Albert Amgar: The restaurant business, how to improve hygiene?

Nikki Marcotte, a new student, tries out her translation skills on a piece from French food safety blogger, Albert Amgar.

In Conseil National de l’Alimentation’s newsletter No. 13, dated June 11, 2010, we learn about health safety: an increased effort between the three unions of the Groupement National de la Restauration.

“Given the issues with health safety and nutrition in the catering business, these three entities (the National Institutional Restaurant Services Union, the National Fast-Food and Food Union, the National Union of Themed and Commercial Restaurants, all three members of the GNR) have decided to combine forces and work together on these common problems. Three work groups have been created, each with two representatives from each syndicate, all experts in issues of ‘hygiene’, ‘nutrition’ and ‘quality’.”

One of the work groups has devoted their time to food safety. What is their objective?

The goal of the work group, in regard to regulatory requirements and their recent developments, is to pool together technical skills and the scientific expertise required to validate certain methods of disease control common to various restaurant activities: time-temperature combinations/storage temperatures of foods in certain conditions, microbiological monitoring methods…

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, “Industrial and restaurant catering is comprised of commercial food services (approximately 15% of meals served) and collective food services (85% of meals served). The latter represents close to 4 billion meals.”

Collective food service professionals contribute to three different areas: education (school catering, 1 billion meals, and university catering), health and social services (hospital, nursing home and prison catering), and the workforce (business and administrative catering). Likewise, process hygiene criteria have been implemented.

The ministry also tells us that there are more than “…30,000 inspections conducted annually in the three large collective food service sectors, including nearly 13,000 in the school catering area. In particular, these checks are aimed at ensuring:
– good food preparation practices (in terms of the hygiene and handling of the equipment), transport and storage (with respect to the hygiene and handling of the equipment);
– the cold chain;
– the recommendations concerning the use of pasteurized eggs to prevent foodborne illnesses associated with salmonella.”

“More than 30,000 inspections…” of which we know nothing about, not even one annual statistic… (transparency, where are you?).

This blog, which is always ready to help food service professionals with these excellent initiatives, wishes to make a contribution with this recent publication from the barfblog team, see, “Food safety information posted in restaurant kitchens can improve meal safety.” Source: Chapman, Benjamin; Eversley, Tiffany; Fillion, Katie; MacLaurin, Tanya; Powell, Douglas. Assessment of Food Safety Practices of Food Service Food Handlers (Risk Assessment Data): Testing a Communication Intervention (Evaluation of Tools). Journal of Food Protection®, Volume 73, Number 6, June 2010, pp. 1101-1107(7).

This blog could also suggest to the Ministry of Food less opacity in these inspections so that the consumer is fully informed, and to maybe also think about the scoring system or grades on the doors of restaurants or to start slowly putting the inspection results online. Also look at the “smiley” example in Belgium (above right).

New York restaurant letter grade rules are official; the best restaurants will market results rather than whine

The New York City Health Department published its new restaurant letter-grading rules Tuesday so next month, for the first time, signs bearing A, B or C ratings will be issued to the city’s more than 24,000 restaurants to publicly announce their cleanliness.

The 8-by-10-inch placards are to be dated, and operators will be compelled to post them in windows or restaurant vestibules, making customers aware of inspectors’ ratings that were previously available only at the health department or on its Web site.

The department offered details of a fourth grading sign that diners will soon be seeing — the black-and-white “grade pending” placard. After an initial inspection, if a restaurant is given a B or C, it can publicly post those grades — or the owner can seek an administrative hearing to request an upgrade. The restaurant can then post a “grade pending” sign as an explanation to diners for the absence of a letter grade in the restaurant.

The new rules are available online at

Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner, said during a press conference Tuesday, June 15, 2010

“We hope that when people are making choices where to eat, they will eat at an A restaurant.” The restaurant industry “has often made dire predictions,” including when the city banned smoking in bars and restaurants and required calorie counts be posted at many eating places. “And none of those predictions came true.”

Like in Toronto eight years ago, where a red, yellow, green restaurant inspection disclosure system was implemented. Same thing is being said in London, Ontario, as the city contemplates a similar red, yellow, green disclosure system.

Todd Lewis, a Smoke’s Poutinerie diner, said seeing a yellow sign would make him think twice about eating at a restaurant, but he would want to know what the exact infraction is before making a final decision.

But some patrons think the signs are unnecessary and can at times be misleading.

Meagan Zettler, a regular at Yo-Yo’s Frozen Yogurt, said diners concerned about a restaurant’s infractions should check online to see if the eatery has any current health violations.

She thinks the signs can unnecessarily drive business away because they don’t list the exact health infractions.

For now, Londoners worried about a restaurant’s violations can visit to check it out.

Valid concerns, and the worst way to doom a disclosure system is to oversell the system, something the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest does routinely, like when they said yesterday Los Angeles has been doing restaurant grading for over 10 years with great results—including a documented 20 percent decrease in hospitalizations due to foodborne illness.

Correlating restaurant inspection disclosure with incidence of foodborne illness is fraught with difficulties. Disclosure provides some information – and it is just a snapshot in time – but helps enhance a culture of restaurant diners that value microbiologically safe food.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

Name and shame arrives in United Arab Emirates

The Australians popularized the ‘name and shame’ approach to restaurant inspection disclosure (the Brits use ‘scores on doors,’ those in Toronto use pretty colors and Danes use smiley faces).

Mohammed al Reyaysa, the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority’s spokesman, told The National today that restaurant operators promised to improve hygiene standards after the emirate’s food safety watchdog named 17 outlets that were temporarily closed because of violations, adding,

“When all efforts fail, we are left with no other option but to order the closure of the outlet that functions in utter disregard for public health and the law of the land. The health and safety of the consumer is the red line that should not be crossed in any circumstance.”

Of the 17 establishments that were closed this year, 15 were in Abu Dhabi city and two were in Al Gharbia.

They were allowed to reopen after the Food Control Authority was confident the violations had been corrected.

Mr al Reyaysa further noted the restaurants closed were “fraught with potential danger to the health of the consumers”, such as kitchens infested with insects, improper drainage systems and waste disposal, and mixing meat and fruits.

He also criticized restaurants that complain inspections are too rigorous.

“We have clear requirements and regulations that are based on global best practices. We are not less, and our consumers are not less, than those in Europe and America. We do not sacrifice the health of the consumer so establishments can make more money or avoid having their names mentioned in the media.”

Best restaurants in New York will proudly promote their A

The problem with associations is, they strive for the lowest common denominator. Whether it’s state growers, regional restaurateurs or national retailers, there’s too many members to keep happy – too many dues paying members.

Robert Bookman, legislative counsel for the New York City chapters of the New York State Restaurant Association — the operators’ trade group — told the New York Times this morning the NYC Board of Health decision to mandate prominent letter grades be displayed in the city’s more than 24,000 restaurants “will be more misleading than helpful,” adding that “it will be unfair and a black eye to this industry in the restaurant capital of the word.”

I’m not sure what that’s based on. Yes, inspectors can be malicious, callous, unreasonable and unscientific. So can customers who can effectively kill a restaurant with a strategic blog attack. It’s a tough business.

There are also many inspectors who are devoted to public health and fewer people barfing because of the food they eat. When restaurant spokesthingy Geoff Kravitz told the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce last month that the grades would be “a scarlet letter that will keep people from eating out,” and that restaurants posting anything less than an A would be treated by the public like Hester Prynne at a public shaming, he was absolutely right. The available research has shown that the percentage of B, or yellow or whatever restaurants decreases significantly as soon as the eateries are asked to publicly up their game.

Michael White, chef and owner of Alto, Convivio and Marea, got it right when he told the Times,

“I think it’s great, because it will keep everyone on their toes. Customers have high expectations. No one wants to have a B in their window.”

The best restaurants will go above and beyond minimal government and auditor standards and sell food safety solutions directly to the public. The best organizations will use their own people to demand ingredients from the best suppliers; use a mixture of encouragement and enforcement to foster a food safety culture; and use technology to be transparent — whether it’s live webcams in the facility or real-time test results on the website — to help enhance trust with the buying public. And the best restaurants will proudly proclaim their A.