On the Receiving End

When food supplies arrive for delivery at your loading dock, the HACCP—Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point—approach to ensuring food safety kicks into high gear. Proper receiving sets the stage for other HACCP elements to fall into place.

Many foodservice establishments don’t pay enough attention to receiving procedures, says Dion Lerman, CFSP, chef/instructor at the People’s Emergency Center in Philadelphia, which provides comprehensive services to homeless families. Much of that has to do with scheduling. A delivery that arrives during peak traffic times can sit untended far longer than usual.

One solution to this is to establish and maintain set receiving times, often between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., or well after the lunch rush. “Those are great guidelines to have,” says Lerman. “If you’re getting food during the lunch rush and it’s sitting there by the back door for hours, that’s obviously not a good thing. You’ve got a problem.”

Time and temp: Lerman believes that all elements of HACCP, receiving included, amount to “a system of thinking about things, not a set of rules.” Putting food away promptly so as not to violate time-and-temperature guidelines is “the most important thing,” he adds.

“That would involve moving food quickly into temperature-controlled conditions so that it’s not sitting on the loading dock, and it’s avoiding cross-contamination, particularly from pests that might be hanging around the loading dock—not just the obvious things, like rats and roaches, but also things like birds and squirrels that a lot of people really don’t think about.”

Anything that creates a hazard is, be definition, a problem. In fact, says Lerman, of thee three categories of hazards (physical, chemical and biological), “The ones we worry the most about are the biological ones, but certainly the physical and chemical hazards are problems.”

Food-handling guidelines say that food should not be out of temperature for more than four hours, Lerman offers as a reminder. “That includes the entire life of the product, from farm to fork. My internal guidelines would tell me that if food is sitting out for more than two hours at any time, I’ve got a serious issue. You want to move food into temperature-controlled conditions so that it never rises above 41°F (or 5°C) for refrigerated foods, and obviously frozen food at 0°F or colder.” For frozen food, he adds, “at 25°F it’s considered to be still frozen, and can be refrozen.”

HACCP plans are developed by each facility, and the first step is “figuring out what can be a hazard,” Lerman points out. “The second stage is developing controls for that hazard. If you determine that your cold chain requires that trucks be checked, that would, in fact, be part of your HACCP plan. And cold chain management is a major concern, particularly for large foodservice and food-production facilities.”

Supplier responsibility: Many operators are requiring their suppliers to develop HACCP plans “upstream” from them, as well. Many are using certified suppliers, and will accept nothing less than clean, adequately refrigerated, regularly inspected trucks.

“Certainly, if you’re dealing with a reputable supplier they shouldn’t have an issue with that,” says Lerman, a 30-year industry veteran. “If you’re dealing with somebody who is not maintaining cold temperatures, I think that common sense as well as HACCP guidelines would tell you it’s time to change your supplier.”

A crucial part of the receiving process, of course, is the checking of food temperatures. Lerman recommends recording temperatures directly on the invoice during check-in. “That way you don’t have to keep a separate list, and you have a record of the food as it was received,” he notes. “In fact, if you have questions or problems with some of the food temperatures, your supplier is getting that record when they get the invoice.

You can follow up with them and say, ‘I was getting this stuff in and it just was not at the proper temperature.’ Or, ‘I rejected it because it was at really the wrong temperature.’” He recommends buying additional handcarts and keeping storage areas clean and orderly to speed put-away.

Pests remain a major source of pathogens for food that has not yet been stored. Says Lerman, “If you have rodents or insects crawling all over things, or birds doing what birds do from the rafters, you have a problem. In fact, birds have created serious problems in some food-production facilities because they are natural reservoirs of salmonella.”

Exceeding standard: Temperatures must certainly be taken on potentially hazardous products such as meats and dairy. “We have to make sure these products aren’t in the temperature danger zone,” says Heath Braunstein, director of purchasing and food safety for Lackmann Culinary Services, “and that they meet the federal guidelines that we’re looking for—cold refrigerated products under 41°F. We actually exceed that standard; we go with 40°F and give ourselves a degree of error there. We also make sure frozen products are at 0°F or below.”

Lackmann requires potentially hazardous food to move from receiving to storage in a half-hour or less. “That’s our standard,” says Braunstein. “We want to get it from the pallet into the refrigerator. We train our employees to focus on the frozen products first, and a lot of that is quality related. Once you get thawing going on, and then it freezes again, you can have quality issues.

“We also need to make sure that when they’re on the pallet there isn’t any potential cross-contamination taking place,” he continues. “For example: raw chicken that may be (stacked) over fresh produce.” Dry goods like bags of rice and #10 cans should be the last things stored since they are not potentially hazardous.

Labor management also factors into the safe-receiving equation. “I think the hardest part is typically when you may be short employees,” says Braunstein. “If three people call in sick and you’ve pulled your receiver to do some preparation work, there is a chance that products may not get stored as quickly as possible.” In such cases, everyone, including management, must pitch in. “You say, ‘Guys, this is important.’ It’s obviously a priority; we’re dealing with HACCP programs and food safety, so everybody pitches in.’”

Empowering staff: While training in proper food-receiving procedures is important, so is empowering employees with the ability to make critical decisions. If food shipments are not up to standard, for example, they should be able to reject it.

“There’s no point in bringing in food that is not up to standard and not safe,” Lerman reasons. “You can’t improve the quality or safety of food once it’s in your facility. You’re paying for it, so why should you accept it if it’s not going to do what you need?

“Trust me,” he adds, “if you reject a shipment even once your supplier is going to be calling you. If you reject a shipment a couple of times he’s going to be wanting to find out what’s going on and why. That’s another good reason to record temperatures directly onto the invoice.”

Employees who detect quality issues should consult with a manager or chef. The decision to reject a shipment should not rely solely on the judgment of a single person.


Key HACCP Points for School Foodservice

1. Have a Strong Basic Sanitation Program—Establish and implement for kitchens, storage facilities and serving areas, including dishwashing, cleaning and sanitizing, food contact and non-food contact surfaces, trash and garbage disposal, chemical storage, pest control and prevention of cross-contamination.

2. Develop and Document SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures)—Provide written guidelines for all routine foodservice tasks, including procedures for buying, receiving, storing, preparing, cooking, holding and transporting foods.

3. Use Approved Sources—Establish specifications for all products, and investigate food safety practices of vendors for commodity and non-commodity foods (some schools support local industry via fresh produce purchases which increase nutrition content, but may present a challenge for HACCP).

4. Follow Appropriate Time and Temperature Controls—Applies to cooking, hot and cold holding, cooling and reheating of all foods.

5. Store Food Safely—Considerations include adequate space, temperature monitoring, proper thawing, pest control, date marking, an appropriate food discard policy, cooling and use of leftovers.

6. Prevent Cross Contamination—Applies to raw to cooked foods, chemicals to foods, use of utensils, washing of fresh fruits and vegetables and continuous monitoring of food contact surfaces in use.

7. Establish Monitoring Procedures—Use time/temperature logs for foods and holding equipment, calibration of equipment and thermometers, corrective actions and daily/weekly/monthly HACCP lists.

8. Reduce Allergic Reactions—Identify and document all menu items and establish lists of items containing the basic eight common food allergens (milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans); document procedures for action in suspected cases of food allergy reaction.

9. Take Action to Maintain Food Security—Establish procedures for inspection of deliveries for hazards and signs of potential tampering, and control access to foods and facilities at all times.

10. Train All Personnel in Basics of Food Safety—Considerations include hand washing and proper glove use, basic personal hygiene, procedures for safe food handling, work restriction and exclusion due to illness, and food discard policies.

Source: EcoSure, an Ecolab Company