Technical Aspects of Food Safety

October 2, 2009 at 9:10 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
   Knowing what I know now, which I will keep as a surprise for you, I was wondering if I should post this at all.  But I wrote it, and I’m gonna.  It’s probably not that interesting.  Should I highlight the funny parts for you?
  One of the exciting things one has to look forward to when working in a chain restaurant/franchise/whatever is the arbitrary application of rules mis-enforced and randomly directed for incoherent reasons and over-exaggerated importance.  In other words, The Big Inspection.
  They can come annually, or quarterly, or if you work in a really sadistic place, monthly.  If you are getting monthly inspections your upper management has too much time on their hands.  Not only that, it’s an indicator that the corporate structure is top-heavy and any chance you may have had for a decent bonus as percentage of profit is eaten up by the unnecessary layers in the office, who spend their time and actually have meetings and spreadsheets trying to figure out how to keep the people who work in the store from getting more of the bonus that they earned so that it will go to them.
  At Domino’s this Big Inspection is called the OER, and I could give a shit less what it stands for.  We get it twice a year.  Ever since July, there has been the big push to get ready for the second inspection.  This OER has a hyper-inflated sense of importance over things that used to matter, like making a good pizza, raising sales, and running costs.  The OER measures things like:
  Store cleanliness.  I’ll get to that.  Oh, but just let me say this:  it’s a bunch of fucking bullshit what happened to me in 1996.  I was manager of a store that I had completely turned around.  I had sales up 24 goddamn percent over the previous year.  I had turned it from a pathetic shithole to a pathetic shining star.  I was profiting, and I had gotten several raises as we.  I was a golden boy.
  During a week of my big sales blitz called a mega-week, the Director of Operations, Gary, came in to my store Friday afternoon before dinner rush.  I thought it was to see how well things were going, give me a pep talk, a little pat on the shoulder, or something like that.  Instead he derided me because the tile baseboards in the back of the store were dirty–still dirty, even though I had been told last week to get them cleaned.  Never mind that I was busy with this promotion and on pace to not only break the old store record but stomp on it and make it my bitch.  Never mind that I was profiting, raising sales, and giving good service.  My baseboards in the back of the store that no one sees are dirty, and maybe they should think about replacing me.
  And several months later, they did.
  Service times.  Even though we haven’t had a guarantee since 1993, we (and other pizza chains) have to have an arbitrary metric to measure service so that bonus points and money can be deducted from the manager.  Although survey after survey as well as tons of anecdotal evidence supports the completely logical notion that customers don’t care as much about exactly how long it takes for delivery as much as they care about getting an accurate estimate, Domino’s Pizza continues to measure based on the faulty yardstick of a thirty-minute delivery.
  Not only that, but if the pizza leaves the store in over 15 minutes, it is counted towards bad service.  Eighty-five percent or more of the deliveries MUST leave the store in less than 15.  If they leave at over 20 minutes, they are automatically counted as a late.  Only a small percentage of any deliveries in any Domino’s take ten minutes or more to drive there.
  So these are faulty metrics.  My own experience since 1993 can be summarized in this conversation, a conglomeration of THOUSANDS that I have had in the past 16 years:
  "Okay, your total is 17.83, and we’ll have that out to you in 35 to 45 minutes."
  "Okay, great.  Thanks."
  Once in a while–especially from 1993-1996–you would get a sorehead who would claim to want it in 30 minutes.  But in actuality, what they wanted was 3 bucks off if we didn’t make it. 
  Uniform and Other Standards.  This is pretty much the definition of unimportant and arbitrary, and yet there are hundreds of people employed and millions spent on enforcing these "standards."  I know and I understand that in a corporate environment, you want to strip people of individuality and replace it with "professionalism," which means applying uniform standards as a matter of life and death.  Seriously.  I have to wear a belt?  I have to, to hold up my pants, actually.  But I have to for the job? 
  How is wearing jeans going to keep me from being more effective at my job?  Conversely, how does wearing khakis make me better at my job?
  Product properly dated and stored.  Listen, I’ve had my food service safety and sanitation certification.  I know about food storage, expiration dating, and so forth.  Maybe I know too much.
  I know, for instance, that for many things that are dated the dating process defines the word arbitrary.  Consider this:  a long time ago, in a pizza place far, far away, we were having a problem with the green peppers–they would expire within five days of getting them, because they had seven days on them, and two of those were in transit.  "Is there any way," we asked, "to get green peppers with a longer shelf life?"
  The DNC, Domino’s National Commissary, owned and operated by DPI, or Domino’s Pizza Inc, came up with a revolutionary, ground-breaking solution:  They changed the dates on the green peppers so they had nine days instead of seven, giving us seven days instead of five.
  Did they use a different process to prepare the green peppers for us?  Nope.  Did they use different green peppers, or a different supplier?  Nope and nada.  Did they spray the green peppers or soak them in a preservative that will eventually alter our DNA and mutate us into half-human, half-goat monsters?  Hah!  I wish.  Not a ba-a-a-a-d idea, though.
  No, they just changed the dates.
  It was a revelation for me.  How do you know when anything is *really* expired?  Really?  Because it *says* so?  Who says?  If the bread is moldy, most likely I’m not going to eat it.  Hell, if it’s hard, I’m not going to.  If raw meat has that sickly-sweet smell of rot, you definitely don’t want it.  If it’s starting to get slimy, you want to be careful.
  But cooked meat?  How long is cooked meat good for?  Refrigerated, seven days.  It says so right here.  But I…I don’t believe that anymore.  It’s good until it doesn’t seem appetizing.  I don’t believe in expiration dates.  I believe in…subjective analysis.
  Take this example.  Dried, cured, processed meat, like summer sausage or pepperoni should in theory last for a year, just hanging by a rope in your garage like drifter that you gave a ride to late one night.  But suddenly, once it is sealed in a bag and put in a box and shipped to you to put in your walkin, it’s only good for seven more days?  The shit is designed to outlast Armageddon but you can’t use it past the Fall Premiere of your favorite shows?
  Everything we make a pizza with is supposed to be refrigerated.  Everything.  Absolutely EVERYTHING, no exceptions.  This is sound food safety advice.  Everything.
  Well, the dough.  The dough has to proof.  To proof, it needs either time or temp or both.  You have to watch it, though, because dough is pretty volatile.  And to help that, you want the dough actually warm when you use it.  Why?  Because when it’s cold it holds its shape and is much easier to handle.  Therefore warm must be better.  These pizza scientist say that warm dough cooks and rises better and they have a point, to a certain degree.  I’m not even going to argue this one.  But I can make a pizza that you can’t tell whether the dough was warm or cold because mine is evenly shaped.  It’s easier to spread fear and control across the board.
  But that’s it, just the dough.  Everything else must be refrigerated.
  Wait, what about the sauce?  Oh, yeah.  It turns out that it’s better if you put the sauce on at room temperature.  I get that. I understand how much the difference between 70 degrees and 40 degrees makes when you put it in a 500 degree oven.  Also, it can only be at room temp for six or eight hours, so if it is out too long, you have to throw it out.
  But it–it’s not spoiled.  It doesn’t smell bad.  There’s nothing wrong with it.  There may be some accumulated bacteria over time but that is world in which we live.  Never mind; throw it out.  Then it’s waste.  Then you have to get more.  Buy more.  From whom do we purchase our foodstuffs?
  Why, DNC, which is owned by DPI.  All these small accumulated wastes based on random rules that have no real basis in the real world that the rest of us live in are conveniently arranged to cost the stores small amounts of money.  Multiply it by the over 5000 stores nationally, and you have a sweet little addition to the bottom line. 
  Maybe I’m just cynical.
  Except for this:
  These two certain sauces we use, the garlic parm and the marinara (not the pizza sauce; this stuff has texture and is for the pastas) is by standard mandatory that it be used at room temp.  Therefore it MUST be left out.  However, it has a room temp shelf life of eight hours.  In eight hours, you’re not going to use much.  Hell, in eight days we aren’t going to use much. 
  It would really matter not at all–it would not affect the quality one iota to use these in a refrigerated state.  But since we have to keep them at room temp, even in the smallest amount they are going to get wasted and thrown out.  But seriously, really–they DO NOT have to be at room temp to use.  We are not master chefs here.  This is Domino’s mother fucking Pizza, not some five-star restaurant that I’m too poor to even walk past.
  I understand that they want to be perfect in everything.  But that is a fallacy from the start, because if you wanted to be perfect in everything, you sure wouldn’t start at Domino’s.  Besides, although this stuff works well in the carefully controlled conditions of the Domino’s Pizza corporate test Kitchen, I live in the real world.  And in the real world, you can’t do everything the way you *want* to, because there are other consideration, like costs, the bottom line, and profitability.  In other words, reality.
  The public relations created answer is, of course:  well, you need to raise sales to a sufficient level at this store to not only use adequate amounts of the product but also offset any other wastes you may have.  Therefore, it is your failing that caused this problem.
  But again, I live in the real world.  There are only so many nickles you can squeeze out of a neighborhood for pizza.  It would be so much easy and much more logical to just be realistic.
  But I learned that you can’t argue with corporate; they are always right.  If they are wrong, you misunderstood, and they actually are right.

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