Hotel F&B Observer Blog

Hotel food and beverage professionals share experience, skills and commentary. These hotelier blogs reflect a variety of unique career perspectives and real-life workplace stories, observations and opinions.

Waiter, There’s a Dog in my Soup: Limited Liability Issues and ADA

Your Responsibilities When Serving Food and Beverages to Guests and Paws

The airlines have certain policies affecting liability issues as it relates to passengers traveling with animals; the airlines consider them (animals/pets) as “inanimate pieces of luggage” in which limited liability would apply. Essentially, the limited liability statutes which airlines have are very similar to those which hotels have with respect to people’s property.

Class action lawsuits are a device where multiple plaintiffs can join and engage in much more cost effective mass tort litigation. It can be very damaging to business, due to the number of plaintiffs and size of awards which result from class action lawsuits.

In the United States, we have certain hotels and restaurants accepting animals who are accompanying the hotel guest as either a pet, companion, or service guide. Your hotel and restaurant should have a written and well-documented policy regarding the management (by the guest) of their pet/guide as well as identifying your hotel/restaurant obligations in the proper handling of health code issues, proper care and handling of said pet/guide, and most importantly, emergency responsiveness in the event a pet/guide has either been involved in an accident on your property or has demonstrated to be a cause for liability to another guest/dining patron/visitor. Read more of this >>

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Teaching Safe Food Production

Food Production and HACCP

Potawatomi Bingo Casino serves thousands of meals each day and is considered one of the largest commercial food operations in Wisconsin. The casino prides itself on setting high standards in safe food preparation and service.

A couple of month ago I was approached by our local health department, inquiring if we were willing and able to serve as a training site for representatives from the Federal Drug Administration Central Region, Wisconsin Division of Food Safety and City of Milwaukee Health Department, demonstrating our cook chill concept in operation to a number of inspectors from those agencies. Knowing that there are very few operations such as ours in the State of Wisconsin I felt honored to being asked, to expose our operation to State and FDA inspectors, sharing our “best practices” and to expose the participants to every part of the process; this could and should be a win-win situation for all involved. Read more of this >>

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“Okay, on Sunday you can bust suds.”

“Okay, on Sunday you can bust suds.” I still remember basking in the glory of those words. Despite flying straight into my well-established disgust and borderline phobia of spittle-laden leavings, for the first time, I became professionally goal-driven.

Here was the plan: Perform well enough at washing dishes to be noticed and then work that into a better job in the kitchen. Subsequently, after proving myself committed to working quickly and until the work was done, coupled with a flexible willingness either to run my mouth or shut it down as the situation warranted, I was promoted to a prep cook position.

Prepping food was a produce-or-you-will-be-barked-at proposition: washing and cutting lettuce for the salad bar; trimming chicken and cubing steak for teriyaki skewers; cracking frozen lobster tails and slathering butter, spices, and plastic wrap over the top. Measure that, mix this, but mostly, speed was demanded.

This little kitchen had to be the point of origin for the term breakneck speed. Again, this was “old school” and there were tons of accidents. Never was there a mention of proper lifting techniques and nary a rubber glove in sight. Cuts and burns in that kitchen were an hourly occurrence. We had more bandages and burn ointment “on the fly” than “remake” dinners. Most of my kitchen hits and nicks were inconsequential—until I was stabbed.

The culprit was waiting for my arrival—a stiletto-thin, serrated steak knife with evil intent. Like a viper on the trail, this bad boy was blade up in the recesses of the only rubber mat in the kitchen. It had been dropped, walked on, and wedged into place by the numb shoes of my fellow workers. One busy evening while diligently applying my adopted value of “speed above all,” I dashed to the front of the dish pit, my vision blocked at the waist by a bus tub full of dirty tools.

As my right foot came to a harried stop, it pressed securely down on the mat-trapped handle of the knife, leveraging the blade tip up at an angle that allowed it to rip itself through the thin canvas of my ratty tennis shoe and then into the inside meat of my late-arriving left foot. I mean, I buried that knife in there. This was real pain, not a schoolyard scrape, and it is here, I confess, that the only thing that kept me from screaming like a scared five-year-old was the swift reaction of the battle-tested kitchen veterans. The alarm was sounded by the first amigo to see me and then, “Wha’ the f’enheimer did choo do?” said the big dawg kitchen manager.

A knife was protruding from the side of my foot like the curb antenna on my grandpa’s Chevy, but what should I do? Yell? Jerk it out? Or just continue to hold my breath and spastically hop around? I know now that my lapsed reaction was because of pure shock, but I did not have long to process the event.

Two or three white-apron blurs grabbed me and together we three-legged-raced to the three-compartment sink. They lifted my leg onto the side of the stainless steel tank. I became woozy. “We gotta take it out and look at it,” they barked.

“Okay,” I feebly replied. I shouldn’t have looked. There against the silver sink was my dangling bloody foot. I saw the hand grab the knife and tug. It hurt coming out, but it was my flesh entrails and the flow of deep red color that I so vividly remember. My tennis shoe and sock were off a moment later and the cold water was cascading over my bare foot. The full blast torrent barely diluted my burgundy-colored blood swirling at the bottom of the sink. Then, first aid goo, gauze, duct tape, and an ice bag, followed by momentary humanity.

After my patch-up, while sitting on an over-turned ice bucket, the kitchen manager came over to me and said “Dude, that’s bad. You gotta go to the doc.”

Weakly, I said. “My car’s got a stick. I don’t think I can work the clutch.”

“That’s okay, I’ll drive ya.”

“But what about the dinner rush,” I asked.

“I’ll get Bobo [his second in command] to run the line. Let’s go!”

I received support and attention not from the “boss/owner” who was “tsk-tsking” in the background, but from our recognized tribal leader: the kitchen manager. This leader didn’t give a hoot about arti-“chokes” or potato-“bakers” when it got real. He stepped up and personally ensured my well being when it counted the most. To recap in a nutshell: I got a tetanus shot, stitches, and time off.

When I returned to work, I was part of the cultural lore. The kitchen crew all blamed some pond scum sucker from the front of the house for being lazy (okay, some disharmonious comments may have emanated from me) and causing this wounding of “one of us.”

One of us. Yes, by working hard before the bloodletting, by not fainting at the sight of my gored foot, and by returning to work, I had made my “bones.” I even picked up a nickname, “Blood” (as in copious amounts of), long before there was any gang member connotation.

Like many hourly workers before and after, I started that summer just trying to get a job and ended it by taking a wild ride with the kitchen tribe.

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Sustainable Food?

Sustainability, in a broad sense, is the capacity to endure; biological systems remaining productive over time. Sustainability also means long-term maintenance of well-being of the natural world and responsible use of all natural resources. The sustainability movement focuses on organic foods, which are defined as those produced without synthetic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, or genetic modification.

We recently saw yet another outbreak of E. Coli affecting the East Coast, causing two fatalities and sickening at least 28 others. The subsequent recall involved more than 500,000 pounds of ground beef distributed in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. The fact that this particular processing plant had three recalls since 2007 is just another indicator of how flawed our system currently is. Having a compelling desire to share some facts with my peers and the readers of this blog, I would like to assess some of the challenges our dysfunctional food chain faces:

Global Issues
One billion people worldwide do not have secure access to food, including 36 million in the U.S. National and international food and agricultural policies have helped to create the global food crisis but can also help to fix the system.

Health Issues

  • 76 million Americans are sickened, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die each year because of foodborne illnesses, according to the CDC.

  • RBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) is a genetically engineered hormone injected into dairy cows to make them produce more milk. Many countries have banned the use of RBGH, including Canada and the European Union, but not the United States, where it is used extensively.
  • Pesticide concentrations in dust collected from farm workers’ homes were five times higher than those in non-farm workers’ homes.
  • The USDA estimates that between 1970 and 2000, the average daily calorie intake in the U.S. increased by 24.5%, or about 530 calories.
  • Six hormones are implanted in beef cattle for no other reason than to make the cows grow faster so they can be sold sooner.
  • 90% of all U.S. feedlot cattle are hormone implanted.
  • Human deaths related to poor diet and physical inactivity is second only to tobacco as the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
  • One-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. High-calorie, sugar-laden processed foods coupled with our sedentary lifestyles are growing our waistlines and contributing to serious health issues such as diabetes, heart ailments, and cancers. Kids should be served healthy meals, not soda and junk food.

Factory Farming
Virtually all the meat, eggs, and dairy products you find in the supermarket come from animals raised in confinement in large facilities called CAFOs, Confined Animal Feeding Operations. These highly mechanized operations provide a year-round supply of food at a reasonable price. Although the food is cheap and convenient, there is growing recognition that factory farming creates a host of problems, including animal stress and abuse, pollution, unnecessary use of hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs, as well as the loss of small family farms, and, last but not least, food with lower nutritional value.

Unnatural Diets
Animals raised in factory farms are given diets designed to boost their productivity and lower costs. The main ingredients are genetically modified grain and soy that are kept at artificially low prices by government subsidies. To further cut costs, the feed may also contain “by-product feedstuff” such as municipal garbage, stale pastry, chicken feathers, and candy. Until 1997, U.S. cattle were also being fed meat that had been trimmed from other cattle, in effect turning herbivores into carnivores. This unnatural practice is believed to be the underlying cause of BSE or “mad cow disease.”

Animal Stress
Ruminants are designed to eat fibrous grasses, plants, and shrubs—not starchy, low-fiber grain. When they are switched from pasture to grain, they can become afflicted with a number of disorders, including a common but painful condition called subacute acidosis. Cattle with subacute acidosis kick at their bellies, go off their feed, and eat dirt. To prevent more serious reactions, the animals are given chemical additives and antibiotics. When medications are overused in the feedlots, bacteria become resistant to them. When people become infected with these new, disease-resistant bacteria (i.e., E. Coli outbreak), there are fewer medications available to treat them.

Caged Animals
Most of the nation’s chickens, turkeys, and pigs are also being raised in confinement. They suffer an even worse fate than the grazing animals. Tightly packed into cages, sheds, or pens, they cannot practice their normal behaviors, such as rooting, grazing, and roosting. Laying hens are crowded into cages that are so small that there is not enough room for all of the birds to sit down at one time. They cannot escape the stench of their own manure. Meat and eggs from these animals are lower in a number of key vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

Environmental Issues

  • 1,500 miles: The distance average food product travels to get to your grocery store.

  • 30,800 tons: The amount of greenhouse gas emissions resulting every year from transporting food.
  • 6% of U.S. farms generate 75% of all commercial agricultural production.
  • In 2007, 63% of hens sold for egg production and 67% of chickens sold for meat production were raised on farms that managed more than 100,000 birds.
  • In 2007, 87% of all hogs sold in the U.S. were raised on farms that managed more than 5,000 hogs.
  • $8 billion: Total agriculture subsidies in 2007.
  • 10% of eligible farms received 60% of all farm subsidies that same year.
  • The fast food industry is one of the driving forces behind the factory farm system. In an effort to sell food as cheaply as possible, animals are fed the wrong types of feed, injected with hormones, fed heavy metals, and pumped full of antibiotics.
  • When animals are raised in feedlots or cages, they deposit large amounts of manure in a small amount of space. The manure must be collected and transported away from the area, an expensive proposition. To cut costs, it is dumped as close to the feedlot as possible. As a result, the surrounding soil is overloaded with nutrients, which can cause ground and water pollution. When animals are raised outdoors on pasture, their manure is spread over a wide area of land, making it a welcome source of organic fertilizer, not a waste management problem.
  • $34.7 billion: The annual cost of environmental damage caused by U.S. industrial farming.
  • 3,000 acres of productive farmland are lost to development each day in the U.S.
  • Millions of gallons of untreated manure are held in open-air pits and pollute the surrounding air, land, and water.
  • 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in at least 17 states have been polluted by cattle waste.

Cancers, autism, and neurological disorders are associated with the use of pesticides, especially among farm workers and their communities. What pesticides are in your food?

Back to Pasture
Since the late 1990s, a growing number of ranchers have stopped sending their animals to the feedlots to be fattened on grain, soy, and other supplements. Instead, they are keeping their animals home on the range where they forage on pasture, their native diet. These new-age ranchers do not treat their livestock with hormones or feed them growth-promoting additives. As a result, the animals grow at a natural pace. For these reasons and more, grass-fed animals live low-stress lives and are so healthy there is no reason to treat them with antibiotics or other drugs.

Grass Farming
Raising animals on pasture requires more knowledge and skill than sending them to a feedlot. For example, in order for grass-fed beef to be succulent and tender, the cattle need to forage on high-quality grasses and legumes, especially in the months prior to slaughter. This nutritious and natural diet requires healthy soil and careful pasture management so that the plants are maintained at an optimal stage of growth. Because high-quality pasture is the key to high-quality animal products, many pasture-based ranchers refer to themselves as “grass farmers” rather than “ranchers.” They raise great grass; the animals do all the rest.

Better Nutrition
A major benefit of raising animals on pasture is that their products are healthier for you. Compared with feedlot meat, meat from grass-fed beef, bison, lamb, and goats has less total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. It also has more vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and a number of health-promoting fats, including omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid or CLA.

When you choose to eat meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals raised on pasture, you are improving the welfare of the animals, helping to put an end to environmental degradation, helping small-scale ranchers and farmers make a living from the land, helping to sustain rural communities, and giving your family the healthiest possible food. It’s a win-win-win-win situation.

I recently watched Food, Inc., a sobering, but well-done documentary exposing the activities of nation’s food industry, the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the public with the consent of USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers, and our own environment.

The issues are many, and the stakes are high. There is no single solution for this complex issue, and no quick fix for a system with its root cause going back to the policies of the 1970s. The public not only deserves better in the form of a food chain with transparency and integrity, we owe it to our children to leave them a better place.

We, as chefs and professionals, can contribute greatly, I feel we have an obligation not only to educate our employees, but our guests as well, tackling the issues at stake, getting involved, and being part of the solution.

VOTE WITH YOUR FORK! Incorporate more local, sustainable foods at your business.

URGE your suppliers to support you in sourcing and obtaining locally grown, sustainably raised meat and vegetables from independent family farmers.

EDUCATE your family, friends, neighbors, schools, and community! Find more info at

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” ~J.A. Brillat-Savarin, 1755-1826

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Heart of House, Another Look

One of my very first posts was titled “Back of House, Do You Have Heart?” I received many responses to this post and was actually a bit surprised by what I read.

Here is a sample of a few comments:

  • “I just don’t have time to look at this.”
  • “I can’t get my crew to keep our areas clean.”
  • “You are correct, the heart of house is the central heartbeat of our total operation and must remain spotless.”
  • “Why are you even writing about this?”

The other day I was touring a large resort property and something struck me as I worked around their very messy and cluttered heart of house: “This is UNSAFE!”

With the very scary fire that just ravaged the Monte Carlo Casino in Las Vegas, I was especially energized to write this quick post.

There were chairs blocking emergency exits, portable banquet bars taking up over half of the hallway width, wet floors, hot-boxes with open Sterno cans inside, and even a cutting board. I took out my Sharpie and made a small “x” on the cutting board, which was sitting on the floor. Sure enough, the banquet team was slicing filet on it at an event that night, straight from the floor to the knife, nice!

For those of you who do seem to think that an orderly, clean, and well-kept Heart of House is either not important, not your job, or you think it is out of your control, I suggest you take a look. Take along your safety team (you have one of those, right?).

If you don’t get these areas in order, you will not only have a problem with an unsightly area, but an unsafe one at that. Don’t wait until the next fire alarm and hotel evacuation to get this important job done right away.

I am very interested to hear more about what you think about this Heart of House issue. Feel free to email me directly, comment on this post, or fill out this very short survey:

Click here to take survey.

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What happened on July 1, 2007?

On this day, HACCP—space-age technology designed to keep food safe in outer space—became the standard for public schools in the country. The armed forces as well as the healthcare industry will follow sooner than later…

What does this mean for the hospitality industry?

What does HACCP stand for in the first place?

It stands for Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points and is a comprehensive, state-of-the-art food safety program developed by Pillsbury in the sixties for NASA. The FDA regulations establish HACCP as the food safety standard throughout other areas of the food industry for both domestic and imported food products, including seafood and juice. The program for the astronauts focuses on preventing hazards that could cause foodborne illnesses by applying science-based controls, from raw material to finished products.

Traditionally, industry regulators have depended on spot-checks of manufacturing conditions and random sampling of final products to ensure safe food. This approach, however, tends to be reactive, rather than preventive, and can be less efficient than the new system. Many of its principles are already in place in the FDA-regulated low-acid canned food industry. The FDA established HACCP for the seafood industry in 1995 and for the juice industry in 2001. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture established HACCP for meat and poultry processing plants as well. Most of these establishments were required to start using HACCP by January 1999. A growing number of U.S. food companies use the system in their manufacturing processes, and it is in use in other countries, including Canada.

A need for HACCP?

Challenges to the U.S. food supply have prompted the FDA to consider adopting a HACCP-based food safety system on a wider basis. One of the most important challenges is the increasing number of new food pathogens. For example, a growing number of product recalls due to contamination with bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Salmonella enteritidis.

Read more of this >>

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