Safest restaurant in the city of Harrisburg (PA)?

It might look good today, but by cleaning up is the Aramark-managed Capitol cafeteria the “safest restaurant in the city of Harrisburg”?

PennLive.com reports that after being closed by Pennsylvania officials on December 17th following an inspection that revealed rodent droppings, underheated dishwashing water and poor food handling procedures, Capitol is trying to clean up their image. Bruce Walton, vice president for operations of Aramark was cited as saying that prior to the closing, more than 1,500 customers ate at the Capitol cafeteria on busy weekdays and that rebuilding that steady clientele will take time.

After a thorough clean-up, a new pest control program with Ecolab and contracting with a company to provide surprise audits, Aramark district manager Andre Obendorfer was quoted as saying “This is the safest restaurant to eat in in the city of Harrisburg.”

Ah, the safest food/safest restaurant comment; impossible to back-up with evidence and leaves everyone who eats there with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Walton, by not disclosing any firings or discipline, downplayed what might be the most important change — personnel. He was quoted as saying that they “did make changes in our team.” Rodent control and a cold dishwasher can lead to public health issues, but other violations found on December 17th including indirect cross-contamination (handling potentially contaminated equipment and then going to clean equipment, possibly leaving pathogens for the next person) and not having paper towels, demonstrate a lack of a food safety culture. A personnel and management issue.

Food safety culture is a set of values wherein food safety risks are openly identified, discussed, and addressed. What this means is that anyone who works there — from manager to dishwasher — knows that paper towels can reduce risks so they refill the dispenser. Food safety is supported from the organization but it’s the front-line folks who hold the health of patrons in their hands. An organization like Aramark needs to be building the food safety culture capacity behind the scenes, not just touting how clean everything looks now.

To assure patrons of their commitment to food safety, the article reports that Aramark will have staff on site to answer questions, use guest chefs and in the most bizarre step, revamp cafeteria stations such as turning the pizza station into an “Italian zone.” I guess visitors to the Capitol Complex have the perception that Italian food is safer than pizza?

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.