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National Restaurant Association - NRA members share safe food handling practices

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NRA members share safe food handling practices



National Food Safety Education Month is wrapping up, but restaurateurs are committed to safe food handling practices and training throughout the year.

"Food safety is the most important issue above and beyond anything else we do," says National Restaurant Association board member Ivan Matsunaga. "To get someone sick is a nail in the coffin."

In Chicago, where Matsunaga operates Connie's Pizza restaurants at Navy Pier and McCormick Place, city health codes require restaurants to have certified food safety managers on premise. Connie's supervisors and select kitchen and front-of-house employees receive ServSafe food safety training, and Ecolab representatives regularly visit to enhance in-house training.

"The front-of-house has as much obligation for food safety as back of house," Matsunaga says.

On the East Coast, the eight-location Iron Hill Brewery has received recognition for its commitment to food safety training. In 2008, it won an Excellence in Food Safety Award from the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association.

Each day, Iron Hill chefs do full line checks, tasting products, checking weights. They look at temperatures, how things are stored in the walk-ins and whether food is dated properly. The checks take 45 minutes to an hour, and once a week, a chef does the full line check with a manager. They scan and upload their reports into a computer, so anyone on the leadership team can look at them.

Iron Hill's three managers and three chefs in each restaurant are all certified through ServSafe Manager Training. This year, the Wilmington, Del.-based company set a requirement for all hourly kitchen staff to receive ServSafe Food Handler training. Next year, Iron Hill requires every employee to go through ServSafe Food Handler training, including front-of-house staff.

"ServSafe certification will be a prerequisite for everyone working for us," says founder and owner Kevin Davies, a National Restaurant Association board member.

Like Iron Hill Brewery, Starters Riverport requires all managers to be ServSafe certified. Most of its shift leaders also are certified. And like Iron Hill, the Bethlehem, Pa., operation is racking up recognition for its commitment to food safety. It won the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association's Excellence in Food Safety Award in 2010, 2009 and 2007.

Located in a 25,000-square-foot building that once housed Bethlehem Steel's foundry, Starters Riverport serves 3,500 to 5,000 people a week. The building was gutted, so the restaurant's owners were able to design a restaurant where each piece of equipment could be moved and taken apart for daily, thorough cleaning. Everything is on casters, including cooking lines.

They also instituted systems to ensure food safety controls in every aspect of the operation, from purchasing to food prep and from inventory to uniforms.

"For a place this size, you have to have checks and balances," says Operations Manager Matt Weaver. "If one thing goes, it's like a domino effect. If we follow all the things we're supposed to, we will be successful."

Photo: Winner's of Clyde's Restaurant Group's annual handwashing competition celebrate their victory — and cash rewards. This year's year's winning team was from Tower Oak Lodge in Rockville, Md. The team competed against employees from 13 other restaurants, demonstrating their knowledge of food safety and proper handwashing procedures. Judges included local health department officials and insurance company respresentatives. Shown with the team (back row) are Clyde's Quality Assurance Director Vicki Griffith, COO Claude Andersen and CFO Jeff Owens. Photo by Michael Birchenall.

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