I only have 8 more days left of my food service rotation… woo hoo!
My internship program requires you to spend 11 weeks in schools for your food service systems management (FSSM) rotation. If you’ve been following my journey then you may have noticed that I only have to complete 7 weeks because I received Prior Assessed Learning (PAL) credit for some of my rotation. My FSSM rotation has been a unique experience because I have been a school nutritionist/supervisor for the past 5 years. I’ve planned a lot of menus and spent some quality time in kitchens during that time… and I’ve also supervised dietetic interns! Funny how the tables have turned :)
Now that I have had experience from both sides of the spectrum, here are some tips for completing a food service rotation:
Be familiar with safety & sanitation guidelines
No one expects an intern to be an expert but the kitchen staff will find it helpful if you know the basics of food safety & sanitation. The ServSafe book is an awesome resource for this. We may do some things as second nature in our kitchen at home when they are actually no-no’s in a commercial kitchen (like eating in the food prep area, rinsing off meat prior to cooking and towel drying dishes instead of allowing them to air dry). You will probably find it useful to brush up on this information prior to the beginning of your rotation.
Follow the dress code
Generally the dress code in kitchens is: restrained hair (with a hat or hair net), short/polish-free fingernails, short sleeves, slip-resistant closed-toe shoes, no jewelry except a plain wedding band and no perfume or body spray. Every establishment is a little different so be sure to ask about this in the beginning. Please do not go into a kitchen to work and disregard their dress code. It sends a negative message to the kitchen staff as well as your preceptor.
Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty in the kitchen!
Because trust me, you will get dirty :) Commercial kitchens can look intimidating but don’t let that stop you from jumping right into this rotation. Learn how to use all of the equipment. Prepare recipes. Serve customers. Spend a day in the dish room. Ask questions. One may think that you really don’t need this experience if you are ultimately going to be working in an administrative/office position in food service management… but I think understanding how a kitchen operates is the foundation for a successful operation. Something funny about this one is that I started working as a school nutritionist straight out of school and I had a degree in nutrition with no kitchen experience whatsoever. The thought of spending an entire day out in the kitchen made me want to wet my pants. But I can tell you from experience that I truly didn’t know what I was doing with my job until I felt comfortable out in the kitchens. It is impossible to do a good job from the office if you don’t understand what your staff does out in the kitchens.
Something you may find in food service is that unexpected issues arise on a regular basis. I actually think this is the most challenging aspect of working in food service. You have a plan and a nice to-do list and then all of the sudden the power goes out at a school. Or an employee gets injured. Or the dairy truck with all of the milk for lunch that day is running hot. So take advantage of any opportunity you have to complete assignments and do not wait until the last minute to get things done. I would actually recommend having all of your assignments completed prior to the last week of your rotation.
I hope those few tips are helpful to anyone who has yet to complete their FSSM rotation! Please note that these are going to be more from the perspective of working in school food service but I’m sure they could apply to other settings as well.