Food Holding Considerations for Hotel Events
Knowing how to hold and when to fold.
The majority of us are at one time or another “placed on hold” during a transaction, either face to face or on a call to a service provider. We know that a critical part of our overall responsibilities to our customers is to minimize the waiting time they have during any number of service transactions within our operations. We spend millions of dollars a year industry-wide studying service transactions in detail, as well as designing and maintaining systems to reduce transaction times and improve services to our customers. We train and encourage our customer service staff so they are able and willing to provide accurate and effective service in a timely manner.
Our proactive management of service transactions and proper holding times should also be considered with respect to food safety in our production areas. When you consider the flow of production through your operation, there are numerous operational steps where products are being held and waiting for more manipulation by your staff or in the “ready stage” for plating or waiting to be directly plated by your customers from a buffet. All of these holding stages must be controlled and carefully managed if the food you are producing and will serve to your customers will be safe to consume.
Time and temperature must be carefully monitored and controlled by the persons manipulating products, especially when they are residing in ambient air within a kitchen. Your staff must consider their work flow plan for a given set of assigned tasks and make every effort to have the smallest amount of product residing in the Danger Zone (DZ). We all must remind ourselves on a regular basis that temperature abuse is cumulative. Each time we cycle a product through the DZ, we potentially promote bacterial growth as well as degradation of the products for which we’ve paid top dollar. That growth adds to the overall population. Steps later in the production cycle may not reduce that growth to a safe level for consumption.
I know you all have busy schedules. I ask that you take some time out of one week during a busy production day and observe the handling of products, especially Time-Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) products (formerly known as potentially hazardous foods or PHFs). Consider these factors when making your observations:
• Is your staff during production effectively batch-processing products to minimize TCS products residing in the DZ? If not, why not? Is it due to poor planning on the part of the worker? Has there been an unrealistic production load on one worker or team workers?
• When you are considering preparation procedures and related equipment needs for a recipe, consider the amount of time the ingredients will need to be in the DZ as well as the temperatures that must be achieved at each step for safety. Will an equipment change or simple rearrangement minimize out of temperature holding times?
• The designs and layouts of production areas should foster practical and realistic flow of products through the processing steps.
• Designs should include temporary cold and, if needed, hot holding areas for products under process. Create as short as possible distances to refrigeration and hot holding, to minimize the pressures on the staff to remove large quantities of products out of refrigeration and bring them into the preparation areas. Large amounts of products in less secure production areas, as compared to storage areas, increases the opportunity for intentional adulteration.
• Holding or in-process times and temperatures should not just be considered for the food products. You need to maintain control of your equipment and utensils as well. As you observe your production over a longer period of time, consider how long a piece of equipment is “contaminated” before it is washed and sanitized again. The slicer is a perfect example. It is generally not the easiest to clean piece of equipment or the safest, but time and temperature rules apply here as well. I have seen many slicers used for many hours before they are cleaned and sanitized properly. This is a perfect piece of equipment for spreading bacteria across many products via cross-contamination and/or allergens via cross-contact. Even if the slicer is used only for ready-to-eat products, it should be cleaned and sanitized at least every four hours during production and when you are changing product types.
• How are your production utensils being held? Are they contaminated and allowed to reside in the danger zone for extended periods of time only to be “washed off” by manipulating another product? Control the time they reside in the DZ and switch them out at least every four hours. Utensils on your buffets most likely will need much more frequent change-outs and tighter controls given the number of guests who are potentially handling and/or mishandling them. If you change the utensil, change the utensil rest as well.
Proper holding of our products through all stages of processing is critical for minimizing bacterial growth. Our customers do not like long hold times, but long and out-of-temperature hold times for TCS products are welcomed by the bacteria that reside on and in our food. We have a responsibility to our guests to keep the hold times for them and for the foods they consume appropriate given the specific situation. I suggest we all take a close look at our production processes and determine if we can reduce the time our products reside in out of temperature situations. Let’s do our best to maximize our yields on our food products and minimize the opportunity to promote bacterial growth by our own lack of product control. If we must hold our foods out of temperature, let us all make sure we very carefully and consistently monitor the temperatures and control the time.