Care For Condiments

You've worked hard to make sure your restaurant is up to food safety par-from creating and certifying a detailed HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) plan to making sure that employees have the cleanest hands in the business, you've made sure to take all the proper steps. What could be missing?

Quite a lot, actually, if you haven't been paying attention to the way condiments are served. While ketchup and mustard may not be at the top of the list when planning food safety procedures, they need to be considered in a comprehensive food safety program.

For starters, consider the food safety angle for prepackaged condiments. Many restaurants and foodservice operators prefer the convenience of single service packets. Unopened packages do not need to be refrigerated and the packaging protects the food from contamination.

When offering condiments in packets, it is also important to match size to need. According to Debra Andrews, general manager of foodservice marketing at Heinz, condiments such as ketchup and mustard are available in a variety of bulk sizes. "Your product should turn in a couple days," notes Andrews. "If it is taking a week or longer, you need a smaller pack size."

While some operators rely on portion control packets for dispensing condiments, others prefer self-service pump dispensers. One kind features a pouch package with a snap-in-place pump creating a completely closed system.

In addition to condiment freshness checks, operators should ensure that self-serve condiment bars are wiped clean several times a day. Ketchup, mustard, and even relish can be kept out during the day, but operators should refrigerate them during non-business hours to retain quality.

If condiments are served to guests in open containers tableside, there is an important rule to follow: open portions of items such as salsa, salad dressings, mayonnaise, mustard and butter should be thrown away, according to LeAnn Chuboff, manager of food safety services at the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. The only foods that can be re-served are unopened, prepackaged foods like condiment packets, wrapped crackers or breadsticks.

Many restaurateurs prefer the look of condiment bottles on the table. According to Andrews, "The operator should not refill their bottles to avoid cross contamination between old and new product. When employees refill them, they can introduce bacteria into the bottle." Andrews further recommends cleaning the outside and top of the bottles with a clean, dry cloth or paper towel. "A wet towel can allow mold to form," she says.

Regardless of what items and which method is used to serve condiments, no food safety program is complete without a plan to address these finishing touches.

Cream-Keep It Cool

Handling coffee creamers safely is sometimes an overlooked detail. Packaged creamers require constant refrigeration. Simply placing the creamers on ice is not recommended because the melting ice can weaken the packaging. Also, if customers' hands are in the water, bacteria may be introduced into the containers. The preferred option is to place the cream in a tray, which is then placed on ice. It is also important to make sure the stock is rotated and that fresh containers are not just added to the top of the pile. One alternative to creamers requiring constant refrigeration is to use shelf-stable creamers, such as those that have been pasteurized at ultra-high temperatures.