7 WAYS TO IMPROVE GRAB-AND-GO FOOD SAFETY

Sales of grab-and-go foods are on the rise. In response, truckstop and travel plazas are increasing their hot and cold quick-serve items. To maintain safety, it is important for locations to choose the right items to add to their cases and follow certain han­dling procedures for preparing and holding food.

“The potential for food-borne illnesses increases dramatically if you’re not paying attention,” said Darren Schulte, vice president of membership for NATSO. Here are seven ways NATSO members can improve grab-and-go food safety.

1 SELECT THE RIGHT ITEMS

Some items need more time and attention than others, which is why Michael Ouimet, president of Oui­met Resources, which operates travel center restaurants in 11 states and provides consulting work, said it is important for operators to consider what items make sense for them, particularly in the open, refrigerated deli cases.

“There are some things that are harder to maintain quality on than others, so you have to be selective with what you put in there,” Ouimet said, adding that quality as well as safety is a concern.

Schulte said an egg salad sand­wich, for example, has stricter food safety parameters than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Ouimet said salads as well as the bread on sandwiches need more moni­toring to maintain quality. “We try to put the lettuce and tomato separate so the bread doesn’t get soggy,” he said.

Overall, Ouimet said grab-and-go customers are looking for more flavorful products and wider variety. Many are also after protein. “Hard boiled eggs are the No. 1 SKU in grab-and-go,” he said.

2 ROTATE FOOD PROPERLY

Food safety depends on a good dating, rotation and tracking sys­tem. Ouimet said on cold foods, operators can typically get three-to-five days of shelf life on products. “Even though we have a three-to-five day useful life, we still want to turn it every 48 hours. If you’re not changing those every two days, you’re preparing too much,” he said. “That comes down to the discipline of process.” 

For hot foods, it is equally im­portant to pull foods after a certain amount of time, which is often dic­tated by the manufacturer’s direc­tions (see more below). 

“The breakfast sandwiches that you’re putting on the hot hold are the hardest to maintain quality on. You put a sausage egg and cheese biscuit out at 6 a.m., those need to be pulled every two hours,” Ouimet said.

That means locations need to ad­just the amount they prepare based on the day of the week or the time of the day. Knowing what to prepare and when comes down to knowing your customer, Schulte said.

3 WATCH THE TIME AND TEMPERATURE

It is critical to think about time and temperatures, Schulte said. He recommends locations make notes about how often employees need to be checking items to ensure they’re holding their heat and also write down when items have been put out and when they need to be re­moved. “Time and temperature is critical not only for food safety, but for quality,” he said.

Broadway Flying J takes hourly temperatures for all hot food to make sure that the proper tempera­tures are maintained and checks the cold case temperatures daily. When it comes to hold times, the location follows the manufacturers suggestions as well as its own ex­perience. “The manufacturer may state that you can hold something for three hours, but we may go to only two because the product quality will degrade before the three hours, said Damon Borden, truckstop operations manager for the company.

4 FOLLOW DIRECTIONS

Vendors can provide detailed in­formation on how products should be thawed, prepared and held. “Fol­low the directions on the package,” Schulte said. “When the directions say, ‘do not put it in the refrigera­tor, keep frozen,’ do it. When it says ‘thaw for eight hours before serv­ing,’ follow that,” he said. “Are you following the instructions for that specific situation?”

5 IDENTIFY CROSS CONTAMINATION RISKS

As programs grow, the risk of cross contamination increases. “If you’ve gone from hot dogs to chicken, vegetables and hard boiled eggs, you have multiple foods and have to watch for cross contamination,” Schulte said. “If today you’re not making chicken salad sandwiches and you start selling them, now it could be a bigger issue.”

6 WASH HANDS

A lot of food safety comes down to following simple best practices, such as washing hands and/or using gloves. For those locations that use gloves, Schulte said it is important that employees change them fre­quently. “You can’t have those on and touch chicken and then touch something else,” he said. “Just be­cause they have gloves on doesn’t mean they’re safe.”

Operators should monitor employ­ees to ensure they’re following proce­dures, Schulte said. He asked, “Are employees wiping their hands on their apron and then making a sandwich?”

7 GET TRAINED

Schulte recommends locations expanding their food service offerings start by sending employees to food safety handling classes. “Make that part of your program,” Schulte said.

All employees who handle food at Broadway Flying J have to obtain a state food handler’s card, and the lo­cation has cooks and prep cooks com­plete ServSafe training. “This is a very detailed program about the safe han­dling of food,” Borden said. 



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