Sunday, September 1, 2019



Boil Water Notices:  Depending on how close Hurricane Dorian gets to Florida, we may see some boil water notices, particularly along the coast.  The spec to make water safe is a rolling boil for one minute. 

Dishwasher Performance Specifications:  Every dish machine has an “NSF tag.”  NSF International is a company which certifies machinery and equipment for use in food service. You can often see their logo on pans, utensils and food preparation equipment.  The NSF tag specifies correct temperature, sanitizer, water flow and water hardness.  Health codes require all commercial dishwashers to have this tag.  When we test the dish machine, we are making sure it is within the NSF guidelines to properly sanitize equipment.  Nearly all low temperature dish machines use 50-100 parts per million (ppm) chlorine to sanitize and typically 120°, but those numbers can vary.  Check the tag to be sure. 

Sanitizing food contact surfaces:  Like the dish machine, quaternary ammonium (quat) sanitizer has specifications.  Ideally quat sanitizer should be between 200 – 400 parts per million (ppm),but can be as low as 150 or as high as 500.  It also needs to be at a minimum temperature of 75° to properly sanitize.  The store is required to have test strips available to test chemicals from the dish machine, sanitizer buckets, and heat (if a high temperature dish machine is used). 

If you use a sanitizer dispenser, make sure the person dispensing the sanitizer physically checks for the proper concentration, same with the dish machine.  The most common cause of violations on sanitizer is the container being empty.  If you use tablets or packets to make sanitizer, be sure to follow the instructions, too much or too little water will also create a violation.  If your dispenser is broken, you can manually make a sanitizer bucket.   ¼ tsp of quat sanitizer in one gallon of water will get you around 300-400ppm. 

The most important part of the sanitization process is allowing the item to air dry.  The evaporation process essentially sucks the water out of bacteria to kill it.  For this reason, pans and utensils should not be dried with a towel or stacked while wet.  When using quat sanitizer to sanitize knives, cutting boards and food contact surfaces, the air-drying process takes 30 seconds, an eternity when you are busy.  Inspectors will sometimes check to see the cook is waiting a full 30 seconds before using a knife that has been sanitized. The easiest solution is the have multiple knives available.

Rings, Bracelets, Watches, Nails, Nail Polish: The rule against anything on the wrists, anything other than a plain wedding band, fake nails, and nail polish is most often enforced against cooks, but can also be enforced against service staff.  Because most inspectors give the front of the house staff some room on this, Bright Green does not score the front of the house as aggressively on these items as the back. 

Storage of “In use” utensils: In use utensils such as tongs, knives, scoops, etc. can be stored 4 ways.  1) Clean, 2) Hot, 3) Cold, 4) Using Time as a Public Health control.  Because we are dealing with microscopic bacteria, any item with food debris should be handled the same as food.  We teach our customers to hold grill utensils in hot, clean, water above 135°.  Scoops for cold foods can be stored in the food so long as the handle is not in the food.  If you use Time as a Public Health Control for utensils, the utensils must be time marked the same as food, then sanitized after four hours.  Make sure to store ice buckets upside down so they will not hold standing water.  Make sure not to place them directly on a hard surface where water will collect around the lip.  Either hanging, on slotted shelving, or on dry dek. 
Food Manager Class and Test: The next food manager class and test will be in Orlando on Monday September 30th at 9am.  The location is Chela Tequila and Tacos, 183 South Orange Avenue, Orlando 32801. Please let me know by 9/20 if you have anyone who will be attending the class. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

June 2019 Newsletter

June 2019 Newsletter

Fruit flies:  Since we are in the middle of fruit fly season, I wanted to touch on a few ways they can be managed. Fruit flies breed in areas of standing water with some type of food source.The flies breed in one area and move to another when they grow their wings. This is why they are so hard to dispatch.  In my experience, about 80% of the time, you’ll find them in worn grout lines, unsealed areas around plumbing or in floor drains.  If you see a cloudy, pasty looking surface that appears to be fizzing like soda, you have found them. They appear and long, thin worms as in the photo on the top and breed in areas that look like moldy paste as in the photo on the bottom 

Apply coffee machine hot or boiling water into these areas to instantly kill the larvae, keep them away by completely sealing the area, repairing the floor or grout and keeping the area dry. 

Hand washing:  There is a rather large Hepatitis A outbreak in the Tampa area, so expect inspectors to be keying in on handwashing.  Make sure all your sinks have hot water (at least 100°) soap and towels.  Employees should wash hands for 15-20 seconds total.  Make sure to use the towel to shut off the water after washing hands as everyone who touches the faucet to turn the water on does so with dirty hands. 

Sick Policy:  Make sure your store has a sick employee policy.  We have the additional challenges of understaffing and hangovers when it comes to making decisions to send staff home.  It can be difficult to get some of the staff to work when they are well, all this is understood.  However, guidelines say that an employee who is vomiting, has diarrhea, or jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), must be excluded from work.  In addition to the Hep A outbreak in Tampa, there have been a few investigations into Norovirus outbreaks in the area related to sick food handlers.  If one of your staff shows up at the doctor and is diagnosed with one of the big 5 foodborne illnesses (E. Coli, Norovirus, Hepatitis A, Salmonella, Shigella) the doctor is required by law to notify your health inspector.  All these illnesses but E. Coli, which is more closely related to cross-contamination of foods, can be best prevented by proper hand washing. 

Cross-Contamination: The biggest source of cross-contamination in the kitchen are gloves and improperly sanitized food contact surfaces. Coach the staff to change gloves when changing tasks (wash hands in between). Don’t touch ready to eat foods with bare hands, minimize contact with foods, especially raw foods, by using tongs, scoops, spatulas, etc.  Make sure knives, slicers, dicers, cutting boards, spoons and spatulas are properly sanitized between uses.    

Saturday, March 10, 2018

March 2018: Some lesser known food safety guidelines

While most of us in the industry are familiar with the temperature danger zone and the need to heat and cool foods properly, there are some potentially serious practices, not widely known and often missed on state health inspections.  Please keep in mind these rules apply specifically to the State of Florida under the 2009 FDA food code.  

1) Unpackaged frozen foods:  In the freezer, when a food is frozen solid, and in it's original, unsealed packaging, it does not matter where the food is stored.  For instance, frozen bread can be stored under frozen raw chicken. Now, here is the catch.  Once that food is opened from it's original sealed packaging, it must be stored as if it is thawed, (top to bottom) Ready to eat, unwashed produce, raw seafood, raw beef, raw pork, ground beef, ground pork, poultry.  I see this mistake a lot more commonly in line freezers where food is unpackaged for quick cooking, but also in walk in freezers where product is portioned and frozen.  For this reason, we always recommend to store your food, thawed or frozen, according to thawed product guidelines.

2) Reduced Oxygen Packaging:  Botulism is an extremely rare and deadly food borne illness caused by the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum.  Although rare, botulism is a hearty organism, not easily killed by heat or extreme conditions, AND it is anaerobic, which means it can live without oxygen and thrives in a low oxygen environment.  Improperly sealed cans and jars can be a source, hence the importance of undented cans and sealed jars.  One other trait of botulism is that it does well at refrigerated temperatures. Most food borne bacteria will not grow under normal refrigeration, C. botulinum does well between 38-41°.  While most of you know about cans and jars, you may not be aware of the danger with reduced oxygen packaging, particularly with fish.  Some fish, sealed in reduced oxygen packaging and frozen, must be removed from this sealed packaging BEFORE thawing.  Luckily for us, there is an easy way to kill this dangerous microorganism, expose it to oxygen.  Oxygen is toxic to C. botulinum, simply unsealing the packaging will kill it.  This rule does not apply to all reduced oxygen packaging.  If an item must be removed from packaging prior to thawing, the container will normally say so. One important note: Although the bacteria is killed, opening the packaging will not remove any toxic waste the bacteria has produced, so it is best to discard food that has been stored improperly.   

3) Using time as a public health control for utensils.  If you are in the food service business, you understand the importance of sanitary food contact surfaces like knives, cutting boards, tongs, etc.  Like a surgeons tools, these surfaces must be sanitized to prevent cross-contamination.  Any of these surfaces can sit with food on them for up to four hours and remain safe.  This is called "time as a public health control."  This rule can be used for food contact surfaces like slicers and dicers, which are time consuming to clean, or for tongs and knives used very frequently.  You simply have to time mark the utensil for a time four hours from when you start using it (if you start at 12:00, mark the item 4:00).  The utensil has to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after four hours. Using this process allows you to use utensils repeatedly without having to stop and sanitize each time.  Important to note, this process can only be used with ready to eat foods, if the utensil is touching raw foods, there is a potential for cross contamination.  

If you have any further questions, write me at

Friday, September 1, 2017

Home Food Safety

In commercial food service, there are strict rules on how food can be heated, cooled, and stored.  In the state of Florida, high priority violations are the most serious and the ones which get restaurants fined and closed and those that make people sick.

Norovirus, fka the Norwalk virus, aka gastroenteritis, aka stomach flu is the most common food borne illness.  About 20 million Americans will suffer from Norovirus each year.  If you have a case of the "24 hour flu", aches, vomiting, etc, it is very likely Norovirus and it is very likely you contracted it from improper food handling AT HOME.  

Now, before you curse at me or punch me out, stay with me.  I'm willing to bet you my Bright Green chef coat there are two high priority health code violations in your refrigerator right now.  Please understand, this is not an indictment of your culinary, parenting, or adulting skills, simply information of which the public is not aware.

Nearly every home refrigerator is by design, a health code violation.  On the very bottom of the fridge is the crisper drawer for lettuce, produce, etc.  In a commercial kitchen and according to FDA guidelines, all ready to eat product (like lettuce) has to be stored above raw food rather than below it. If raw chicken happens to drip onto your lettuce and you don't notice it, you might have a nasty surprise in store for you 24-48 hours later.  Also, your egg tray, if there is anything underneath it, milk dressing,etc, that is a high priority violation.   Because raw eggs and their parents, chicken, are the most hazardous of the food products, they should be stored on the bottom.  There is solid reasoning for this but that is beyond the scope of this article.

If you have leftovers from last night in a container and you have a food thermometer, check the temperature.  I'm willing to bet it is above 41° unless you took steps to cool it properly.  41° is the maximum temperature at which you can safely hold cold food.  A regular home refrigerator is not designed to lower temperature quickly, it is designed to hold temperature.  Improper cooling is most often the cause of that nagging 24 hour flu and it is more likely from home than from that Thai restaurant up the street, well that's debatable.  If you have someone in your home considered high risk: pregnant women, elderly, young children, or anyone with a compromised immune system from disease or medical treatments, these honest mistakes can be serious.

Proper cooling of food is all about surface area and air flow.  Think about a 30° day, pretty cold for us Florida people, with no wind, cold but not bad.  Now, add a 20 mile per hour wind into the mix and wow, it's cold.  The same physics apply to cooling food.  A hot object, whether a person or hot food, has a small "bubble" of heat around it which helps to maintain the internal temperature.  Wind blows away that bubble of heat and allows the cold to reach the food.  Also, the greater the surface area exposed to the cold, the more quickly something cools.  A naked person outdoors will get colder much faster than a clothed one.  Food which is spread out will cool more quickly than food which is all together.  

Now the solution.  Don't laugh, this is what I do at home and my kids, of course, they laugh, but they don't get sick.  Food has to be cooled from 135° to 70° within 2 hours and then from 70° to 41° over the next four, for a total of six hours.  When you have leftover liquids, pasta, chili, stew, etc, place them in very shallow containers so the liquid is 1/2" to 1" deep, get a couple of those refreezable cooler ice blocks and put them in the food, keep the food uncovered and take up some of that precious real estate in your freezer near the fans. Get up once to stir the food to speed the cooling process along.  Before you go to bed, check the temp and put the food into a regular storage container.  Do this one step and watch your 24 hour flus decrease dramatically.

I've attached the following diagram to help with food storage in your home refrigerator.  Eggs are not shown on this chart, but they should go on the bottom shelf with no other raw product above them.
It will seem strange at first, but this set up will help you keep a safer home.  If you have any further questions, email me

Monday, December 5, 2016

Bright Green March 2017 Newsletter: The Future of Food Safety

According to CDC estimates, food borne illness is responsible for 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3000 deaths each year.  Impact on the US economy is estimated at $75 billion. (President’s FY 2017 Budget Request: Key Investments for Implementing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Feb 22, 2016)

Five of the seven rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act have become rules and $104 million has been approved as a budget to implement the new changes.  What all of this means in plain English is the scrutiny under which we operate in the food service industry is going to continue to increase.  Much of the new legislation is going to focus on produce, especially imported produce. To the credit of the FDA, they proposed major changes in 2013 which they significantly re-wrote after visits to farms and food service companies.  

Sabra hummus is the latest in a long line of well-known companies with food safety recalls.  Blue Bell ice cream has recently had two listeria-related recalls. Chipotle restaurants, once a darling of the industry, continues to struggle with the fallout in consumer trust from a string of food borne illnesses.  

Although the 2009 food code was adopted by the state of Florida in 2013, enforcement of the code at the inspector level has been slow and often parts of the code are not enforced at all.  I have it on rather good authority that the FDA will issue a new food code in 2017, produce handling will be at the center of those changes.   
In the coming years, you will almost certainly see a push in two areas with respect to produce.
1) Separation of raw/unwashed produce from ready-to-eat produce.  These provisions are already in the code and I have seen them enforced sporadically but you can be sure inspectors will soon be checking. With all the recent focus on imported produce and increased sampling of produce by the FDA you can be sure changes are in the wind.
2) Produce wash: Another near-certainty in coming years will be the mandatory use of a chemical wash on produce either at the distributor level or at the store level.  These chemicals have been on the market for decades but are not widely used.  Look for a push for this as the FDA wraps up their produce sampling program and implements the FSMA.  If you google "food safety updates" the first several pages are nearly all produce related.

Air balance is an often overlooked "easy money" solution.  If you have a monthly HVAC maintenance plan, your maintenance company should be checking this each time they visit.  Like all maintenance companies, they will "respect what you inspect."  Most do a poor job.  
Nearly all food service facilities have "make up air." Make up air is designed to bring air back into the building to replace the air taken out by your hoods. Testing your air balance is easy.  If you open one of the doors and get a huge rush of air in either direction, your air balance is off.  Stand at your front door with a paper napkin, crack the door slightly and see what the napkin does, it will move slightly.  If it moves a lot in one direction or another, you have an air balance problem. If the napkin flutters inward, you have negative pressure and each time you open the door the outside air comes rushing in.  During the Florida summer, the last thing you need is to bring 95° humid air into your building.  
Conversely, if you have positive pressure (the napkin flutters outward) then you push your air conditioning out the door into the world or your heat in the winter. Bottom line, air balance is easy to check and easy to fix, just make sure you are holding your vendors accountable.  How much can you save each month? More than enough to pay for Bright Green Q.A.     

Ask any restaurateur his/her biggest challenge, it's people.  Generational changes in work ethic, minimum wage hikes, payroll tax hikes, ACA compliance costs, and a decrease in the number of people willing to work in our industry have all contributed to a serious shortage of employees, particularly engaged, caring employees.  
To a person, our brains crave education, challenges, and stimulation.  We want to learn.  My younger staff members used to marvel at the amount of useless information in my head.  In a game of trivia, they have no chance against me. The reason for this is simple: The era in which I was educated required it. There were no handheld devices where anything and everything could be researched in a matter of seconds.  The younger generation has no need to memorize facts, figures, and people, they have instant access to nearly every expert on the planet.
The best way to have employees is to keep the ones you already have, how do you do that?

Make sure they learn, teach them new things, make them into experts.  Become more than a J-O-B.  Our number one goal at Bright Green Q.A. is better results through education.    

Local communities now have the option of adding health inspections to your YELP page.  Many, but not all restaurants' inspections are posted on the home page next to the menu.  This continues the trend of health and sanitation being front and center, this trend will only intensify in the coming years as information becomes more easily available.  The last thing you want to see when someone visits your YELP page is "Fail."  
Now more than ever, your guests have the ability to see "behind the curtain" to what is really going on in your kitchen.  Those businesses that do consistently great work will have a tremendous competitive advantage over those who do not.    

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Bright Green Monthly Newsletter: April 2017 FAQs from the Road

Frequently asked questions, nuances, and clarifications from my inspections

Make HAACP easy with a thermocouple.
HAACP plans are among the most well-intended and most poorly executed tools in the restaurant industry.  Most managers are men and women of action, most of them do not like paperwork, and most of them get too busy to execute a daily log.  Enter the thermocouple.  The thermocouple is a programmable thermometer, easily used and understood by your staff members.  You simply program the items you want to temp on a regular basis.  The employee simply selects the item from a menu, sticks the thermometer and the thermocouple logs the temp and time for you.  There you have a down loadable record of your temperatures.  Like any system, it still needs to be managed, but it eliminates the need to keep paper records and is much more easily executed by your staff.  

What closes restaurants?  Bugs and rodents close restaurants.
Every Tuesday, the DBPR posts a list of restaurants closed by the health department.  A well-publicized closure will result in a 10-25% drop in sales immediately.  News travels fast, bad news travels at light speed.  There are no greater expenses in our industry than empty seats and a loss of consumer confidence.  Being in Florida and working in a building where the doors open and close several hundred times per day, it is entirely possible for bugs to enter your building, indeed the cleanest of operations will see an occasional bug.  Whether they visit or become residents is up to the operator.  The BIGGEST factor in bug and rodent activity is the condition of the facility.  I know you are saying, "Thank you Captain Bright Green Obvious," but as all of you know, identifying and fixing a problem are a gulf apart.  
Having a monthly expert pest management company is crucially important, but there are several low and no cost solutions to these problems.  Like all living things, pests need food, water, and a safe place to shelter their young.  If you deny them these things, they will make their shelter somewhere other than your business. 

1) Dry the floors:  Standing water is the number one culprit for all creatures great and small. Other than air, water is the most essential and urgent of all conditions to sustain life.  Giant human populations build up around water.  If that water is in the corner behind your dish machine, thirsty critters will seek it out.  Now, everyone who has been in the business longer than 6 months knows every restaurant ever built puts floor drains at the highest spot on the floor rather than the lowest, so keeping water off the floor in the first place is crucial.  Check to see that all of your plumbing, especially in the dish area, is draining properly, use floor fans to dry at night after your staff has cleaned up.    

2) Eliminate as much cardboard as possible.  You may run the cleanest operation in the world but your distributors may not. Cardboard boxes with supplies often sit for months before they are sent to your store.  Roaches multiply very quickly and often out of site.  Like icebergs, if you see one, there is much more below the surface.  Don't let them in. 

3) Keep food off the floor.  1/2 of a shrimp will feed a roach for a lifetime, rats have a sense of smell more sensitive than most dogs.  Keep food off the floor and makes sure floors are clean to deny these pests an easy livelihood, you work hard for your food and drink, make sure they do the same, outdoors!  Check under your counters, behind equipment.  Move and clean behind equipment regularly.  A dish person two hours per week is usually enough to get all of the areas clean.  

4) Patch holes immediately.  A hole is a home to bugs and rodents, when they pop up, seal them right away.  

5) Don't prop your doors open. 

You can never completely eliminate the possibility of pests, but these simple steps can help keep them manageable.   

As a QA vendor, I often see the results of half-assed work from other vendors, particularly in refrigeration, HVAC and dish washing equipment.  When encountering an equipment problem leading to a health code violation, the most common explanation is, "That was just fixed yesterday."  
Vendors, like staff members, have to be managed and held accountable.  When dealing with vendors, operators who are not owners sometimes forget the identity of the boss.  The boss is easy to determine, it's the one who writes the check.  If your boss writes the check and he has put you in charge, then you are the boss.  
When a vendor visits, follow these steps to get a satisfactory outcome:

1) Make your vendor explain the problem in depth. I know you are busy, but listen, your attention at this point can save you hundreds, even thousands of dollars.  When I visit my clients, I not only identify issues, I have answers to solve the issues.  The quality of my answers determines the value of my service.  

2) You pay your vendors to fix your equipment, not rig it.  Do not accept anything less than repair.  I spoke to a client yesterday who told me the last three visits from his repair man involved spraying the item with WD40.  I can rig a cord, spray WD40, attach duct tape, or perform any "jury rigged" repair.  Vendors charge big money for their services, you deserve better than duct tape.

3) Use small businesses whenever possible.  Admittedly this is a biased opinion as I am a small businessman.  A salaried employee at a big company gets a check regardless of your business.  Say what you want, it's not the same as being directly paid by your customer.  The small businessman eats, sleeps, and breathes based on your business.  Find someone who shares this level of urgency about doing things right, that is often the owner. Big companies have great information, resources, and experts, the owner has a direct financial interest in your satisfaction.  

4) Make the vendor look at the entire piece of equipment.  Modern machinery is complicated with use of computers and sometimes redundant, interdependent systems.  HVAC units have high-limit switches to prevent more expensive parts of the unit from being damaged. If something goes wrong, the high limit switch will burn out to protect the rest of the unit from damage.  Now, a vendor who simply replaces a high limit switch is not doing his job.  It is his job to replace the switch AND determine the cause.  The vendor is only too happy to charge you for another trip when that fix fails a week later.  If you pay for a monthly maintenance contract on your refrigeration, all of the units should be examined thoroughly and potential problems fixed or identified.  If your vendor only comes in and changes filters, find a new vendor.    

5) Put it in writing.  Make your vendors record everything IN WRITING, this allows you to go back and hold them accountable for past visits and help you cut down on costly repeat visits.