In North Carolina it is a given: public bars must obtain more than half of their gross sales from food, and all food service operations are inspected by the health department. But throughout the rest of the country, inspected or not, we have a stronger reason to be educated on food safety and sanitation: food borne illnesses are caused by viruses. According to the most recent safety and sanitation classes taught to food service businesses, viruses are the leading cause of food borne illnesses. So why aren’t we addressing them more comprehensively in bars?
Viruses are spread by people through poor personal hygiene. Viruses do not grow in food but do grow in our intestines. Contamination occurs when we fail to scrub our hands long enough (for 10 to 15 seconds) and in the correct way (using water 100º or hotter and dried with paper towels). Washing hands before and after handling raw product or after doing anything that contaminates our hands such as taking out the trash; eating; using the rest room; coughing or sneezing; and touching our face, hair or apron.
During a normal shift, standard operating procedures in bars leave plenty of room for products to be compromised. Consider some of the following circumstances.
l. Retrieving glasses from display racks. Anytime we handle a glass by the rim we contaminate it with our hands.
2. Using garnishes: We do not generally wash, cook, or handle garnishes carefully enough in our kitchens. Hands are a source of contamination for all food products; all garnishes end up in the drinks and are eventually consumed.
3. Ice and ice scoops: Again, with our hands being our greatest source of contamination, it is important that we retrieve ice with a scoop that is stored properly, out of the ice, whenever not in use.
4. Handling money: Our cloth-based money can harbor one of the worst food borne illnesses: Salmonellosis. It is one of many dangerous bacterium that can bring eventual death to our seniors and those with weakened immune systems.
5. Working while sick: The H1N1 flu virus is still with us. Anyone who continues to operate a bar, cleaning after customers, handling and serving fresh food products, cannot work if any flu-like symptoms are experienced and must not return to work until they have no symptoms for twenty-four hours.
Nothing stops the spread of viruses better than good hygiene. This is an essential issue for the restaurant business because operators need to protect their customers. Imagine if, through weak procedures practiced by our favorite bartender, he or she managed to spread Hepatitis A or Norovirus to a customer. Both are highly contagious: one slower growing, the other causes illness within a few hours of contact. Both are also so contagious and it is recommended an infected operation undergo a seventy-two hour shut down of thorough cleaning and sanitation. Anytime a customer consumes an item prepared by a food service professional, they are entrusting us with their health and possibly their lives.