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Sesame has been added as a food allergen! (February 2023)

If you have not yet heard, sesame has been added as a food allergen bringing the total number of commonly recognized food allergens to nine! You may want to re-evalute the use of sesame seeds as a garnish. If you have a menu that lists the ingredients of your dishes, you may want to think about reprinting your menu. Whether or not you do this, you must inform or remind everyone on your staff of the ingredients in each and every dish you serve. 

One tool that you might want to have is a binder that has a page for every item you serve with ALL the ingredients in each listed. You might list all the recognized allergens in each dish first to speed up the process of looking this information. You should not list the amounts of each ingredient and you don't need to have the ingredients listed from the most to the least. 

As a reminder, here are the NINE food allergens:

Eggs, Fish, Gluten (Wheat), Milk, Peanuts, Sesame, Shellfish, Soy, Tree Nuts


One Simple (?) Way to Address Post Pandemic Issues

All reports that we have read and comments from our clients lead us to believe that we are facing a new era in foodservice operations: one that is beset with increased difficulty in obtaining certain products as well as difficulties hiring and retaining staff. In addition, the price of raw food products and labor costs have increased. These factors are contributing to shrinking profit margins. 

In our many years in the foodservice industry we have interacted with many, many operations that have needed to improve their profit margins and increase staff efficiency. One "simple" way is to look at your menu and your sales abstracts (a listing of how many of each item on your menu you sell on a monthly or daily basis) and to eliminate those that aren't selling well. This should be done by classification, so if your menu has appetizers, salads, sandwiches, entrees, and desserts, you look at appetizers first, then salads, etc. Rank your items from the best seller to the worst seller and look at the average daily sales of each and then calculate the percentage of the total category sales (by number) that item accounts for.

I like to establish a "fair share" for each item sold. So, if I have 15 entrees and they all sold equally well, each should account for 6.67% of the entrees sold. Obviously, not all items sell as well: some sell well; some sell poorly.  With 15 items, any items that sell twice as many as their fair share, more than 13%, are obviously to remain on your menu (and you may be able to increase their selling price); any that sell less than half their fair share, less than 3.4%, are candidates for being dropped.

By dropping items that don't sell well, you may be:

  • Eliminating some food products from your orders and inventory, simplifying the ordering, receiving, and storage process. You may also eliminate some shrinkage and spoilage of food products that don't turnover fast enough.
  • Reducing some of the kitchen's preparation load, since there will be fewer items to prep. Even if you have to prep more of the remaining items, there should be time savings.
  • Making it easier for your guests to read the menu, decide what they are going to eat, and in turn speeding up service and reducing the turn time of tables.
  • With fewer different food preparations to complete, the workload on staff is reduced and this can reduce turnover.
There was a time, in the 2010s when menus kept expanding to attract more customers. The pandemic has seen many, many restaurants reducing their menu size with little or no impact on sales. Even before the pandemic there were a number of individuals who recommended reducing the size of menus, stating that the optimum number of choices might be as low as seven (7). Personally, I think that may be fine for appetizers, salads, desserts, and possibly sandwiches, but I think it is too limiting for entrees in most cases.  It may be, however, interesting for you to look at which items you offer make it into the "top seven" in each category.

Now may also be the time to look for labor-saving products that can be substituted for things you used to do - such as buying pre-peeled garlic. 

You can also use the average daily sales information to modify your production process to be more efficient. If, for example, you sell 20 items a night that use 3 ounces of a certain sauce, it may be possible to prepare a 2 gallons of sauce every four days instead of making the sauce each day. (If you do make the product in a greater quantity, remember to use proper safe food handling and use techniques!)

Wish you a Safe and Happy Holiday Season - Wheelwright Consultants.


A "Commercial" for "Commercial Grade" Furniture

Over the years there have been a number of times when I have seen operators insist on using "residential" grade furniture and furnishings rather than the more expensive, heavy duty commercial furniture that is designed and built to commercial use. Sometimes this was because as the project was nearing completion there wasn't enough money for commercial furniture, or the furniture wasn't available in time, or because the decision maker "fell in love" with a residential chair or table.

Commercial grade furniture is made of thicker wood or metal and has more and heavier hardware and will stand up to the use and abuse it is likely to receive. That lovely chair purchased for the home is not used anywhere near as often as the one in the restaurant. Moving it around and people getting in and out of a chair do put a strain on the joints. And don't forget the abuse that commercial furniture might be subject to - use your own imagination as to what the staff might do with it . . .

So here is a simple case of a new owner trying to save money . . . This occurred at a barbeque restaurant in a southern state. The owner, who was new to the restaurant business, decided to furnish the outside dining area with picnic tables. The commercial tables were made of kiln dried western cedar, the wood had no knots and was quite thick, so the tables were hard to move. The commercial tables had heavy duty stainless steel bolts and the wood was pre-treated with a water-proofing product. And they were expensive.

One of the "big box" hardware stores had some residential grade tables on sale for less than 1/3 of the cost of the commercial tables. The wood was pine, with lots of knots and much thinner, so the tables were lighter and easier for the staff to move. There was no factory applied weather proofing and no warranty. The six foot tables and attached benches were listed as seating six with a maximum weight of 400 lbs. per side.

The owner bought a bunch of tables and put them on the outside dining patio and had the staff apply a waterproofing product. The tables were not identified in any way. When there was a large party that needed a bigger table, the staff would drag a couple together. If a customer thought the table to sunny or shady, they would drag them to a slightly different location.

When a table became too wobbly, or a board cracked or broke, the staff would drag the table behind a fence and the restaurant's handyman would do what he could to repair the tables - adding more or bigger screws or a new board here and there as needed. No records were kept of which tables were repaired, when or what was done to them. Some tables were too far gone to be repaired, so the table would be scrapped and a new one purchased from the big box store where they got the tables in the first place. No records were kept of which tables were new and which were old or of how many had been replaced over the years.

Along came a party of five and selected one of the tables. They sat and waited for their meal to be delivered. It was, and as they were finishing, the board on the side with three cracked at a very large knot hole. The person sitting by the knot hole fell to the ground and jammed her spine. The restaurant offered to call an ambulance, but she declined because she was on a day trip about three hours from home with family members. The next morning she woke up with terrible pains in her back and hips and she had difficulty walking . . .

An accident re-constructor/structural engineer was hired by the injured party's lawyer to determine the cause of the accident. He determined that the board that was used to make the bench was weakened by the presence of the knot holes (there were multiple knot holes) and that the board wasn't strong enough to carry the weight of the two adults and one teenager who sat on it. He also found that that the handyman had replaced damaged or missing screws with larger ones and that might have contributed to a weakening of the table. He found evidence of water damage on many of the restaurant's tables.

Wheelwright Consultants was asked to comment of the appropriateness of the initial selection of the tables and their maintenance. We opined that the use of residential grade furniture was inappropriate to a commercial business. That it was not designed nor built to the level of use, wear and tear, or the weight of potential customers. Furthermore, the lack of a routine and documented inspection and repair program meant that the operator could not guarantee the tables and attached benches were safe for guest use. [We have been consulted on other cases where furniture fails injured a guest . . . ]

The injured individual sustained permanent damage and has incurred thousands of dollars in medical bills. The restaurant will very likely end up with a bill that will be far, far greater than their savings on the costs of the tables. Another case of pennywise and dollar foolish. 

Our suggestions to you: 

1) Do your research and develop a budget that will allow you to purchase and install furniture that is designated as "commercial grade". That will protect your guests and your business.

2) Develop an inspection and maintenance program and keep records to prove your due diligence to keep guests safe.

Don't know how to specify, select, and purchase commercial furnishing or aren't sure about setting up a maintenance program - you don't need to reinvent the wheel, just call us and we can help.


Too HotTo Serve?

Remember the case of Leibeck v. McDonald's back in 1994? Where an elderly guest was scalded by very hot coffee and received a large settlement??

You probably remember the hype and the ridicule that the award was met with during the sound bites that publicized the case.

The facts of the case were: the coffee was held at more than 180 F; that McDonald's had received hundreds of complaints about overly hot coffee; that McDonald's knew that hot coffee could severely scald guests; that McDonald's had done nothing to address the problem; that the plaintiff had originally requested that her medical bills be paid, and McDonald's had offered less than $1,000 in compensation; that jury found the plaintiff partially responsible for the incident; the jury award was cut substantially upon repeal.

So what does that have to do with you? In the past few years, Wheelwright Consultants has been asked to opine on multiple cases where guests have sustained second and third degree scalds from spilled coffee, tea, soup, and other food products. In most of the cases the beverages or foods were served at temperatures that could well be called "excessive" - whether or not they were too hot is a matter for a jury to decide, but consider the following:  

     * Liquids held at or above 165 F can cause second and third degree scald burns in less than 1 second!

     * Second and third degree scalds may require hospitalizations, skin grafts, and other painful and expensive medical treatment.

     * While the coffee industry recommends holding coffee at or above 180 F, research shows customer prefer their coffee at about 150-155 F.

     * The Federal Food Code requires food to be held at or above 135 F.

We recommend that you rethink the temperature at which you hold and serve beverages and foods to make them safer. We also recommend that you train your staff to properly serve beverages and food as some incidents occurred when hot beverages and foods were placed too close to youngsters or were set down without warning the guest.

No hot foods or beverages or containers should be placed within the reach of toddlers as they do not understand the danger of hot item and are curious about anything new.

When serving any hot beverage or food, make sure that it is at least 12" away from the edge of the table and always advise the guest of the fact that a hot beverage, food item, or plate is being served.

Connecticut Adopts 2017 FDA Food Code

Connecticut adopted the FDA Food Code at a time when the code did not require that certified individuals be "re-certified" every five years, and so for many years it was possible to take ServSafe once and become permanently certified as a Qualified Food Operator (QFO). This policy has been changed and as of June 30, 2018, individuals who are QFOs in Connecticut will have to be recertified every five years. To assist folks with coming into compliance with these new regulations we have scheduled two recertification programs in Enfield, Connecticut in March and May 2018. More programs will be scheduled if demand warrants.

There are differences between tips and service charges . . . 

We have been doing a bit of fall office cleaning and have been going through magazines and files. As we were doing so we came across an article that indicated that the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration had reviewed certain "service charges" and determined that they should not be treated in the same way as "tips". This is important for restaurants that automatically add a gratuity on to the bills of large parties as well as those that add a service charge on to banquet checks and this is especially important in states where employers may take a tip credit against wages paid to tipped employees.

In order for a "tip" to be a "tip", it must be something that a guest freely and of their own accord adds to a bill. When the guest makes the decision as to what to pay, the employer can collect it and pass it on to the server(s). If the business automatically adds some sort of charge, no matter what it is called, to the bill that is a "service charge". Service charges may not be used as part of a tip credit. There are also some possible issues with how the two are treated with respect to Social Security (FICA) taxes.

What is recommended to keep restaurants and caterers out of trouble is one of the following strategies: 1) provide the check with a range of gratuities - 15%, 18%, and 20% and allow the guest to indicate which they would like to pay. This allows the amount to be considered a "tip" and it can be collected and paid to the employees and can be used to raise the hourly rate from the lower tip credit wage to the minimum hourly wage (or greater); or 2) pay banquet staff an hourly wage above minimum wage and charge a "service charge" on the bill, which may be distributed as desired.

Please note that there may be different state or local regulations with respect to what to call these fees and how they must be distributed and we advise you to check with your financial and legal advisors! 

The New 7th Edition of ServSafe Manager is out . . .

Every four years the entire FDA Food Code is reviewed and revised. Since the previous revision was in 2013, the Food Code was recently updated. The National Restaurant Association has just issued its latest version of ServSafe. We received our first shipment on June 20 and have read it. At the present time it appears that the 6th Edition or ServSafe Manager will still be valid and probably the 5th edition. If you have any old 4th editions laying around, you probably should discard them. We'll have updated our ServSafe Programs and materials to reflect the Food Code.

We reviewed the new 7th Edition of the ServSafe Manager and must say that we are extremely disappointed in its quality. In addition to being very poorly edited (it has contradictory information in different chapters) and it has dumbed the content down to an extreme level, which we don't believe provides sufficient information to prepare one to take the certification examination. As a result, we have decided not to use the 7th Edition, although we have a few in stock if people want to purchase one, and will be providing all participants with the booklet we have written for those being recertified - both those being certified initially and those being recertified. And since we will not be purchasing the ServSafe book, we will be reducing the program cost!


Some Changes at Wheelwright Consultants

Those of you who have participated in our programs know that for a great many years now my "wife", Barbie, and I have lived about 110 miles apart. Last fall (2016) Barbie took a part-time, seasonal job in Wellington, FL - on the East Coast not too far from West Palm Beach. The plan was for Barbie to spend winters in Florida and to be up here in Massachusetts with me for the summers. Well, her seasonal job morphed into a year round job, so we're going to changing things up a little. Barbie has informed me that she wants me to spend more time with her. (It's nice to be wanted.) Starting around Labor Day, I will be spending extended periods of time with her in Florida - coming back to New England for a couple of weeks at a time.

Barbie's position is with Panther Ridge, a sanctuary that rescues and breeds endangered big cats such as cheetah's, cougars, jaguars, and leopards. Some of their animals have come from zoos, others have been rescued from people illegally importing them or who thought that it would be "cool" to have an ocelot or some other exotic cat as a pet. The fact of the matter is that these are wild animals with the instincts and reactions of a wild animal. These animals are amazing to behold, but one should think twice about holding one or trying to keep one in the home. The jaguar, for example, has the most powerful bite of any land animal - it teeth can puncture the skull of a crocodile or a full-grown cow. I have been recruited as a part-time volunteer at Panther Ridge, so in between providing ServSafe classes, expert witness services, managerial consulting, and nutritional labeling services, I will be spending a couple of days a week at Panther Ridge. I will be keeping my cell phone number and will be available, as always, to help you run your business safely and profitably.

Wheelwright Consultants selected as "Expert Witness"

Over the past year Wheelwright Consultants has been selected to provide an "expert" opinion in a number of cases where hotel or restaurant guests have been injured.The cases that we have been involved with include: an three cases where a customer sustained a serious burn that resulted in a permanent scar from an overly hot beverage; where a guest was permanently injured when the chair he was sitting in collapsed; an instance where a guest sustained a permanent facial injury when he slipped getting out of the bathtub in a hotel; a situation where an improperly located stage resulted in a guest with an impairment falling off the stage and suffering a serious injury; and a case where the business is alleged to have failed to secure a space where an outside contactor had been working and the guest was severely injured after catching her ankle in a hole on the property. We have also been consulted on in a case where a guest died as a result of choking on food where no one in the business was choke-saver trained. (REMEMBER - In Massachusetts if you have a food license and can seat more than 25 people you must have someone on premises who is choke-saver trained anytime you are serving food!)

Although we can't discuss the specifics of any case, we can state that in each of these cases there were allegations that the hotel or restaurant failed to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance or operation of the business. All of the injuries sustained by the alleged victims were serious resulting in permanent scarring, a permanent disability or death. Even if the hotel or restaurant is ultimately found not to have been at fault, they will sustain serious expenses related to their legal defense and may have a serious negative impact on their reputation and business.

We urge you to check your policies and procedures to make sure your business is safe and your employees know how to respond in case of a guest injury.


MASSACHUSETTS' Sick Pay Regulations

As of July 1, 2015 all Massachusetts' employers must have a sick leave program for their employees. The specifics of the program are based upon the average number of employees per week. Employers with 10 or fewer employees per week must allow the employees to have unpaid sick leave while those with 11 or more employees must provide paid sick leave. 

Here is a summary of the regulations:

  • Employees earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
  • Employees can earn and use up to 40 hours of sick leave a year.
  • Employees can roll over up to 40 hours of unused sick leave from one year to the next.
  • Employees begin earning sick leave on their first day of employment, but may not use if during the first 90 days of employment.
  • Paid sick leave can be used in increments of one (1) hour when the employee, their child, spouse, or parent(s) are sick, for a medical appointment, or to address the effects of domestic violence.
  • Employees must be paid their regular hourly wage for the sick wage, except for tipped employees who must be paid the State minimum wage.
  • Use of sick leave for purposes other than those listed above may result in disciplinary action.
  • Except in cases of emergencies, employees must notify their employer in advance of using the sick leave.
  • Employees who miss three (3) consecutive shifts or who are sick within the two (2) weeks prior to leaving a job may be required to provide medical documentation of their illness.
  • Employers may not retaliate against employees who use their earned sick leave.


Press Release--Wheelwright Consultants Completes Foodborne Illness Investigation and Recall Response Training

Eric F. Nusbaum, founder and principal of Wheelwright Consultants, recently completed training in Foodborne Illness Investigation and Recall Response given by the National Environmental Health Association in Southborough, MA. Participants in the program came from a wide variety of backgrounds: chain and independent restaurants, grocery stores, health departments, and food safety consultants. More than two dozen participated in the full-day program. The training was given in conjunction with the Massachusetts Restaurant Association as part of the Association’s commitment to improving the relationship between food safety regulators and operators and as part of the Association’s on-going commitment to protect the health of the American public.

Nusbaum, who founded the hospitality management and food safety consulting firm in 1995, was the only participant from Western Massachusetts attending the program.  Asked about the program, Nusbaum said that the presenters were very good and that they provided participants with a wealth of materials and forms that would be useful in investigating a foodborne illness outbreak or in working with food processors to handle a product recall. Nusbaum said that Wheelwright Consultants is working with a number of individuals and firms that are starting to produce specialty food products in Western Massachusetts and that having this training and information would be extremely valuable in the unlikely situation where one of these producers would have to institute a recall of products. Information provided in the program indicates that the number one reason that a producer would recall a food product is the undeclared presence of an allergen or due to a labeling error. While food products may be recalled when there is evidence that they could cause an illness, this is actually the case in a minority of recalls.

The program also reviewed the steps to be taken when investigating a reported foodborne illness, including taking case histories of those involved, conducting an environmental assessment of the business implicated in the outbreak, proper epidemiologic procedures, and implementation of corrective actions.





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