5 tips to keep breakfast buffets safe

(Plates of food with a sneezeguard over them)

Surveys and reviews don't lie: Hotel guests love breakfast. But if the proper precautions aren't taken, those popular buffets can become hotbeds of bacteria and germs with the potential to make those who consume wish they had not. Fortunately, there are a number of steps hotels can follow that reduce the risk and keep satisfaction high.

1. Training

Food safety is a philosophy that starts from the top down, according to Ryan Bing, senior manager, F&B operations for the Denver Marriott West.

"Our guest’s safety is our No. 1 priority. And we walk the talk," he said. "Each culinarian is food safety certified through both internal and external programs. Our leaders are trained to observe and correct any behaviors which may place our guests or our hosts at risk. We conduct numerous audits and safety inspections throughout the operation."

In addition, Bing said the property's chef has developed a strong relationship with the local food regulatory agencies and has been invited to help dictate policies and procedures for the safety of the local community. 

2. Allocation of Resources

According to Justin Harkey, corporate director of food & beverage for First Hospitality Group, one key consideration is allocation of resources, especially when it comes to self-serve areas.

"The goal is not to put out 200 plates all at once and say that is going to take care of the entire meal period," he said. "You want to put out 10 to 15 or so, or from underneath the counter to up on top. You want to limit the exposure to your small wares from a plate standpoint, from a serving utensil standpoint."

Harkey said buffet attendants go through every 10 or 15 minutes or so to use sanitizer on the counter and replace soiled utensils.

3. Proper Portions

Allocation of resources extends to the amount of food as well.

"Our most closely watched items are our hot food items on our buffet," Bing said. "These items are cooked under close supervision and are served in our industry-preferred induction chaffing dishes. These items are constantly checked and monitored by all leaders throughout service time. We only produce the amount anticipated, and therefore can offer incredibly fresh items."

4. Reduce Cross-Contamination

Buffets present another level of risk—the possibility of contamination from guests. Bing said his hotel follows a number of procedures to prevent and reduce cross-contamination in self-serve areas.

"Sneezeguards; individual bowls, plates, and serving utensils for each item; covers on all hot items; and a buffet attendant are all ways we monitor and prevent this type of contamination," he said. "We also instruct our service team to always clear service items that have been used and offer a new plate and silverware for every trip to the buffet."

5. Heating and Cooling

Anthony Hull, the director of restaurant operations and executive chef at the Orlando Airport Marriott Lakeside, also recommends making sure items are sufficiently cooled with ice or heated with steam wells, as needed.

Charles d’Ablaing, executive chef at the Hotel Sorella Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, pointed out that despite having a bad reputation, eggs are actually quite safe.

"They are stored at room temperature in any other country in the world, not in a cooler," he said. "We're the only ones that do that, just because we want to be extra safe about them. [Safety] is relatively simple. Just make sure you're watching your time, make sure you're watching your temperature, make sure you're watching your dates."