More than 60 percent of all foodborne disease outbreaks in the U.S. are caused by restaurants. If your restaurant has not, to your knowledge, caused a foodborne disease outbreak, that doesn’t mean it isn’t causing sporadic cases of illness that can occur outside of an outbreak. In a recent webcast from Food Safety Magazine, Hal King, managing partner of Active Food Safety, cited the example of one strain of Salmonella that the CDC traced backed to a single restaurant over the course of 10 years. The pathogen was on different surfaces around the restaurant over that period of time, causing sporadic illnesses there. If you hear of a guest becoming ill, consider it a warning sign about your food safety and a reason to investigate customer complaints you have received in the previous month. What patterns do you see that might help you zero in on problems in your processes?
Ten to 15 percent of Americans identify as vegetarian or vegan, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group – and three-fifths of U.S. households now eat vegetarian at least on occasion. These figures represent an all-time-high, and they are likely to expand even further, considering half of all vegans are young adults in their 20s and 30s, according to research from Faunalytics. As more of your guests look for vegetarian or vegan options, what are you doing to avoid cross-contamination with meat? At a time when restaurants are scaling back on their real estate, it may be difficult to avoid grilling a veggie burger on the same surface as a beef burger. Some restaurant brands have even stepped away from calling their vegetarian items meat-free due to the possibility of cross-contamination. If you have more guests looking for purely vegetarian or vegan options, tools like PTFE baskets or mats may be able to help keep these items separate on the grill.
At your restaurant, do in-person safety audits feel like a relic of the pre-pandemic era, or have you reverted back to those routines? In a recent report from Modern Restaurant Management, Kari Hensien of RizePoint says the shift to remote audits and self-inspections may be one of the best things to come from the pandemic: It has made it possible for restaurants to audit more frequently and with a combination of tools. As a result, audits may feel less like intimidating events and more like ongoing check-ups designed to support continuous improvement. While an in-person presence has its benefits too, taking full advantage of technology as an auditing tool can help you spot small problems more quickly and with greater precision. When the required course-correction is minor and feels less punitive, staff morale is likely to benefit too.
Your restaurant has likely had to make big changes to adapt to new consumer habits in the past few years. If you’re juggling a new mix of order streams, you may also be adjusting to new traffic patterns, as well as to new food preparation and service areas required to support changes to your business. This can create opportunities for cross-contamination, as well as missed temperature checks or overall quality checks. Make sure your food and safety training accurately reflects your work flow and – if your technology isn’t already helping to direct traffic – that your team knows how to respond to (and ensure the safety and quality of) orders coming from multiple sources.
Your food safety record is in the hands of your staff – and any employee retention problems you’re experiencing can chip away at your restaurant’s institutional knowledge. What’s more, poor retention creates a greater likelihood that risks will be overlooked and cause problems. Taking some simple steps to retain staff can have a positive knock-on effect on your safety. Help your team avoid burnout this winter: Using scheduling software that allows staff to select and swap their shifts can help, as well as having (and communicating) a clear policy ensuring that everyone is healthy when they come to work. Finally, know what boundaries you’re unwilling to cross to accommodate a demanding guest – standing up for a employee can go far in protecting morale and retaining your overall team.
Times of high inflation and consumer demand place added pressure on suppliers to deliver to their customers. Even if you pride yourself on your restaurant’s safety practices and record, your business is only as safe as its supply chain. Protecting it, and, by extension, your own ability to ensure quality for your guests, comes down to transparency. How well do you trust each link in your supply chain? Where can you develop a better relationship with certain suppliers? You can digitally manage your supplier certifications and flag any potential gaps for further investigation – or to simply prompt a conversation that can help you build trust with suppliers.
Chances are you have people from a range of generations on your team – and the mix is always shifting. That has an impact on how your food safety training is received and how it must be delivered as a result. According to operators at the 16th annual Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium, multigenerational teams often need varying instruction. For example, the fast-casual brand Noodles & Company employs workers across four generations – and the restaurant’s director of food safety and quality assurance says the brand’s younger workers respond best to 30-second instructional videos, while their older team members tend to respond best to written cards. If you’re getting mixed food safety results in your restaurant, it may be worthwhile to take a closer look at your training and seeking feedback from staff about how they learn best – whether due to generational differences or simply preferences. You want to make sure your most important lessons are being delivered in ways that are most likely to be absorbed.
Beginning this month, sesame legally became the ninth major food allergen that requires clear labeling if it is an ingredient in a food product. According to Food Safety Magazine, cross-contamination and mislabeling of food have caused allergens to be the most frequent reason for food recalls each year. It’s a good time to give your team a refresher on overall allergen awareness and the steps needed to document training and prevent cross-contamination in your operation.
Little seems to spread more reliably than norovirus – or the fear of catching one. In a grab bag of seasonal illnesses, norovirus still stands out for its potential impact on businesses. According to a recent FDA study on norovirus prevention, excluding ill employees from the workplace had the biggest impact on consumer illnesses and also resulted in fewer norovirus cases. But the study also found that excluding ill employees was most effective when the business took extra precautions – such as increased handwashing in general, handwashing prior to the use of gloves, eliminating the need for employees to have hand contact with restroom surfaces, and improving the cleaning and sanitizing of restroom surfaces. Looking at these practices, is there room for your business to make changes? Doing so could help you dodge norovirus, along with other illnesses making the rounds this winter.
Restaurants looking to improve or sustain their food safety records have several hurdles to clear right now: Even if the business has solid training materials and is keeping up with increased onboarding of new employees, the restaurant could still fall short on the follow-up and allow a problem to slip by simply because it was not tracked. When a food safety problem occurs in your restaurant, what corrective action is required? Who is responsible for correcting it? How will a problem be tracked to ensure progress and prevent recurrence? Documenting your food safety procedures from start to finish and clarifying how you will manage the back end of an issue can help you ensure that the steps you take early on to protect safety are supported with strong follow through and a clear set of corrective actions.