Most foodservice workers in the U.S. are required to obtain a certificate that proves they have taken a safety class that gives them at least the basic knowledge of how to safely handle food.
The classes are usually presented with dry, boring, regulatory language, however, and by people who, historically, do not have actual experience in the industry. This makes it tough on chefs, servers and others from the food service industry to get much out of the training, according to April Rivas, who with her business partner run ATC, a food safety training company based in Sebastopol.
And that can cause workers to make mistakes on the job, which costs businesses money.
“There are a lot of bad trainers out there. The classes are taught by regulators or dietitians doing it on the side, and tend to read right from power points or textbooks and can’t provide real life examples of challenges in the industry. They don’t understand it’s Friday night and you’ve got tables to turn,” Rivas said. “There are no regulators regulating the trainers.”
So Rivas and her team are doing it differently. They keep classes small, eight–12 people, and cater to the needs of the customer.
“We ask, ‘What’s the real practical application of this particular regulation?’” Rivas said.
All 10 trainers have extensive experience in the food industry, and bring real life experience to the safety training.
They know what can, and does, go wrong.
ATC holds one-day classes locally in Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties. The company also travels extensively, and within the past year, have gone national, holding regular monthly classes in 17 states including Hawaii.
Encountering the problem
Recently, Rivas was eating sliders at a restaurant and asked the server how they were cooked:
“The waiter said, ‘We serve them medium-rare, but you know what? It’s grass-fed beef, so pretty much you can eat it raw, and it’s safe.’ I just about had a heart attack. This was a server at a high-end restaurant telling us this. He really believed that because this was grass-fed, it’s free of any kind of pathogen that can make you sick.” But that’s not the case. Just because the product is organic, free range, or grass-fed, doesn’t make it anymore safe if not prepared correctly, Rivas said.
Many of ATC’s clients are referrals from the county of Sonoma, after getting in trouble with their health permit, Rivas said. While many food-safety violations are minor, many are serious.
Foodborne illness results in costs of $7.7 billion to $23 billion per year to consumers, the food industry and the national economy, according to the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.
Norovirus is a highly contagious and common virus that infects between 19 million and 21 million people per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and low-grade fever.
It is easily spread when a person who is ill prepares food, does not wash hands before preparing food or does not properly sanitize the work surfaces touched. Fruits and vegetables can also be contaminated in the field — though contamination in the kitchen is more common.
The Chipotle problem
The Chipotle franchise is a good example. The company suffered huge losses in 2015, when it was hit by a string of widely publicized food sickness outbreaks. The chain experienced repeated outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella and norovirus in a six-month period, forcing it to temporarily close more than 2,000 locations in February 2016.
While many food safety violations are minor, many are serious.
$7.7 billion–$24 billion: The cost of food-borne illnesses per customer, the food industry and the economy.
19 million–20 million: Norovirus is highly contagious and common.
2,000: The number of Chipotle restaurants that were temporarily closed due to repeated outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella and norovirus in a six-month period.
Source: National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Who: April Rivas and a business partner
What: A food-safety-training company that keep classes small and cater to the needs of the customer.
When: One-day classes locally in Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties and regular monthly classes in 17 states.
Why: To teach proper safety skills to workers to avoid making mistakes on the job, which costs businesses money.