The pandemic brought about a number of direct and indirect challenges to food safety in restaurants. It ushered in new regulations, as well as increased staff absence and turnover, which have added a new wrinkle to food safety – and have made ongoing training all the more important. Despite that, many managers of quick-service restaurants have had to cancel or delay employee training, according to a survey of quick-service operations in the U.S. and other countries by the National Sanitation Foundation International. The research found that a lack of immediately available training, as well as inconsistent quality of courses, have had a detrimental impact on food safety. Has your food safety training been delayed or compromised in recent months? As you consider functions to automate or outsource, where might you make food safety less dependent on having staff on hand to provide training? What repetitive tasks and training could you automate or delegate to video aides to ensure they don’t fall through the cracks?
In an era when news about foodborne illness at a restaurant can spread faster than the illness itself, operators need to know the origins of the food they serve – and to be able to access those details quickly. To enhance communication with supply chain partners, many suppliers are adopting two-dimensional barcodes, such as QR codes, in place of traditional barcodes on products. As a Modern Restaurant Management report indicates, 2D barcodes bring together a far more substantial amount of data, enabling chefs to quickly pull up such details as a product’s country of origin, fair-trade practices and sustainability, among other information. Having a greater depth of information about a product enhances recall management, allowing suppliers to pull products from the supply chain and alert customers more quickly. Restaurant operators, in turn, can share this information with guests looking for greater transparency about their food.
As of this writing, the Farm Bill – the most significant piece of legislation related to agriculture – was due to be negotiated in Congress. The current Farm Bill, which was enacted in 2018, is due to expire in 2023. It includes a wide range of provisions in areas including disaster programs, export credit guarantee programs, infrastructure and technology development, and protective actions needed to minimize the risk of pathogens in the food and water supply. Regional interests play a key role in the bill, so organizations in the foodservice industry should know how their interests may be impacted in the upcoming bill. The Council for State Governments provides background on what’s included, as well as links to additional resources.
If one of your guests were to get sick after eating with you, how quickly could you identify the source of the problem and, if necessary, eliminate it from your menu? Your ability to digitally trace each ingredient on your menu back to its source – and to do so quickly – can help you contain the problem before it impacts more guests and damages your restaurant’s reputation. As you work with suppliers day to day, ensure they can provide standardized data to trace ingredients with transparency. Understand how they will track an ingredient through the system, alert you in the event of a problem, and how easily they can be reached if you have an issue.
Beyond the dangers food allergies can cause to health and safety, allergic reactions can deliver unwanted publicity to restaurants – and that has been happening with greater frequency as food allergies have become more prevalent. According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team, the number of people with a food allergy in America has doubled in each of the last decades. Having systems to get accurate, up-to-date allergy information to your guests when they need it is more important than ever – and it can earn you a loyal following of guests who trust your brand with their health. Consider leveraging tabletop technology to provide detailed information about your menu. The full nutritional information of a dish can be accessible via a tablet and updated electronically and automatically across your locations. Receiving this information directly from the restaurant can also minimize the stress a guest may feel when a server has to check with the chef about allergy information and then relay the message back.
As the cooler months approach and your staff comes to work in bulkier clothing and footwear to protect against the elements, these items may introduce contamination or pose safety risks to your food preparation and serving areas. According to Steritech, this is among the top 10 food safety challenges in foodservice operations. To minimize your risk, make sure you have a separate area for your staff to stow coats, bags and other gear – and that this area is regularly cleaned out and inspected for potential contaminants, as well as for risks for slips, trips and falls.
Review your disaster response plan
A pandemic, record-setting inflation, supply-chain struggles, weather emergencies. As punishing as these times continue to be for the foodservice industry, they may also be affirming times for those who have managed to keep operations going. The businesses that are in the best position to survive in this dynamic environment tend to be those that have planned for emergencies. For better or worse, foodservice businesses are among the last businesses to close before a disaster and among the first expected to reopen after one, which makes emergency planning critical to keeping your staff and guests safe, protecting your operation’s sensitive information, and getting back on track quickly after a crisis.
Your disaster response plan is one piece of this effort. Your plan should establish a team with designated roles to help you manage in a crisis and include up-to-date information on emergency contacts, insurance coverages (limits may have changed in the current market), communication protocols and other information you need to manage the resources your business needs to resume operations after an interruption. If you need help, or simply a review of what’s important to have on hand, the National Restaurant Association recently released a guide entitled Always Ready: Natural Disasters to help restaurants prepare. It brings together best practices from human resources and risk managers from independent and national restaurant brands to recommend actions for operators to take before, during and after a natural disaster. You can find the guide at www.restaurant.org.
Where are your operation’s biggest slip-ups when it comes to food safety? Improving upon them may simply be a case of making the right behaviors more visible, obvious and easy to carry out. Wherever possible, bring food safety tasks out into the open, so everyone on staff can see others doing them – or be forced to ask if they are in doubt about what they need to do. It creates some positive peer pressure to replicate those efforts across the team. Line up your stations in the order in which tasks should be completed so your team doesn’t have to think about what comes next – ensure the next step is right in front of them.
Food safety is not a one-and-done exercise but something that requires ongoing reinforcement. That can feel like a chore if your team finds the training repetitive, or if they believe some of the more meticulous aspects of food safety regulation are overkill. Get beyond this resistance by explaining the why – and the personal stories – behind the tasks and training you assign. Why do the current regulations exist? What problems can they prevent? Consult food safety trainers for a list of concrete examples of when food safety protocols failed – and how small mistakes in following protocol can become substantial problems.
Does it actually reflect the team you currently have and the functions it serves? In a recent food safety webinar for foodservice professionals, the majority of attendees surveyed said that while they have a food safety plan, their plan doesn’t flex based on who at the company is involved and what their functions are. At a time when responsibilities are shifting and you’re likely having to complete more tasks with fewer people, it’s important to view your food safety plan through that lens. Where do you need to make adjustments to your team’s responsibilities to ensure you’re not letting food safety slip?