book was to educate and inform readers about the important work of health inspectors and to raise awareness about food safety and sanitation in the food industry. I believe that by including graphic examples, I can better convey the seriousness of these issues and create a stronger impact on readers.
I am spreading the message that with determination and self-belief, we can triumph over obstacles and achieve greatness.
What impact do you feel automation and AI will have on food safety?
Automation and AI have the potential to greatly impact food safety in a positive way. Here are some ways in which they may have an impact:
1. Improved traceability: Automation and AI can be used to track and trace food products throughout the supply chain, from farm to table. This allows for better identification of potential sources of contamination and quicker recall of affected products.
2. Early detection of contamination: With the use of sensors and machine learning algorithms, automation and AI can detect potential hazards in food products at an early stage. This can help prevent contaminated food from reaching consumers.
3. Faster and more accurate quality control: Automation can be used to perform repetitive and time-consuming tasks such as quality control checks. This can help ensure that food products meet safety standards and reduce the risk of human error.
4. Predictive modeling for risk assessment: AI can be trained to analyze data and identify patterns that can predict potential food safety risks. This can help food safety agencies and companies to proactively take measures to prevent foodborne illnesses.
5. Improved sanitation: Automation can be used for tasks such as cleaning and sanitizing equipment, reducing the risk of human error and the spread of pathogens.
6. Better food testing methods: AI can be used to develop and improve food testing methods, thereby increasing their accuracy and speed. This can help identify potential contamination sooner and prevent contaminated products from entering the market.
7. Enhanced food safety training: Automation and AI can also be used to develop interactive and personalized training programs for food safety professionals, making training more effective and efficient.
Overall, automation and AI can help improve food safety by reducing the risk of contamination, improving detection and testing methods and ensuring quality control measures are in place. However, it is also important to monitor and regulate the use of these technologies to ensure they are being used safely and ethically.
An excerpt from "Who Watches the Kitchen"
One day right after lunch, I walked into a popular pizza restaurant. The facility was immaculate, though short-staffed. They had just had a killer lunch rush. I began my inspection by taking temperatures at the prep station. As soonas I lifted the lid on the station, I could smell the stench. It was awful.
I tend to want to give people the benefit of the doubt, so my initial thought was could it be my imagination,even though I knew one hundred percent without a doubt, it was not. It was always a fleeting thought to wonder, but it happened.
I immediately began taking temperatures, thinking, how could someone not smell this?!
The table was right beside the pizza oven, only a few feet away. Items in the prep table are supposed to be stored atless than 41ºF, and the pizza oven is at least 800ºF. The proximity of these two pieces of equipment alone creates an issue, but I was sure there was more of a problem.
None of the TCS items were within range, and everything was higher than room temperature. The term'Potentially Hazardous Food'—now called 'Time/Temperature Controlled for Safety” (TCS) is defined in the Food Code as foods most likely to cause a foodborne illness outbreak. I began to feel sick in my stomach, knowing how many pizzas they had just sold over lunch.
I asked to see the temperature log, and there wasn't one. I inquired how long the items had been in the prepcooler. The employee told me they had been there since the previous night. They hadn't put them away in the walk-in cooler.
I didn't know if this had been an issue for two hours, four hours, ten hours, or longer, but it didn't matter. It was a severe problem, and it was a national brand. Why does that matter?
Because their protocol for handling these situations is different from the process for an independent restaurant. First,they have a protocol for this event, and many independents don't. It's irrelevant to an inspector, but the employee had to make a few calls immediately. At that point, the average inspector would have left her and her company to deal with the issues, but I believe in helping to educate and solve problems, when I can.
They closed the store, because they didn't have any additional staff or prep to put on the table. The District Manager was due to arrive any minute. We pulled the prep table away from the wall. It was turned on, and the breakerswere on, but we found the plug lying on the floor. It appeared when the staff cleaned up the night before, they’d pulled the table out too far, and it was unplugged. Mystery solved.
Those items sat in the prep table all the previous night and half the day with no refrigeration.
Ground beef, chicken, sausage, ham, bacon, mushrooms, chicken wings, and more were on that prep table, and they had sold nearly two hundred pizzas over lunch. The prep station, boxing area, and working tools were all close by.All those things, on top of being short-handed, and contaminated food was a recipe for disaster.
I was sure we would be flooded with calls, but we didn’t receive one. I always wondered how many people got sick and thought they had the flu. We will never know.
Had the person working that day made the choice to take the temperature of items in the prep station as recommended, all the problems that followed could have been avoided. Choices are decisions. Good or bad, there are consequences. Not taking the temperatures of the food products when that person arrived resulted in the following:
- Serving food that had been at room temperature for an excessive amount of time thus reaching the point of spoilage in some cases.
- The possibility of customers becoming ill from eating the food that was sold
- Not realizing the prep table was unplugged
- Closure of the restaurant for a few hours
- Possible disciplinary action
- Potential litigation
- Media attentio
- Lost sales
These are just a few of the consequences of her poor decision. The entire scenario would have been muchdifferent if she had just done her job, which would have been to take the product temperatures, and then perform corrective action when she discovered a problem.
Throw the inferior product away. Find the root cause of the problem (unplugged prep table). Plug the prep tablein and make sure it’s working properly. Wash, rinse and sanitize the entire table inside and out. Then put fresh product on the table in clean prep pans.
Bing, bang, boom! Health inspector shows up, and everything is working properly and it’s a wonderful day inthe neighborhood. The consequences would have been entirely different.