Cockroaches, Throwing Party Food Out (Every Time!) + More with Food Safety Maven Susan Algeo
Every once in awhile, there’s someone who comes along whose enthusiasm for food safety is off the charts.
Without a doubt, Susan Algeo is one of those people!
Susan is a food safety trainer and consultant with Food Safety Training Solutions, and to say she’s passionate about her work is a serious understatement. This close friend of Stop Foodborne Illness has a burning desire coursing through her veins when it comes to helping people prevent the physical and emotional devastation food poisoning can bring on. So, in honor of her outstanding work and dedication to a cause you care about, go ahead and take a few moments now to enjoy our spirited Q & A below with Susan.
Q: Tell us about your story, Susan. What motivated you to pursue a career in food safety?
A: Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a queen named Susan.
Okay, okay, that’s not exactly true. But I did get my food safety start as a queen!
My very first job was as at Dairy Queen. As a high school student, it was the perfect job. I could go in after track practice, hang with co-workers who became friends, and eat all the ice cream I wanted! Back then, I certainly never dreamed that my hours of cleaning and sanitizing the sundae bar, wiping down sticky tables, and checking the temperature of the milk would lead to such a rewarding and exciting career.
Throughout college I continued working in different restaurants and gained valuable experiences (good and bad, which I still share with clients today). I studied public health in college and, upon graduation, I realized I could combine my food service experience with my public health education. The day I trained my first food safety class I had that feeling of “This is it! This is what I’m meant to do!”
I’m so glad I found a career I love in which I’m improving public health every day. And, for the record, I can still dish out the best soft service ice cream cone this side of the Mississippi.
Q: What a great story, Susan—we love it! Now you’re working at Food Safety Training Solutions. What’s a day in the life like?
A: When I explain what I do to people outside the industry, I usually say “I tell restaurant workers to wash their hands, cook chicken, and clean their kitchens so people don’t get sick.”
And, to be perfectly honest, I spend a lot of my time doing just that.
As Director of Project Management at Food Safety Training Solutions, I do those things and so much more. I’m always balancing different activities and responsibilities, so no two days are ever the same. And I absolutely love that! It keeps me on my toes and moving forward. I really enjoy helping each client or student with their individual needs to help boost their food safety knowledge and capabilities. Some days I train food safety classes. Even with teaching the same material, every class is different. New students ask new and intriguing questions, and each person brings something different to the table.
As a consultant, I get to travel across the country to work with different organizations to update their procedures and improve food safety. Many clients we work with are wonderful, and they’re already doing things the right way. On the other side of the spectrum, we work with places that need our help after they’ve been shut down due to unsanitary conditions. Here’s a fun tip for those operations: wear a hood when you walk in! Cockroaches can fall from the ceiling into your shirt. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything … !
Q: For the training you do for restaurant employees, what seems to be the biggest obstacle in getting folks to follow better food safety practices?
A: As a trainer and consultant, I see people struggle every day with prioritizing food safety.
If you don’t prioritize it, it doesn’t get done. Period.
From fine dining to quick service restaurants and airports to convenience stores, I see this as the biggest issue. In the restaurant industry, people are moving a million miles per hour with competing priorities. Orders need to placed. Stock needs to be put away. New employees need to be trained. Employees need managing. Customers need assistance. And so much more. There isn’t enough time in the day for everything. And most operations see food safety as something they have to do—something to check off on their “to do” list.
Bottom line: Food safety MUST be a priority.
We count on everyone in the restaurant industry to keep our food safe. The chef needs to cook the food to the proper temperature. The dishwasher needs to check the sanitizer levels. The server needs to know the menu items to avoid food allergy risks. The manager needs to supervise all these moving parts. If an operation doesn’t have a food safety culture supported and encouraged at every level, it’s a major obstacle to overcome. And it can lead to devastating health consequences for people.
Q: When it comes to food safety tips for consumers, what’s ONE thing you’re super passionate about?
A: Hmmmm, ONE thing I’m super passionate about?!?!
That’s one thing, right?
Haha! OK, well, if I need to pick just one, it’s maintaining proper times and temperatures for foods.
I trust a restaurant to serve and sell us safe food. But, once it’s on the table, it’s our responsibility as consumers to keep it safe.
So, let me share some tips on this. I know you’ve heard them before, but they’re so important and can help save a life (maybe even yours).
If you’re taking home leftovers, make sure the food is put in the refrigerator right away. After eating, people will often visit with friends or run some errands or completely forget their food in the car. Then the next morning, after it has sat out—unrefrigerated for hours—they see it and think “Oh good, now I have lunch!” when they should be thinking “Oh no, now I have staphylococcus aureus!”
It’s really important to keep a close eye on time and temperatures at parties and picnics, too. Keep cold foods on ice and keep hot foods hot using warming devices or slow cookers. And here’s the biggie: At the end of the party, THROW THE FOOD AWAY. It’s been sitting in the temperature danger zone for too long and it’s simply not worth the risk. If you send people home with your extra food that was sitting out, you could be sending them home with foodborne illness!
You can probably see why I’m not invited out to dinner or summer cookouts very often. 😉
Q: On a personal level, what do you find most meaningful and rewarding about your work?
A: I enjoy the immediate impact I see in my customers.
Many of my colleagues from school went on to do amazing work in research, non-profit organizations, and the corporate world. But they’re sitting behind a desk or in a lab. As a consultant and trainer, I’m in front of my customers, so every day I can actually see changes being made and the positive difference I’m making. People in the restaurant industry are some of the most fun, outgoing, and entertaining folks you’ll ever meet. I feel extremely lucky to work with them and am grateful that my training can improve the health of so many people.
Q: Before we go, how can our readers help you with your work?
A: First and foremost, make food safety part of your daily routine.
At Food Safety Training Solutions, we’ve got a monthly newsletter that will provide you with a wealth of information. We gather current food safety news, offer tips and tricks, and include other useful information for everyone in the food service industry. To subscribe, click here.
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Susan Algeo is Director of Project Management at Food Safety Training Solutions. She’s a certified ServSafe instructor, a certified Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) manager, an allergen awareness trainer, and co-author of the SURE Food Safety Manager training manual. Susan has her Masters in Public Health in Behavioral and Community Health Sciences along with an undergraduate degree in Biobehavioral Health from Penn State. She is President of the New Jersey Association for Food Protection and, in her free time, Susan enjoys running marathons, skydiving, and watching way too much television.