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The Buck Stops With You Preventing (Attention all cooks!)

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

The statement ‘the buck stops here’ was made famous by President Truman. This was in contradiction to the more common phrase, ‘pass the buck.’, and dodging responsibilities of the position. The statement ‘the buck stops here’ referred to the president taking reasonability, deciding on the rules and regulations that govern our county, and put them into action.

As the person in charge of a foodservice operation, whether the manager, executive chef, lead line, or only cook, serving safe food is your most significant responsibility. The public assumes you are qualified to do so and holds it as your priority.

I recently read a devastating story about a young man, Hunter Browning, entering into one of the most challenging jobs: becoming a marine. While at boot camp, he unknowingly consumed undercooked ground beef and was later diagnosed with the hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) connected to Shiga toxin-producing E.coli, changing his life forever.

In Oct. 2017, an outbreak of E.coli O157: H7 swept through the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and Camp Pendleton. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 62 confirmed cases, 62 probable and 120 suspected cases. Thirty people were hospitalized, and 15 were diagnosed with HUS, a type of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. Patients’ ages ranged from 17 to 28 years with a median of 18 years.

Consumption of undercooked beef was linked to the outbreak and was traced back to a single ground beef supplier at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. The military officials conducted the investigation process and information about it, so it was not until much later that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the link to the mess hall and its ground beef. Saturday was hamburger day in the mess hall, and the day Hunter Browning’s life changed forever. As reported by Food Safety News.

Because his pelvic bone was deteriorating rapidly, he had to get a hip replacement at 20 years old, and it is projected he will have at least one more, possibly two. He could never finish his training as a marine and now has to be careful even walking.

Although the legalities of who is responsible are not my expertise, the things we can do to prevent potentially serving up E.coli to customers are my area of expertise and should be yours as well.

The buck does stop with you as the person in charge, and subsequently, the line cooks with spatulas in hand. This is just one of many stories you can share with your staff regarding the life-threatening effects of serving undercooked ground meat.

Ground meat needs to be cooked to a minimum of 155F for 15 seconds or more. Use a thermometer! For quick and easy sanitizing between probing meat for temperatures, you can wipe it clean with a paper towel and disinfect it with an alcohol swab.

You can start making a difference now by setting up an action plan to prevent foodborne illnesses in your facility.

Some ideas could include:

  • Asking food safety questions at the interview. Just because they have a food handler card doesn’t ensure they have retained the knowledge.

  • Have food safety training for new employees. Do not just put them in a station and call it good.

  • Give each line cook a thin-tipped thermometer during service. Make sure they know how to use it properly and what temperatures they must reach for each protein.

  • Talk about proper glove use. Removing gloves without a handwashing step is NOT acceptable when handling raw proteins and then handling plates or ready-to-eat foods.

  • Use utensils or patty papers instead of hands to get the raw meat from the drawer to the grill.

  • In addition to a line-up from the front of the house with daily specials, have a food safety line-up in your kitchen each day. The repetition of information has proven to be highly successful in remembering things.

  • Ask each cook to identify the highest food safety risks in their station. (cross-contamination, temperature abuse, improper sanitation)

  • Review the double-handwashing requirement in Oregon.

  • Review the requirements to wash, rinse and sanitize equipment, not just sanitize and how often.

These are a handful of suggestions to get you thinking. Walk through your kitchen and think about where things could go wrong, and start creating your plan right then and there. Food safety cannot take second place to get a station set up and the food out quickly. Your cooks need to understand they are the last line of defense, and it is required to cook raw proteins to the proper temperatures, not just a good idea.

Here is the full story on Hunter Browning.


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