Food safety: How to start environmental monitoring in restaurants and food service venues

Looking for how to get started with your environmental monitoring program in a restaurant or other food service venue?

The first step can be a risk assessment to guide you to the areas of highest risk at your site. Neogen has developed a guide on which test method is right for you or your supplier to use, depending on whether you plan on monitoring for general cleanliness, pathogens or allergens.

Another resource as you begin or improve your plan are past reports issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration.

You might be asking yourself, “What’s the big deal? Why should I monitor the environment in my food operation?” According to the CDC, more than 50% of foodborne illness outbreaks come from restaurant food. An environmental monitoring plan helps you achieve your goal of keeping your consumers safe from these outbreaks.

A solid monitoring plan lets you be certain the people you serve are safe by keeping your team aware of the pathogens in areas they handle food. As customers also demand fresher food, spoilage loss can also hurt the bottom line, costing you thousands of dollars each week. Testing your environment can direct you to problem areas and add valuable time back to your shelf life.

Armed with this knowledge, you can clean important areas before a problem can become a full-fledged outbreak. Environmental monitoring is your early warning to sanitation or cross-contamination issues. A good program will help you stay current on how your cleaning standard operating procedures (SOPs) are being followed and when employees might need a refresher training course. It will also help reinforce important practices, like keeping raw and cooked or allergenic and non-allergenic foods away from each other.

In restaurants and restaurant supplier facilities, environmental monitoring involves covering all the bases: floors, walls and other surfaces, and even water or air that may have come into contact with food. The process involves swabbing surfaces and sampling air and water to establish a basis used for keeping track of microorganism presence.

It’s also important to have an easy-to-follow plan in place for when a positive sample is found. The area where a positive sample was found should be recleaned and sanitized. It’s essential to do follow-up testing in that area, typically once daily for three days. If any of the follow-up swabs come back positive, you’ll want to explore the area with a vectoring swab plan to find the contamination source.

Ultimately, an environmental monitoring program will reduce the risk of your food items becoming the source of an illness or allergenic reaction in your customers — and as an added bonus, the program will help you improve and maintain your SOPs.

You can learn more by checking out our other blog posts on environmental monitoring here.

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