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4 key tips to make sure your food is safe

007_Gray_YFM Summer 2015_Food Safety

After years working as a nurse, Jan Dearing approaches food preparation and serving at her Southern Smoke BBQ & Grill with a focus on risk assessment and control


By Lawrence Herzog

When she and her husband Orval started the River John, Nova Scotia business eight years ago, she launched a process to analyze risk and establish good procedures to ensure their food is consistently safe and the highest quality.

“We set ourselves up with good routines to monitor our fridge, freezer, cooking and holding temperatures, and we document those procedures so they become routine,” Dearing says. “For us, being a barbecue restaurant, it’s about meat management 101. If you’re not clean and organized, then the rest of your business is going to suffer.”

It’s a fundamental tenet that successful restaurateurs everywhere understand and follow. Nothing kills reputation and repeat business faster than making customers sick.

Canada’s food supply is one of the safest in the world, but food-borne bacteria, viruses and parasites making up 30 known pathogens are still a leading cause of illness. Every year, one in eight Canadians, or about four million of us, get sick from a domestically-acquired food-borne illness, the Public Health Agency of Canada estimated in 2014. Data from the Canadian Notifiable Disease Surveillance System (CNDSS) and National Enteric Surveillance Program (NESP) indicate some food-borne illnesses have dropped substantially over the past decade, but infections caused by salmonella have stayed the same.

The federal government’s Safe Food for Canadians Act, implemented in 2012, has given the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) more tools and resources to help keep food safe, like tougher penalties and better control over imports and exports. Inspectors can now demand that food producers provide information in a timely and standardized way, and CFIA has the authority to require traceability systems for food producers.

Trained for safety

Keeping food safe also means keeping food fresh. And when operators handle food properly, it saves money. A proper food safety training and certification plan helps reduce waste and lowers utility costs.

“At High Liner, we’ve trained all of our sales and marketing staff with advanced food safety training,” says Philman George, chef and culinary manager for the foodservice division of High Liner Foods. “The certification is good for five years and is recognized across Canada.”

George strongly believes that any operator serving food to the public should have at least one person – if not everybody who handles food – trained in advanced food safety. “By doing that, you will have a better time with your food inspectors as well. It’s important to recertify every five years, and human nature being what it is, having that refresher helps address bad habits.”

As he points out, it only takes only one employee not following proper procedures to cause a problem. “When you look at the cost involved in advanced training of a couple hundred dollars per employee, it’s money well spent, no doubt about it.”

Operators should also consider the source of their supply, he says. “Is your food coming out of a truck of a reputable supplier, or out of somebody’s trunk? You need to consider what may have happened to the ingredients before they get to you, whether they have been held at safe temperature and whether they are fresh.”

Confidence through cleanliness

The foodservice test kitchens at Heinz Foodservice Canada follow the same protocols as the company’s manufacturing operations. “In our test kitchens, we have incorporated the same good manufacturing practices (GMPs) into what we do every day,” says corporate chef Juriaan Snellen. That includes hairnets, personal hygiene, proper outfits, thorough handwashing (scrubbing for at least 25 seconds), and no eating and drinking while working with food.

“Some studies show that we live in a very sterile environment and that cleanliness means our immune systems aren’t fighting off the numbers of bacteria so, in that way, we are more vulnerable to getting sick,” Snellen says. “Training programs like HAACP are extremely important, and best practices need to be passed on to everybody who handles food in the kitchen and right through to front of house.”

It’s a smart way of doing business that goes right to your reputation and your bottom line. Being food safe is, as Jan Dearing puts it, “about establishing a culture of cleanliness in your restaurant. If everybody in your restaurant gets it, then you will be successful.”

Top tips for food safety


  • Colour code cutting boards with distinctive shades for raw meat, fish, dairy, vegetables etc. to reduce cross-contamination.
  • Be sure to wash your hands again right after you handle raw ingredients – especially raw proteins.
  • Write a date on your leftovers, store them properly and ensure they are promptly used.
  • Ensure your kitchen is impeccably clean at the end of the day, so that you start out right the next morning.