A hands-off approach to food safety

Wingstop Restaurants Inc. has a laser focus on food safety. The motivation is strong since its star product, chicken wings, comes in fresh to each of the Dallas-based chain’s 300 restaurants.

Safe handling is essential for raw chicken to avoid cross contamination with other products, according to food safety experts.

From twice-hourly temperature checks to stringent requirements for hand washing, Wingstop has developed procedures that all of its restaurants are required to follow.

Handling is at a minimum. The fresh wings arrive in boxes in vacuum packages, pre-cut and ready to be cooked. The boxes are stored in a main cooler, separate from produce and other items. As needed, the wings are rotated from the back to the front of the cooler, and then out to a second, smaller cooler next to the bank of fryers.

 “The first time it is really touched by human hands is when it goes into the fryer,” said Bill Knight, Wingstop’s chief operating officer.

To limit touching, cooks keep one hand behind their back, almost in a military pose. They dip into the box of chicken to pluck out the wings, using either their hand or tongs. After they drop the product into the fryer, they step to a sink outfitted with a foot pedal and wash their hands.

In addition to hand washing sinks, Wingstop kitchens have two large sinks, one with three compartments to wash, rinse and sanitize utensils, another with two compartments that is dedicated to produce. Wingstop is known for its fresh-cut fries and other sides, including potato salad, made from scratch in each store.

For the raw ingredients, maintaining proper temperature is important to control potentially harmful bacteria like salmonella from growing. Salmonella can cause flu-like symptoms.

Managers are required to check cooler temperatures every two hours and note them in a log. Corporate field staffers inspect the logs when they visit restaurants. It is considered a “critical violation” if they are not in compliance with this requirement.

“In no way is this to be taken lightly,” said Knight. “The last thing you want to do is make someone sick.”