Acing Health Inspections

Customer satisfaction and safety are crucial to a bakery’s success. So, too, are passed health inspections. Complying with food safety and sanitation practices that are standard across the industry—and keeping up with federal, state and local rules and regulations—is manageable when bakery owners and staff view it as an intrinsic part of their jobs. Here, experts share their best practices for baking food safety into everyday operations.

Understand Regulations

It’s easy to fall out of compliance if regulations aren’t consistently top of mind. “A lot has changed in the past decade with food safety standards,” says Len Heflich, president of Innovation for Success and former committee chair for the American Bakers Association Food Technical Regulatory Affairs Committee. “We are in the middle of the most significant transition on food safety since HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control point) almost 50 years ago.”

As of September 2016, most food manufacturers and foodservice establishments are required to comply with regulations set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which enforced the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The FSMA standards are stricter than ever before, and they mandate that food facilities determine potential hazards that could affect food safety. These standards also require bakeries to put steps in place to prevent these hazards and maintain records detailing their system, Heflich says. The FSMA gives the FDA the authority to request the business’s food safety plans at any time, which means bakeries should always be prepared.

In addition to these federal regulations, eateries need to stay on top of state laws. These differ from state to state, driven by whether that state has adopted the FDA’s Food Code, a model of food safety guidelines, as its standard, Heflich says. For example, in New York, a state that abides by the code, operators who touch food after a validated kill step, like baking, must wear gloves (barehand contact is prohibited), Heflich says. He notes that Utah bakers, on the other hand, are not required to do so, as the Food Code isn’t the law—only a guideline.

“It is always a good idea to set regular review times for your leadership team to review recent audits for any opportunities to improve already existing programs.”
—Todd Wallin, president of Ellison Bakery in Fort Wayne, Indiana

While all the levels of regulation can seem overwhelming, bakeries can tap a variety of resources for help, says Todd Wallin, president of Ellison Bakery in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He recommends starting with American Bakers Association and the American Society of Baking, which offer plenty of resources online. Some similar organizations publish print publications that cover a range of bakery business topics, including food safety. Bakers can sign up to receive newsletters from these groups, too.

“In addition […], bakers can regularly check the FDA or USDA websites for information,” Wallin says. “It is always a good idea to set regular review times for your leadership team to review recent audits for any opportunities to improve already existing programs.” On a smaller scale, bakeries can seek guidance from their suppliers, most of which provide customers specification sheets that list proper ingredient storage conditions.

“Our objective is to understand the conditions required for each food or raw material based on the specification sheet, and to store them appropriately,” Wallin says.

Every ingredient has different food storage needs, he adds. Some require refrigeration, some need to be frozen, and some need to be kept at ambient temperatures. For others, humidity control is more important than temperature. Having all this information in an accessible place not only streamlines everyday operations, but can also help with food safety training.

Ace Inspections

Streamline Operations for Bakery Success

Staying informed on regulations and requirements is half the battle when it comes to acing health inspections. The other half is ensuring every process—from storing ingredients to packaging and transporting finished goods—is planned with food safety in mind.

The steps taken at Free and Friendly Foods, an allergy-friendly bakery in San Bruno, California, demonstrate how owners can ingrain food safety into their organization’s unique operations.

Free and Friendly Foods stores ingredients in airtight containers to avoid cross-contamination that could cause allergic reactions—even ones as extreme as airborne anaphylaxis. “Each of the flour containers has its own set of measuring spoons to further prevent contamination,” says co-owner and co-founder Kathlena Rails. Milk is kept in a refrigerator outside the kitchen, and it’s only poured into paper cups and bowls so allergens don’t enter the sink or dishwasher.

In addition, the bakery’s equipment is run through a high-heat sanitation and a high-temperature dishwasher after every use.

Make Food Safety Part of the Culture

In addition to setting up food safety-first processes, it’s important that employees have cleanliness top of mind every day.

At Bittersweet Pastry Shop & Cafe in Chicago, food safety and sanitary guidelines are posted clearly in the kitchen so staff have a constant reminder, says Mindy Gohr, chef and managing partner at the bakery. These guidelines include reminders such as: Only take the quantity of items you need out of the fridge—a particularly important rule for eggs, milk and icing; never stack raw items on top of baked goods in the cooler or freezer (the eggs or milk could drip and contaminate the goods); and always place covers immediately back on bins of ingredients like sugar and flour after use to avoid attracting rodents or insects.

Other ways bakeries can ingrain food safety into their culture include ongoing training that covers regulatory updates and incorporating health code compliance into employee evaluations.

By staying up to speed on regulations and making safety and sanitation central to everyday operations and culture, bakery owners can rest easy knowing they’re keeping customers safe—and that health inspections will go off without a hitch.