Restaurant lovers can rest easy

Restaurant lovers can rest easy

Jun 1
Courtney Walker, ACES Communications Graduate Intern

I love to eat at restaurants. Honestly, it’s probably my favorite hobby. I love the whole experience of dining out: the ambiance, the servers, and most of all, the food.

I’m not alone in my love of dining out:  according to the National Restaurant Association, Illinois consumers spend $25 billion in restaurants. And our dining options are virtually unlimited: You could eat at a different restaurant for every meal for the next 25 years without even leaving the state.
(Although I don’t know if your wallet would recommend tackling this challenge…) 

But with the joys of dining out also come some questions. How do I know my food has been properly handled? Should I trust the chefs and servers? Should I ask to inspect every kitchen before I order a plate? Is this safe?

According to Caitlin Huth, nutrition and wellness educator with University of Illinois Extension, 1 in 6 people get foodborne illnesses annually. The estimated 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. lead to roughly 3,000 deaths each year. Inadequately cooked foods, contaminated equipment, and poor personal hygiene can all contribute to the physical, chemical, and biological hazards that cause foodborne illnesses.  

Thankfully, people like Caitlin play a key role in preventing these dangerous risks. Caitlin and her U of I Extension counterparts educate foodservice employees on the do’s and don’ts of food preparation in the Food Service Sanitation Manager Certification (FSSMC) training course. 

FSSMC is required by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) of at least one manager in all commercial kitchens. IDPH requires FSSMC seekers to complete an 8-hour course, like Caitlin’s, and to pass an exam accredited by the Conference for Food Protection. Once the manager earns their FSSMC, their certificate is valid for five years. 

Out of curiosity, I sat in on one of Caitlin’s training sessions. Alongside managers from restaurants in Macon and Champaign counties, I learned about food preparation hazards and risk-mitigating strategies. 

Caitlin taught us about keeping an eye out for items labeled as potential hazardous foods (PHF).  A PHF label typically refers to a food that contains low acidity, high amounts of water, and protein. By adhering to specific time and temperature controls, food preparers can monitor the risks of a PHF. These time and temperature controls are often referred to as TCS. TCS varies depending on specific food items, but the general guideline is to avoid storing food in the temperature danger zone:  the temperature above 41°F and below 135°F. Temperatures below 41°F are too cold for most biological hazards to thrive and multiply. Likewise, temperatures above 135°F are too hot for biological hazards to reproduce. 

Caitlin went on to discuss the details of physical, chemical, and biological hazards. Most of this material was new to me – I knew I should wash my hands before preparing food, but I didn’t know just how sick bacteria on unclean hands can make a person.

Although a lot of Caitlin’s session grossed me out, I was comforted to know that a FSSMC holder is posted in every one of Illinois’ 27,000+ commercial kitchens. 

And from talking with the managers at the training, these FSSMC managers not only understand the risks and preventative measures, but also appreciate the opportunity to learn. After all, food service is a service industry. The people in restaurants’ kitchens prepare food for customers because they love cooking and serving. And they’ll do everything they can to keep their product and their customer safe. 

Knowing that my favorite restaurants and those I’ve yet to try all have on-site FSSMC managers makes this happy eater rest a little easier.

chopping herbs