On Monday December 4, I was honored to host the Hunan Institute of Food Quality at the Bulletproof offices! We had 13 attendees and one hard-working translator, Mr. George. It was a thrilling ninety minutes of discussion about the complexities of the United States food regulatory system, the inspection process, restaurant letter grades, and environmental sampling. There was a lot of interest in the number of samples taken during environmental sampling (and the FDA's so-called "swab-a-thons"), and the procurement of stool samples (or "manure", as it was charmingly translated) during foodborne illness investigations. We were all cramped into a room that can comfortably hold eight people but that didn't stop the enthusiasm! What an honor! Special thanks to Triway International Group for the coordination and each of the guests, who ranged in expertise from food inspectors to researchers to PhDs. Cool stuff and a very special honor. A photo of us all, below!
It may seem like an obvious concept, but packaging is the first step to connecting with customers and, in turn, making greater sales. According to experts, you’ve got about seven seconds to make that first impression in order to capture the attention of your customers.
But packaging isn’t only about good looks. It’s also the vessel that keeps your product preserved, fresh and protected until it’s time to enjoy. If you have a food or beverage product that you're planning to put on the shelves — whether in stores or online — you’ll need to ensure that it is properly packaged, easy to ship and stands out from the competition.
The way you package your food products depends on a lot of factors, such as storage, transportation and the perishability of the product. The key to ensuring that your packaging is successful is to select the package design and material that satisfy competing needs, regarding a wide variety of factors, including product characteristics, environmental concerns, costs and marketing considerations.
Balancing all of these factors can be challenging and requires proper analysis for each food and beverage product. These analyses consider the type of food that’s being packaged, properties of the packaging material, product shelf life, the possibility of food-package interactions and much more.
These factors can sometimes be interrelated. For example, the properties of the food packaging material, as well as the type of food, determine the possibility of food-package interactions in storage. Sometimes these factors could also be at odds with each other. One example is how bulk packaging could be better for the environment, but single-serving packaging better addresses consumer needs.
Common Types of Materials in Food Packaging
We’re sure you’ve seen all of these food packaging options in your local supermarket before, as they’re some of the most common options out there. However, food packaging isn’t arbitrary or chosen at random. Every type of packaging is picked for a specific purpose, whether it be to hold up well in the freezer or to keep your food extra-fresh.
Food-package interactions play a major role in the proper selection of the right packaging materials for a variety of food applications. Each material used for packaging has its different properties, and those properties determine which material is ideal for a particular food or beverage product. Here are some of the most common materials used in food packing, along with their most important properties.
● Aluminum — Aluminum is primarily used in packaging for bulk items, such as stream-table pans, bakery containers, frozen entrees and party platters. It’s a popular choice because of its ability to retain both heat and cold very well. It’s also very resistant to leaks and cracks in the freezer. Aluminum is one of the most versatile packaging materials and can be used from the freezer to the oven, aling with the serving table.
● Polypropylene — This is a very common material used in takeout packaging. It’s often used in bakery and microwaveable food packaging. It’s a very rigid, leak-resistant and crack resistant material, and it can be coated with an anti-fog material to preserve its clarity. Polypropylene is the preferred material for microwaves, as it can resist temperatures up to 240 degrees.
● Pressed Paperboard — This material is primarily used for frozen applications or meals that are fresh and film-sealed. You’ll commonly find this material in supermarkets for ready-to-cook meals and other types of packaging for takeout. Pressed paperboard is also ideal for mass production for high-speed equipment processing. It can handle a very wide variety of temperatures from 400 degrees in the oven and -40 degrees in the freezer.
● PVC PETE — This material is perfect for packaging because it’s sturdy, clear and durable. It also doesn’t crack under heavy weights or freezing temperatures. This makes PVC PETE ideal for packaging cold foods, deli, snack items and bakery items. Its unique properties also make it perfect for drinking cups and frozen foods.
Types of Adhesives
In general, the three most common types of packaging adhesives used for food and beverage products are solvent-based, water-based and hot melt adhesives. As adhesive manufacturers strive to reduce VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) emissions and improve air quality, the water-based and hot melt systems are increasingly edging out solvent-based adhesives.
Water-Based Adhesives — With regards to packaging applications, water-based adhesives are the most commonly used. They offer the advantages of energy efficiency, ease of use, safety and strength, in addition to all the air quality benefits. They are available in both natural and synthetic variants.
The natural variants are composed of ingredients such as animal and vegetable-based materials like animal glue and starch. The synthetic variants of water-based adhesives are increasingly being used in the place of their natural variants for various packaging purposes. These include labeling containers, making composite cans and sealing cartons and cases.
Hot Melt Adhesives — The usage of hot melt adhesives for packaging applications also continues to increase, especially for automated case and carton sealing. This adhesive is 100 percent solid, containing no water or solvents. During packaging, the adhesive is applied via a dispensing system to substrates such as polyethylene, paperboard or film laminated material. The hot melt adhesive quickly dries after it has been applied, causing a strong bond between the merged surfaces. Since hot melt adhesives dry fast, they are ideal for high-speed operations.
Freezer Grade and Cold Temperature Adhesives
Selecting the right adhesive and label combination can be a little bit complicated under typical circumstances. However, finding one that could work in freezing or service temperatures, for example, can be even trickier. Here are some tips and considerations that could be useful.
● Cold temperature and freezer adhesives are not similar in any way. It is important to understand the service and application temperatures and moisture levels that the labels will be applied to. Good freezer adhesives not only have low application temperatures, but they are also able to withstand moisture, frost and blast freezer conditions.
● Freezer-grade adhesives are also very soft, which makes them very suitable for frozen environments. This softness makes them more likely to “ooze” at room temperature and could increase costs to convert.
● Also, as with any label application, it's best to consider other elements that could have an impact on performance. These elements include environmental conditions, substrates, and moisture that the label might encounter.
When deciding what materials to use to package and label your food and beverage products, it’s important to consider the above information and thoroughly analyze the various factors that could affect the quality of your product.
This is particularly useful in regards to not only keeping these products fresh but also complying with FDA regulations that deal with food packaging and storage. Ensure that your packaging can also fit into a store display, making a statement about your product that you want your customers to see. Happy packaging!
Super-excited to have finally received my Certified Professional - Food Safety (CP - FS) certification from the National Environmental Health Association. This is a pretty awesome certification and was a long time in the making! And, as part of complying with FSMA and offering yet one more layer of protection for my clients, I'm heading to Bridgeton, NJ this week for a 2 1/2 day course that should result in my Preventive Controls (PC) certification (or did you think "PC" stood for "Politically Correct"? Hey, it's 2016, not 1996! and thanks to the Trump Effect, who the hell even remembers that halcyon decade??). The PC certification is part of HARPC, which is the next evolution of HACCP.
And why did HACCP need to evolve? Because food safety often goes off the rails before the product hits the HACCP system, so preventive controls are the best means to keep food safety disasters from happening. FDA mandated this as part of FSMA, and HARPC plans will need to be designed by someone with a PC certification. And yes, it'll probably help to be at least a little Politically Correct, too, especially when dealing with an inspector!
I'm super psyched to let you know that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted a service mark to Bulletproof! It's even got a little gold seal on it. It is real gold? I tried to bite it like an Olympian chomping a medal, but it just tasted like paper. Alas, special thanks goes out to Kristen Leibensperger, who handled the entire filing with aplomb. Thanks to Kristen's expert advice, Bulletproof! is now protected intellectual property in the cutthroat wilderness of consulting services provided to the food safety industry. Pretty crazy, huh?!?! So when you see the circle R on the tail of Bulletproof!, don't be scared, okay? Just me building the brand....
We recommend you update your menus before January 1, 2016 to include a written warning if your establishment serves raw or undercooked foods. Update all online menus as well. The written warning must appear on: menus, menu boards, brochures, signage, food labels, table tents, and/or placards.
A written consumer warning is required when serving raw or undercooked foods. Here's the language you need to include.
“Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”
The warning must include (1) a description of the specific foods being served raw or undercooked or (2) be tagged with an asterisk (*) or similar mark, and the same mark must be used to show the raw or undercooked ingredients on a menu or menu board.
This warning applies to foods such as:
Fish served raw or undercooked (sushi, sashimi, ceviche- includes raw fish such as shrimp, salmon, smoked salmon, tuna, smoked tuna, red snapper, sea urchin, etc)
Raw or undercooked molluscan shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels, scallop)
Raw or undercooked arthropods (lobster, crab, crayfish)
Raw sea snails (whelk, conch)
Note: The above must be from an approved source operating under FDA Seafood HACCP.
In addition to the above, any raw or undercooked eggs, including quail, chicken, and duck.
Eggs if they are not cooked to harden but are still liquid or runny (sunny-side up, scrambled, partly boiled, coddled, or omelets)
In-house dressing made with uncooked eggs (Caesar or Ranch dressing, mayonnaise)
In-house sauces made with uncooked eggs (Béarnaise, Hollandaise, Aioli, Choron)
Desserts made with raw eggs: tiramisu, mousse, meringue, eggnog, kogel mogel, uncooked pie fillings containing raw eggs, cold soufflé
Note: You do not have to give a warning if you choose to use pasteurized eggs. There is only one brand of eggs in the US that pasteurizes their eggs: Davidson's Safest Choice Eggs.
But wait, there's more!
Steak/steak dishes/beef/hamburger: (rare or medium rare- You also need to make sure that you are preparing the undercooked meat per customer order and serving it to the customer immediately since you may not hot-hold meat below 140 degrees F)
We recommend using an asterisk (*) to tag the item that is being served raw/undercooked. If you are using another symbol, make sure it is clear that it is a tag symbol. For example, if you use a dollar sign ($) or an exclamation point (!), that may mislead the consumer.
The warning must be legible and can appear at the bottom of the menu, linked to the menu item by the asterisk.
I often puzzle over the issue of why some fine-dining cooks choose not to wear hats. With the celebrity chef culture creating such buzz around the awesomeness of well-crafted food, it's understandable that the best-regarded chefs and rising-star sous chefs want to set themselves apart from other team members in the kitchen. Plus, they ususally have movie-star hair and are incredibly good-looking.
But the fact of the matter is, the Dept of Health doesn't care. Not wearing an effective hair restraint is still a 5 point violation that goes against the 13 points or less needed to get an 'A' letter grade. And it's not just hats; consider garnishing, plating, serving bread, and other tasks where bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food might be involved. Bare-hand contact is a 7 point violation. That leaves you with a scant 6 points to your 'A'. Yet, there are still cooks who insist others wear gloves while they refuse to.
In today's climate of strict regulations, high fines, and reputation-damaging letter grades, we need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Modeling the excellence and behavior that we expect in the kitchen is an integral part of being a successful leader. That includes doing the right thing for food safety and for your team to emulate. Don't garnish with bare hands, instead use gloves or utensils. Don't eat in food prep areas. Actively use your thermometer, it's the best indication of how your equipment is performing. Then continue to monitor that equipment.
And, yes, please put your beautiful hair under a hair restraint or hat.
Employee turnover is extremely high in our transient restaurant industry. This means that new hires may not have the experience or expertise to maintain your standards of quality and excellence.
Active managerial control includes embracing the responsibility of providing quality, safe, and healthful food to your ultimate consumer. The best chefs understand this on an intuitive level. The best managers learn it through observation.
Some important components of active managerial control include:
- Investing in your team members become Food Protection Certificate holders. There is the online course here or the class can be taken in a three-day period through the NYC Hospitality Alliance or similar in-class setting. Either way, this is key to your restaurant's ongoing success.
- Establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for each of your food preparation processes, and establish Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) for your cleaning expectations. How else can you expect your team to "get it" and get it done right if the procedure isn't a written one?
- Recipe cards that contain the specific steps for preparing a food item and the food safety critical limits, such as final cooking temperatures, that need to be monitored and verified
- Encourage your team to monitor your facility; they are the eyes & ears of your restaurant and can best let you know when something needs to be repaired or maintained. And they must feel comfortable in communicating those equipment or maintenance problems, even if something breaks while they're using it.
- Emphasize that communication should always be about the problem or the solution, and never about the person. We're all in this together, and most people try their best. Constructive criticism and gently correcting behavior contribute to the long term success of your restaurant. The person you're correcting is not an idiot, he or she just hasn't had the opportunity to learn the right way of accomplishing a task.
- Establish an employee health policy for restricting or excluding ill employees. It's okay to be sick, but it's not okay to be sick & work with food.
- Make record keeping a part of the team's day-to-day practices. In HACCP, "if it's not written, it didn't happen" is a well-known axiom. In the day-to-day operations of your restaurant, a simple cleaning log, cooling log, FOH or BOH checklist literally keeps everyone on the same page while promoting consistency and a positive routine.
- Make ongoing training and education a part of your establishment. Your team wants to learn, and on-the-job continuing education, such as Bulletproof's Well Done Compliance Intensive, promotes food safety and team cohesion.
And now you know why rules are rules, and they are for everyone... not just for some. All eyes are on you.
Have a compliant day... and now go make someone happy with your beautiful food!
What an honor! I was invited by Vin McCann to give a presentation at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). The topics I covered ranged from microbiology to food safety to recent Health Code amendments to Health inspections and the letter grade process. We had about 11 of ICE's finest students, including a team member of Sushi Nakazawa and a young culinarian who is allergic to almost every food. In view of that, we dug into some food allergy best practices, addressing both the FOH/reservation approach as well as the BOH protection of entrees from potential allergens. I had an awesome time with these scintillating students! Vin, thanks so much for inviting me!
The next day, I was invited by the NYC Hospitality Alliance to give a "food safety intensive" at the NY Institute of Technology. We had about 50 persons in attendance, and some very penetrating questions. Bulletproof! was lucky enough to be paired with Imperial Bag & Paper, who not only sells everything under the sun (with an emphasis on disposables & other non-food supplies), but has mastered the complex landscape of green cleaning products and the myriad certifications assigned to them. A good afternoon with some rockin' restaurant team members! To Andrew, Sonali, and Nancy at the NYC Hospitality Alliance: thank you for hosting and including Bulletproof! To those 50+ attendees, thank you for your time & passion!
Veronica and I are so happy to be out in the community, emphasizing the best approaches to food safety, with tips & insight to ensure your establishment's first-rate understanding of the Health Code. And once your team understands the underlying foundations of food safety, complying with the Health Code becomes second nature... which means you'll get an 'A' grade on your first inspection! Look for more NYC Hospitality Alliance-sponsored intensives in the future.
Sometimes pursuring one's passion means changing one's name. Now don't worry... I haven't gone all Caitlyn Jenner on you! But I did change Bulletproof's DBA from Bulletproof! Restaurant Compliance to Bulletproof! Food Safety. For the last five years, I've gone from being proficient in food safety to being genuinely excited about it. And that comes from having worked with all the amazing professionals at Union Square Hospitality Group to my continuing work with approx. 300 clients across the NYC food landscape. Citing the problem, discovering the solution, and educating someone on how to take their practices to the next level... that's what it's truly all about. I think the old saw, "sharing is caring", applies here... you only need to ask a sanitarian or someone in the public health sector to realize just how true that is.
Bulletproof! is now 110% food safety. Veronica and I will make your business stronger, keep that 'A' letter grade on the front door, and set you up for success as you grow your business. Thank you for your collaboration & confidence over the past (almost) two years! We are so grateful. And we're sharing our insights as never before.
But don't worry... unlike Ms. Jenner, we promise not to over-share.
For restaurants and other food service establishments, the new New York City Health Code (NYCHC) amendments went into effect on Saturday, August 8. That’s right: the Health Code was amended and will now be enforced by Dept of Health Bureau of Food Safety (DOH) inspectors. The thirty-three page document outlining the amendments can be found here. We've chosen to summarize the big stuff to make it easier to digest.
Below are some short descriptions of the amendments and some action steps you can take. Keep reading! There are sections that are likely pertinent to your establishment, but they may be farther down the list. We’ve listed these according to the Code section numbers. The topic is summarized and followed by the actual NYCHC section so you can look it up for yourself.
1. QUAT can now officially be used as a sanitizer after being tacitly accepted for years. The full name of “QUAT” is Quaternary Ammonium Compound; it’s a popular sanitizer that is now included in the Health Code (NYCHC 81.03(ii)).
Action Step: QUAT is terrific because it readily removes odors, is not volatile like chlorine and is non-corrosive. However, effective sanitization of a food contact surface requires 60 seconds of immersion in a 200ppm solution of QUAT… which is also the same amount of immersion time as with sodium hypochlorite (aka “chlorine”). QUAT is also negatively affected by water hardness (we generally have soft water in NYC) and low temperature, so ensure that, if you’re using QUAT, immersion time is 60 seconds and water temperature is right around 75F (23.89C). If you’re wiping surfaces with QUAT, you’ll want to use a solution that is twice as strong as the QUAT in your pot sink, so use your test strips and make sure that the sanitizing bucket & towel solution for wiping food contact surfaces is 400ppm.
2. Scallops sold with their roe have been added to the list of shellfish for which identification tags must be retained. (NYCHC 81.04)
Action Step: Talk to your fish purveyor. This requirement applies to scallops sold live (still in their shells) or scallops which have been shucked & still have their roe attached. Shucked abductor muscle of the scallop doesn’t require tags. Remember, you must retain 90 days of shellfish tags (for oysters, clams, mussels, and now scallops).
3. Exotic game meats must be acquired from commercially regulated sources (NYCHC 81.04)
Action Step: Ensure that all your meats come from a USDA-approved butcher. This section applies to any game animals, which includes mammals such as reindeer, elk, deer, antelope, water buffalo, bison, rabbit, squirrel, opossum, raccoon, nutria or muskrat and nonaquatic reptiles such as land snake.
4. Unpasteurized (house-made) packaged juice must be labeled in accordance with (NYCHC 81.04(e)). This applies to all juices which have been sealed in bottles or other containers, such as the style you’d find in a grab-and-go display.
Action Step: If you are just making juice for sale & direct consumption at your restaurant, you do not need to comply with the labeling law. But if the juice is in a bottle & has a cap, top, or is sealed (grab-and-go) in anything other than a disposable to-go cup, then the juice must be labeled in accordance with 81.04(e) of the NYC Health Code, which is available here.
5. Use hot water for in-use utensils instead of a dipper-well (NYCHC 81.07(h))
Action Step: Use an induction burner or any heat source to maintain a container of water at or above 135F (57.2C) and change that water every four hours or when there is any food residue or food particles. With this method, you can now keep spatulas, tongs, spoons, and any other in-use utensil in water without receiving a violation!
6. Utensil handles must be of sufficient length to prevent bare-hand contact with food (NYCHC 81.07(h))
Action Step: if your pan is 5 inches deep and your spoon is only 4 inches long, you need to buy a longer spoon! The handle must be long enough to prevent contact with the product that the utensil is stored in.
7. Drinking straws and other single-service items such as plastic forks & spoons must be dispensed to prevent contamination (NYCHC 81.07(o))
Action Step: Wrapped straws and utensils are about the only way to comply with this amendment, except with straw dispensers which put forth one straw at a time. Best practice with utensils would be to have your team hand out the utensils individually per order rather than having the utensils available in a customer self-service area. Although we haven’t officially confirmed this with DOH, napkin-wrapped sets containing a fork/knife/spoon could also qualify as protected when in a customer self-service area.
8. Raw or undercooked fish for consumption (carpaccio, ceviche, sashimi, crudo, gravlax, hoe, lakerda, poke, sashimi, sushi, tartare, umai, etc) must be frozen first, except for molluscan shellfish, certain species of Tuna, aquaculture or farm-raised fish which meet certain criteria, or fish eggs which have been removed from the skin and rinsed (NYCHC 81.09a).
Action Step: Ensure that the fish you’re serving raw or uncooked have been frozen first to FDA Seafood HACCP guideline temperatures, below:
These temperatures can’t be achieved in standard freezers alone, and laboratory freezers which can achieve these temperatures cost upwards of $20,000. Chances are, however, that your fish purveyor has access to such equipment. Request an assurance letter stating that your fish has been frozen in accordance with the 2013 FDA Model Food Code or the chart above, and keep the letter on file. If you want more information as to whether the fish you want to serve raw or undercooked may be subject to parasites, check out the FDA’s Hazards Guide here and look at pages 31 – 69.
9. Pork cook-to temperature is now 150F (65.6C) for 15 seconds (NYCHC 81.09(c)(2))
Action Step: the cook-to temperature has been lowered by five degrees. Now you can serve juicier, tastier pork without being in violation of the Health Code.
10. Shallow pan depth defined for cooling. “Shallow pan” now has a measurement: less than 4 inches in height (NYCHC 81.09(e)(1)(a))
Action Step: when cooling heated food in refrigeration or an ice bath, the pan in which the food is must be less than 4 inches in height. And just a reminder: all potentially hazardous food must be cooled from 1400F to 700F within two hours, and from 700F to 410F or below within an additional four hours. That’s six hours total.
11. “Time as a Public Health Control” labeling has been clarified to include that labels must be legible and include the date (NYCHC 81.10)
Action Step: Instead of using temperature to hold potentially hazardous foods, you can use “Time”. There’s a terrific DOH publication about “Time” available here. The date must be on the label… of course, that should be today, as the whole premise behind “Time” is that food is not held for more than 4 hours (or not more than 6 if it hasn’t reached 700F).
12. Consumer Advisory will be required to be on your menu, menu board, brochures, placards, signage, etc by January 1, 2016. This is a new requirement in NYC but has been in place in hundreds of other cities around the nation. The Consumer Advisory only applies to those establishments which are serving raw or undercooked seafood, eggs, or meats. The Consumer Advisory must state: “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness”.
Action Step: Determine which foods you will be serving undercooked (such as a rare or medium-rare hamburger) or raw (such as oysters, beef tartare, sashimi, or raw-egg Cesar salad dressing), then place an asterisk after the menu item name. The asterisk will then refer to the Consumer Advisory, which will be at the bottom of the menu or menu board. Get it done before January 1, 2016!
13. No electronic cigarettes or “vape pens” in any non-smoking area of the food service establishment is not exactly a new requirement, but we’ve seen more rigid enforcement in view of the increased popularity of “vaping” (NYCHC 81.13(g))
Action Step: inform your team that, in addition to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and other forms containing nicotine, vape pens are also not allowed to be used by foodworkers. Download this sign and print out to replace your tattered old “No Smoking” sign.
14. Garbage must be stored in containers which have tightly fitting lids or which are “securely fastened”. Once the garbage has gone outside for collection by your carter, it doesn’t need to be in a container with a tightly fitting lid… but while it’s stored inside a food service establishment, tightly-fitting lids are the only thing that’s accepted (a tied bag is not a “lid”) (this does not apply to trash which is actively used, such as those being used in the bar, dish area, or prep area) (NYCHC 81.24)
Action Step: Looks like it's time to purchase some Rubbermaid or similar brand trash cans with tightly fitting lids. Easy!
15. Reusable beverage containers and other containers which will not be washed/rinsed/sanitized prior to being filled need to either have beverages dispensed into them in a manner that prevents contact with food-contact surfaces and/or the beverage dispensing equipment or, in the case of containers filled with food, must have a written, DOH-approved Standard Operating Procedure which demonstrates that there is no contamination of food and/or food contact surfaces (NYCHC 81.46)
Action Step: coffee mugs and soda cups can continue to be refilled if they’re not used to scoop ice and if the mug or cup doesn’t come into contact with the pitcher or soda-contact surface of the soda machine. Food containers which are brought in by guests or patrons now need a Standard Operating Procedure to be re-filled, or first need to be washed/rinsed/sanitized before being filled or otherwise handled by foodworkers.
And finally, a brief disclaimer: the views and “Action Steps” expressed above are well-informed but do not necessarily reflect the views of the City of New York ("NYC"), the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene Bureau of Food Safety & Community Sanitation ("DOH"), or any other public or private entity.
Astonishing presentation from Deputy Commissioner Kleo King and her companion Peter Slatin at NYC & Company's "ADA - Beyond Compliance to Service" presentation at the beautiful old-world gem Roosevelt Hotel. Listening to Peter Slatin @SlatinGroup, who is an ADA consultant and President of The Slatin Group (which specializes in modular training for businesses who'd like to extend & improve their interactions with special-needs clients such as those with disabilities, who are a bit of a marginalized lot with about $230 million burning a hole in their collective pocket to spend at businesses who know how to treat them right) was a lot like listening to Danny Meyer: the ideas bear the twin hallmarks of simplicity & brilliance. It is straight-forward steps born of deep philosophy and, dare I say, love. Peter's Five Elements of Service are perhaps easy to imagine in the world of hospitality but a helluva lot harder to execute with consistency & excellence. And that's what Peter teaches to businesses ranging from the HIlton to the NEA, from Sheraton to Virgin. Which is what makes Peter... The Man. In 25 minutes I learned straight-forward steps which lead to compassionate respect for dealing with persons who have disabilities. The Q&A was illuminating, too, with one audience comment veering toward the "full restaurant + seeing eye dog + allergic (or dog-phobic) guest = what to do?" end of the equation. Peter solved the riddle quickly: "tell the dog-phobic guest to suck it up". In a world that favors the able-bodied & the sighted, it's cool to shift the scales and learn what it is to integrate persons with disabilities into our collective social scene. Suck it up, indeed... just as you would the table next to you who was a bit rowdy with too much wine. This is what it is to live not only with each other, but among each other, with a welcoming courteousness and the right elements. And in that light, I say happy birthday to the Americans with Disabilities Act. 25 years old this month! It's pretty wonderful to have people like Victor Calise (who missed today to be at the Whitehouse), Kleo King, and Peter Slatin carrying the torch forward.
Scombroid is a category of fish that includes Amberjack, Anchovy, Bluefish, Bonito, Escolar, Gemfish, Herring, Horse Mackerel (or Scad), Jack (including Blue Runner, Crevalle, Rainbow Runner, and Roosterfish), Kahawai, Mackerel, Mahi-mahi, Marlin, Menhaden, Pilchard (or Sardine), Sailfish, Sardine, Saury, Shad, Gizzard Shad, Hilsa Shad, Spearfish, Sprat (or Bristling), Trevally, Tuna, Wahoo, and Yellowtail.
Scombroid fish, especially those as common as Tuna and Mahi-mahi, can produce a nasty combination of substances known as scombrotoxin, which, when consumed, can lead to scombroid poisoning. One of the most dangerous aspects of scombrotoxin is histamine formation. Histamines are an elusive enemy, affecting some parts of the fish but seldom the whole. Histamine is known neither by sight, taste, or smell. (A laboratory can analyze histamine in fish by employing an alcoholic extraction & quantitation by fluorescence spectroscopy. Not exactly standard-issue kitchen equipment!)
Nothing can reverse scombrotoxin. Once formed, histamine is here to stay: you can’t cook it away; you can’t kill it by freezing it. If you or one of your guests has ever been hit by scombroid poisoning, you’re not likely to forget it: tingling or burning around the mouth & throat, followed by rash or hives, asthma-like constriction air passageway, a drop in blood pressure, headache, dizziness, itching… all right there at the table, all within a few minutes of consuming the fish. Later, there’s nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.
So what can you do to avoid such a ghastly scenario? Because you can’t inactivate histamine formation in a fish that has scombrotoxin, the only thing you can do is prevent temperature abuse.
Some histamine-forming bacteria are facultative anaerobes, meaning they can grow inside vacuum-packaged seafood. Others are either ‘halotolerant’ or ‘halophilic’ (‘salt tolerant’ or ‘salt loving’, for those of us who aren’t up on our Greek). And since you can’t detect scombrotoxins in the first place, the only thing you can do is focus on keeping them from forming by preventing temperature abuse.
Prevention is easier than it sounds. Histamine formation results from temperature abuse to scombroids: when the fish becomes warm enough to spoil or decompose, then histamines can form. So what, exactly, is that temperature? Well, I don’t want to give you one temperature, since it really depends on a whole array of enzymatic & microbiological factors that we can’t see with the naked eye, and a lot of other stuff we simply can’t control, including how the fish was harvested, how long it was out of the water & at what temperature at harvest, whether it was headed & gutted immediately after death or much later, etc. All stuff that happens before the fish arrives in your kitchen.
One thing you can request is the Harvest Vessel Records from your seafood wholesaler; the FDA requires all wholesalers to follow Seafood HACCP. In addition to these records being required by law, they are also a wonderful form of assurance that your wholesaler is taking the appropriate steps to ensure a safe, high-quality product. Asking for the refrigeration records for the delivery truck is also another good way to ensure your seafood has been kept cold.
What impact can we have in our kitchen? There are many steps you can take to drastically reduce your risk of serving a seafood product that would result in scombroid poisoning. Here are a few:
1. All fresh & vacuum-packaged seafood is received on ice, regardless of species.
2. Your qualified foodworker checks for the telltale smells & signs of decomposition before signing for the fish (although you cannot smell histamine, you can detect nascent rot).
a. Detecting bad odors in fresh fish is an effective means of determining whether the product has been subjected to abusive conditions.
b. Using a metal stem thermometer, take the internal temperature of your fish; it must be less than 41F (5C) and should be closer to 32F (0C).
c. “When in doubt, send it back!” Empower your team to refuse product that doesn’t pass the sniff test and/or is above 41F (5C).
3. Seafood or fish is stored on ice, under refrigeration, until ready to be processed.
4. Processing time is kept to a minimum: never allow your fish temp to rise above 70F (21.1C), and return your seafood immediately to refrigeration after trimming, filleting, or portioning.
5. Cook fish directly from refrigeration. (Cook-to temperature is 145F (62.8C) internal).
If you are ever unfortunate enough to have a case of scombroid poisoning in your restaurant, take care of your guest immediately, including calling 911 and ensuring the guest is comfortable until qualified medical personnel arrives. Then freeze the suspect seafood for future testing by a qualified laboratory, call the Dept of Health to report the issue and make sure your insurance agent is in the loop.
References: Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidance, Fourth Edition; Modern Food Microbiology, Seventh Edition; FDA’s Bad Bug Book (Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins Handbook), Second Edition; Article 81 of the New York City Health Code.