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Safety first! How safe is what’s on your plate?


By Jane Auster

Since the first La Popessa opened its doors in 1998, partners Michel Bourdages, Jocelyn Bergeron and Georges Blanchette have introduced strict protocols to ensure food safety across a network of franchised restaurants, serving some 60,000 customers a year.

“We’re very aware of the importance of food safety,” says Blanchette, La Popessa’s vice-president. “I’m the kind of person who likes policies dealing with that to be very clear and rigorous. I am a person who truly respects the importance of standards to ensure food safety. I also realize that we can’t necessarily transfer that consciousness to all of our employees merely by word of mouth, because I’ve tried. Therefore, all of our employees must sign a document that outlines their responsibilities to respect our food safety policies.”

La Popessa also works with an inspector from MAPAQ (Le ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec), who attests to the professional handling of the food and during each shift ensures that food is stored, prepped and cooked at the proper temperatures.

La Popessa also has an overall inspector who regularly checks the quality of standards at the restaurants and gives courses to the people in charge of overseeing food storage, preparation and cooking on each shift.

Restaurant operators can’t be too careful, say suppliers. Health Canada estimates there are 11 million cases of foodborne illness in Canada each year. That’s roughly one of every three people.

Everyone at every stop on the food chain has to be vigilant, but operators are close to the top of the list because of their direct relationship with the public. They need to question all aspects of the food chain, including import inspections, country of origin, and much more.

With heightened awareness of food safety issues in the media and from government, suppliers and distributors, operators are by all accounts doing an excellent job of monitoring their food handling practices. But they must do more.

Increasingly, focus will shift to ensuring they are aware of the latest best practices, and are in compliance. Operators should note that advanced, science-based testing technologies have forever changed the detection capabilities, placing more emphasis on safe handling expectations at the restaurant level.

Diners are counting on operators to keep the food on their menus tasty – and safe.

Top 10 food safety tips

  • Establish your standards and put your procedures in writing. And let your customers know!
  • Post signs regarding your procedures, including reminders to your staff to wash their hands.
  • Train, train and train again. Send staff for food safety training and carry out mock food recalls at least quarterly. Visit ServSafe ( to find useful training options.
  • Check your product at the back door to make sure you don’t introduce any bad microbes into your restaurant.
  • Outline in writing how particular equipment – such as meat slicers – should be cleaned. There are precise methods that must be used to handle specific equipment.
  • Separate raw from cooked foods.
  • Watch your temps. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot, and cook foods thoroughly.
  • Make sure all containers are properly closed so bacteria can’t get in.
  • Change gloves as often as bare hands are washed. Gloved hands transport bacteria and viruses, as do bare hands.
  • Deal only with reliable suppliers and distributors, and don’t be afraid to check their track record in food safety.