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Food Poisoning: The Worst Contribution to a Potluck Since the Jell-O Mold

Ok, so let’s talk about potlucks. They can be a great freaking time but the very concept of a potluck can be a breeding ground for E.coli.

That said, you’ve decided you’ll host a party but everyone has to bring a dish of their choice—or maybe it’s your work’s annual employee potluck. Either way, you’re going to make your famous devilled eggs and you’re crossing your fingers that Janet from accounting is bringing those caramel bars she made the year before.

The thing is, potlucks typically take place during the warm summer months in someone’s backyard. With the hot summer sun beating down on your table of noodle salad and grilled chicken, what once was a smorgasbord of homemade delights has the potential of becoming a buffet table of bacteria and self-loathing.

To ensure your contribution isn’t illness and that no one leaves with more than leftovers, here are some tips for potluck safety:

While You’re Prepping

  • Wash your hands—it seems silly we have to remind any adult of that but when you’re bringing food to serve other people, wash them twice.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate utensils and plates to cut veggies and raw meat.
  • Wash produce really well. You don’t want to get blamed for food-poisoning when it was the veggies all along.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check that the meat is cooked thoroughly. The color test doesn’t always indicate something is fully-cooked.

At the Party

  • Transport food in proper storage bags: a cooler for cold foods and an insulated bag for hot foods.
  • Keep food refrigerated until the time of the party.
  • Replace empty plates and serving dishes instead of adding new food onto dishes that have sat out. Plus, think of all the hands and flies that have touched the platter. Don’t add new food to it.
  • THROW AWAY any perishable foods that sit out for longer than 2 hours.

Extra Tips and Suggestions

  • Don’t try to feed an army—if 30 people are invited, your one dish doesn’t have to feed all of them.
  • Know the culprits—if you’re late to the party and are unsure how long that mayo, pea, and noodle salad has been sitting out, it’s probably best not to chance it; even if it looks really good.
  • Bring something that will hold up through the party—potlucks usually have people going back for seconds (or thirds, we’re not judging!) so try to plan a dish that won’t spoil when left out for a bit. At the very least, bring a cooler to store it in if you’re bringing potato salad.
  • Bring serving utensils—your host will likely have a few spoons and the like but not a dozen. Bring a serving utensil that suits your dish so there’s no cross-contamination and so that no one feels tempted to reach in and grab things with their hands.
  • This last one is just a personal preference but something we’re pretty passionate about—there is nothing worse than seeing a jar of homemade pickles at the end of the table and mentally prepping for how you’re going to take as many as you’d like without looking like a glutton. Only to discover, after you’ve piled about 17 on your plate, that they’re actually bread and butter pickles.
    That’s deceitful and, quite frankly, cruel. Don’t do it. Bring dill pickles and not those atrocities that disguise themselves as pickles. And, while we’re on the topic of terrible things that have no place in decent society, leave that Jell-O mold at home. If (because you’re Satan) you insist on bringing one, don’t try to slip anything weird into the Jell-O like carrots, that’s just plain uncool.
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5 Tips for Safe Grilling when having a barbecue

Summer is finally here and along with spending more time enjoying all that nature has to offer, you’re probably pretty excited to fire up that grill.


While there’s nothing better than the taste or smell of food fresh from the grill, there’s something to be said about the added safety concerns. Whether it’s the fact that nothing pairs better with a juicy burger than a good, crisp and cold beer, that grilling is basically cooking on an open flame, or a combination of the two, the risks associated with backyard grilling can make a great summer get-together crash and burn.

In an attempt to keep the only burning you experience this summer the kind that causes tan lines, we’ve compiled a list of 5 tips for safe grilling.

1. Keep your Grill at Least 10 Feet from the House

It might sound self-explanatory but the further you keep the grill away from your house the safer it is. You can’t ever really anticipate the winds and when the grill gets hot, the flames get tall. You shouldn’t keep the grill under any carports, garages, or porches either. It’s fine to store them there just take the grill out to do the actual cooking.

2. Clean your Grill Thoroughly

Keeping a clean grill not only makes your food taste better, but it reduces the risk of flare-ups. There are definite ways to clean your grill safely but you should at least use a brush in between each grill session to scrape off any food particles that could catch fire.

3. Make Sure You’re Cooking the Meat Long Enough

This is true regardless of how you’re cooking meat but when you’re grilling it can be harder to manage cooking temperature to ensure the products are cooked all the way through. Using the color indicator for cooking poultry isn’t reliable and you should always have a food thermometer to make sure you’ve reached a safe internal temp.

4. Don’t Cross Contaminate

When you’re cooking on the grill, it’s tempting to use the same utensils for your chicken, burgers, and hot dogs, but that’s not safe. Use separate, clean, plates and utensils for raw, cooked, and ready-to-eat food. It’s easier to wash a few extra dishes than have a house full of sick people.

5. Properly Store Leftovers

Store all leftovers in the fridge or freezer quickly. When you’re grilling for a get-together or even just for your family, it can be tempting to leave the leftovers for later and enjoy the day. It’s important to never leave containers or food out on the counters. Never let your food sit out for more than an hour or two. This is particularly important in the summer heat and humidity.

Now that you’ve got a few grilling safety tips, get out there and enjoy your summer with great company, great food, and make some great memories. We’ll take a cheeseburger with fried onions as long as you’re grilling.

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Allergen Awareness training enforced in Illinois from July 1st

Working in the restaurant industry in Illinois I’m sure you’ve heard a little bit of information here and there about Allergen Awareness training, however here’s your one stop shop telling you everything you need to know!

So, what is exactly is going on?

Great question, in 2017 the state of Illinois became the 6th state in the U.S. to enact a law requiring all certified food protection managers (CFPMs) working in a restaurant to complete additional allergen training using an approved allergen awareness training program. With over 15 million Americans suffering from food allergies, the implementation is long overdue!

On July 1st, this law will be enforced.

Full a full breakdown visit the Illinois department of Health page .

What does enforced mean?

Basically, from July 1st when a Health Inspector walks into a restaurant they will be asking all CFPMs to show proof of their Allergen Awareness training.

I’m a manager, but I’m not qualified/my other managers in Allergen training

Luckily, there are easy options available to get certified quickly and cost-effectively. Always Food Safe has a fun and informative food allergen awareness course that is competitively priced and completed all online.

Take a look at our state accredited Allergen Awareness training
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The big debate – Is eating raw cookie dough bad for you?

Kermit the Frog looking out the window thinking about cookie dough

We’ve all heard it before; eating raw cookie dough can make you sick. We’ve all also probably weighed the options and wondered how sick it would really make us or if the risk was worth the reward.

Because, honestly, cookie dough is delicious and the fact that it can make you sick just seems like a cruel prank the universe is trying to pull and we’re not laughing, universe, not even a little bit. To combat the dangers of eating raw dough, you can find all kinds of cookie dough recipes that leave out the eggs (since raw eggs have always been the culprit keeping us from the doughy deliciousness).

However, we have some bad news; it’s not just about raw eggs. anymore.

Ingesting uncooked foods made with flour can make you dangerously ill. It’s advised you even wash your hands after handling flour.

Flour is typically a raw agricultural product. This means it hasn’t been treated for harmful germs and bacteria. These germs can contaminate grain while it’s still in the field or as the flour is processed.

The bacteria is only killed when the food containing the flour is cooked. The type of E. Coli identified in flour is usually found lurking in damp places like meat and leafy vegetables so it’s a surprise to find it in foodstuff that’s so dry.

This awareness comes after a large product recall a couple years ago where many brands of flour had to be taken off the shelves.

After investigating, it was decided that the bacteria went beyond the recalled products, which led the CDC to issue the warning against raw flour. It’s important to use different bowls, measuring cups, and utensils to avoid cross contamination.

Even your at-home edible play dough recipes are unsafe and should be used with caution.

So, a word of warning; next time you’re craving some cookie dough or are tempted to lick the batter from the bowl, think again. Just take comfort in knowing that the rest of us are mourning this loss right along with you.

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How to Bake Gluten-Free

Gluten free chocolate chip cookies

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley.

For people with Celiac Disease, ingesting gluten can damage the small intestine. Unfortunately, gluten can be hard to avoid; breads, cookies, beer, pasta, soups, and many condiments contain gluten. Sure, you can usually find plenty of packaged gluten-free cookies on the market now but is there really anything better than biting into a warm, fresh from the oven cookie?

Don’t fret, there are still tons of ways you can enjoy baked goods with the right gluten-free baking options. You can adjust recipes to use gluten substitutes and there are plenty of really great gluten-free recipes all over the internet.

Go ahead and get Pinterest crazy finding those recipes.

Here are some baking tips for baking without gluten:

The first rule of gluten-free baking is to let go of your expectations. The process isn’t going to be the same as it used to be when you could grab a bag of all-purpose flour and wing it.

You’ll need to throw out your expectations of what bread used to be and start fresh. Your gluten-free bread dough is going to seem more like pancake batter and that’s ok. Just try things out—this is a different kind of baking and requires a little trial and error.

There are definitely some specific baking tips that will help you adjust to a gluten-free lifestyle.

Specific Baking Tips

Combine Flours: Sometimes you’ll only need to use one type of flour; an all-purpose gluten-free flour. However, for the most part, you’ll have to combine a few different flour options together. This will help prevent one flavor or texture from dominating the final product.

Measuring Techniques: Most home bakers are used to scooping out the flour and sweeping the excess off. The scoop and sweep technique isn’t going to work when using gluten-free flour. Gluten-free flours and starches are finer than their wheat cousins and that makes it harder to pack evenly into a measuring cup. It’s easiest to just use a scale to weigh the flour instead of relying on wavering volume measurements.

Play: You’re starting from scratch here (pun intended) and it’s ok to play around with flavors, textures, flour mixtures, and ingredients. Trust your instincts, if something doesn’t look or feel right, play around. Add a pinch of salt or a little more milk, try some cinnamon, it doesn’t have to look or be perfect. You don’t have to waste your mistakes either, try turning that bread loaf into bread crumbs for your meatloaf. Sweet baked mistakes can turn into crumble toppings.

There are also gluten-free baking mixes you can try if you’re unsure about diving right into baking from scratch.

The mixes are a great way for you to get a feel for texture and consistency before attempting it yourself.

Ultimately, you’re just going adjust your expectations and understand that things are going to be slightly different but certainly not worse.

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From Garden to Table: Tips for Sourcing Fresh Ingredients

Fresh fruit and vegetables in a hamper

“Buying Local” is a huge trend and as we see globalization continue to create longer and more complex food supply chains, it can be tough to source fresh ingredients to meet the needs of a restaurant.

Using locally sourced ingredients offers advantages for chefs and customers alike. Working directly with local farmers is a great way to boost the local economy and, cutting down on how far your meat and produce has to travel, will reduce your carbon footprint.

With the emphasis on Responsible Growth for businesses and the ever-popular “farm-to-table” movement that has consumers demanding for locally grown foods, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that sourcing local, fresh ingredients is more than a health trend; at this point, it’s business savvy.

So how can you stay competitive and still meet the bottom line? Here are some tips on sourcing fresh and local ingredients that will help you get started.

Hit up those Farmers Markets

The farmers market in your area is a great place to pick up the freshest produce and support the community. In addition, it’s an opportunity to form connections and network with the producers who have the ingredients you need.

Another perk is that even if a particular farmer doesn’t sell the produce or meat and dairy you need, chances are they can point you in the direction of someone who does. That’s the benefit of working within a community.

You can also develop connections with growers associations and cheese-maker guilds through networking at the farmers market.

After making those connections, you’ve opened the door to communicate with the producers during the off-season. You can discuss the ingredients you’ll want to buy in the future to ensure a plentiful supply of fresh, tasty food a few months down the line. Be specific about what you’ll be willing to purchase and the quantities you’re interested in.

Manage the Menu

It can be tempting to create complex and detailed menus by offering a large range of regular entrees and bold specials. However, when you’re relying on ingredients that come from a certain geographical range, say 150 mile radius from your restaurant, it’s crucial to keep your menu concise.

Trying to do too much can leave you scrambling to find ingredients from various sources and might force you to make last-minute changes to your menu.

Focus your menu on showcasing a few key local ingredients. That way, you can concentrate on obtaining a select group of items with confidence.

This will ensure quality and consistency which your customers will value far more than a fancy variety of menu options. You can also check out the competition to see what they’re doing with local ingredients.

Keeping an open line of communication with your customers is key as well; let them know your menu changes with what’s available each season. This brings us to the next tip:

Think Seasonally

Taking seasonal changes into account and planning ahead will help you avoid getting stuck without a crucial ingredient. Keep in mind that changes over the course of the year will affect not only what fruits and veggies are harvested but what meats and seafood are most plentiful as well. You can also manage customer expectations by knowing what to say if someone complains about a favorite menu item’s availability.

Most customers will be understanding and, probably pretty pleased, if you explain your desire for quality local ingredients and the role you’re playing in their community.

Most importantly, do what you can with what you have. Don’t get so obsessed with finding EVERYTHING locally that you end up limiting yourself.

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Being smart when choosing a place to eat – Our top tips

We’ve all been like the people in the photo above. Hungry, tired and just want to find anywhere to eat.

However, more often than not this leads to bad food, service and experience. Here are a few tips to help you when trying to find a new place to eat…..

1. Proof of Certification

There are a couple things that we suggest that you do before you even arrive at a restaurant, but our number one tip would be to call ahead and ask about the certifications of the staff.

Ask about the cooks and servers food safe certifications. There are numerous options out there, so take note of what they say and check to see that it is legitimate.

Restaurant staff should always be Food Handler & Allergen Awareness trained, asked to see if staff are.

2. Do they take food allergies seriously?

This obviously is one that you only must worry about should you have allergies, although it is a great test for how food smart the staff member on the phone is.

Let them know of what your allergies are, whether it is gluten, peanuts, or dairy, and ask what sort of alternative they have. If they seem clueless about the question, start looking for another restaurant.

3. Reviews – Trust people’s feedback

This may require only a quick Google search. A bad report is going to be the first thing that a search brings up, but keep in mind the amount of time that has passed since that incident.

Consider the reviews, if a restaurant has survived from a previous failure and the reviews suggest that it has cleaned itself up accordingly, you may use your discretion. You can always excuse yourself if you make a visit and it does not appear as the reviews had suggested.

4. Look for Red Flags

Brazen restaurants put their staff in the open so that everyone can watch their practices.

It’s a good start for trusting the sanitary practices of their staff, but you should consider what the practices are for the prep work, or what is done behind closed doors. If the staff appears orderly, and prepared, you can relax, red flags are obvious: handling food without gloves, preparing food on unclean surfaces, not washing the hands when leaving the restroom.

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Food Puns don't get any better than this!

Here at Always Food Safe we love a food related joke, so lettuce entertain you for a few minutes. See what we did there??! Well, if you don’t like that you may not want to keep going.

To ease you in we’ll start with a corny one…….

  • Courtesy of:

  • Courtesy of:

  • Courtesy of:

  • Courtesy of:

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Training your staff shouldn’t be a growing pain for an emerging business!

“We keep all our training certificates in a book, we only have 4 staff” Business owner 2016
“Can someone please go out and buy a new folder? We need somewhere to put our training documentation” Business owner 2018

The saying a change is as good as a rest has never been more apt for growing food businesses in America. The major factor in many companies not pushing their business onto the next step is simply not changing their protocol.
We’ve all heard the excuses:

  • “We’re still only small, a Health Inspector won’t care about us”
  • “I think we have everyone’s certificate”
  • “The company doesn’t pay for the training, so why is it our responsibility?”

These will not fly with a Health Inspector and many good, hard working restaurants have been shut down because they haven’t made time to work on their training protocol.

Let Always Food Safe take care of your training protocol

Always Food Safe have helped hundreds of small to medium sized businesses update their training protocol, so it is 100% online, and certificates are stored in one, easy to access area.

The complimentary, online management system is completely free, the only thing paid for (by staff or the business) is the training.

Take a look at our 90 second video below:

Protect your business today, and talk to Always Food Safe
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Knowledge is power!

Enjoying the rush of working in a restaurant, thrive don’t just survive!

There are few entry level positions that demand the ability to tussle with stress, manage priorities, and communicate efficiently like the ones you would find at a restaurant. However, if you have the knowledge to back up your natural skills you can go very far, very quickly in the foodservice industry.

Show your manager you know what you’re doing

When starting a role, you’ll be eager to impress, so knowing some simple basics can put you in a manager’s “good books” early on. Areas of knowledge such as:

  • Cooking temperatures for meals
  • Correct cleaning policies
  • Dress code
  • Bringing your certificate in on the first shift

Are necessities for any food-worker, so if you know this from day one, that will be a big help for a manager.

Check out our Food Handler training

Treat customers as individuals and you will be rewarded in $

The lifeblood of a foodservice worker is understanding each customer. If you treat a customer as an individual they will have a far greater experience and engage with you more.

Simple questions like:

  • Do you have any food allergies?
  • You may not be aware that this meal has nuts in it. Is that ok?

These can make a customer feel more welcome, but it could also save their life!

Check out our Allergen Awareness training

Smile and laugh on shift, it’s not supposed to be miserable!

People in different positions among staff also understand that there will be times when they, or another station will fail. Tensions could race into red in these instances. Yet, experienced members understand during a rush, it is best to have a sense of humor.

After all, there will always be another order!

Be the best you can be!

Whether you are contemplating a career in the food industry or just need a bit of refresher information, Always Food Safe’s training courses could be exactly what you need.

Whether it is Allergen Awareness training (it’s now a legal requirement in Illinois!) or Food Handler training we provide online, accredited training for you.

Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have, the higher up in your business you will go.