At the Sodexho-operated dining operations at JC Penney’s headquarters complex in Plano, TX, you may actually be able to eat off the floor, as the old saying about ultra-clean kitchens says. That’s because the operation, which often feeds more than 5,000 customers a day, recently received its eighth excellence in sanitation top honor (Full-Service Corporate Dining category) in the past 10 years from the city of Plano.
The award is given annually by the city’s Environmental Health Dept. during National Food Safety Awareness Month (September). It recognizes foodservice establishments in various categories that have achieved and maintained the highest standards of food safety and sanitation. To win, an operation must achieve a perfect score on all health department inspections—a minimum of four visits—over the course of the previous 12 months.
Jeanne Stone, general manager for Sodexho at JC Penney, attributes the string of success to her background. “I had the mother from hell when it came to cleaning,” she says. “When she said ‘clean,’ she meant ‘brand new’! I learned that wiping isn’t cleaning and cleaning isn’t sanitizing.”
The extent of the dining operations at JC Penney is considerable: two full cafeterias, two coffee shops plus a branded Starbucks operation, a gift shop, a public bistro, reserved dining, catering, vending and food for an onsite daycare operation accommodating 220 children.
“To be successful with such a large operation, we certainly have to keep up with food safety policies,” Stone comments. “We do extensive training, ongoing, twice a month.”
The facilities are about 60 years old, “but it was built well and we have a great partnership with the client, which does a great job of maintaining the walls and floors,” she adds. “That makes our job easier.”
But the awards are not just for well-maintained infrastructure. Stone’s Sodexho team has become expert at the basic “blocking and tackling” that is at the heart of any quality food safety program. “Our goal every day is, when the lights go out, it looks like nobody’s ever worked there before— everything is scrubbed down and put away,” Stone says.
Also, she adds, nothing is held over from one day to the next and a lot of the cooking is done in front of customers in small batches to minimize the risks associated with holding (and maintain food quality).
Stone says she considers it a big part of her job to convey the seriousness with which food safety is to be regarded to her staff of nearly 50. She jokes that they have become so hypersensitized to the subject that they come back talking about sanitation-related lapses they observe when they eat at restaurants. “They now notice every detail and come back telling me about it...”