When entering the foodservice industry, one of the first things we’re taught is the importance of properly cooking food. If certain items aren’t cooked to the appropriate temperature, all sorts of disastrous things can happen. The prospect of explosive diarrhea, projectile vomiting, hospitalization and even death is enough to terrify even the strongest culinary candidates. And, it works. Temporarily, all new culinary professionals poke and probe everything with their new (regularly calibrated) thermometers.
Fast forward to daily operations a few years post-training, which is typically when I enter the picture as a trainer or auditor. I never go into an operation without my own calibrated thermometer, and one of the first things I ask is, “Do you have a food thermometer?” Of course everyone says yes. When I ask to see it, employees disappear to find the thermometers that they possess but aren’t using.
Recently, I was inspecting a facility that was receiving a shipment of frozen pre-made deli sandwiches. I asked the (PIC) person in charge if they had a thermometer. He told me he didn’t need to take those temperatures because he knew the delivery guy personally — he had been delivering for years. I began taking temps. The “frozen” deli sandwiches were 45 degrees F — well above the temperature they should have been. The forklift operator had already put two pallets of product in the freezer while the PIC searched for more than 10 minutes for his thermometer. (How long do you think it had been since he had last used it?) The sandwiches had been put into freezers, and by the time they would’ve been pulled out to serve to guests, no one would have realized the product had previously warmed to a dangerous temp where bacteria could’ve easily grown.
The PIC should have taken the temperature of these sandwiches prior to the product coming off the delivery vehicle and refused the shipment. Who knows how many food-borne illnesses could have occurred from this situation?
For some reason, after a few years in the industry, individuals begin to think they can cook by sight or instinct and they no longer use their thermometers. This is so dangerous! Your guests come to your facility expecting to be served safe food. You can only be certain it’s prepared safely if you’re taking temperatures throughout the entire cycle: purchase, receive, store, prepare, cook, cool, reheat, hold. In fact, temperatures need to be monitored very closely during each stage of this process.
Other tips: Calibrate thermometers on a regular basis — at least daily (and preferably every shift), when they’re new or if they’re dropped. Every kitchen should have multiple food thermometers: one at each station or one for each back-of-house team member during their shift. Maintain temperature logs — these are a valuable tool. Set the standard for your team, explaining why taking food temperatures is critical.
Most food-borne illnesses occur because someone neglected the basics. Monitoring temperatures is one of the most important basics that should happen in every kitchen.