According to the Journal of food protection, 7 of 10 foodborne illness outbreaks originate in foodservice operations. Food safety should be at the front of every executive’s mind. Incidents can have a massive effect on consumer trust and your company’s valuation. Chipotle, which has faced a number of E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus outbreaks over the past year suffered a huge decline in sales, which contributed to the decline of its share price to $388 from a 52 week high of $757.
Outbreaks in foodservice operations are not new. 23 years ago Jack in the Box’s deadly E. coli outbreak affected over 600 people and 73 Jack in the Box restaurants were ultimately identified as part of the outbreak. Sales and profits quickly dropped. Shares of Jack in the Box, then trading as parent company Foodmaker Inc., fell from highs around $14 before the outbreak to below $10.
It would seem like nothing has changed with food safety in our industry, but that’s not true. There are more innovative companies today that are focused on enhancing food safety at restaurants. These businesses can only be part of the solution. More importantly, restaurants need a comprehensive food safety program. Here are 4 things every food safety program must include:
1. When it Comes to Food Prep Don’t Ignore Fruits & Vegetables
When it comes to safely preparing food at restaurants, a lot of attention seems to go to meat products, but the fact is that when it comes to foodborne illnesses, half of the items on the top 10 list are not meats — they are fruits and vegetables.
As consumers demand healthier menus, more restaurants are serving raw produce such as salads, juices, and salsas. Fruits and vegetables need to be carefully handled, cleaned and stored. eatCleaner is an all-natural fruit and vegetable wash that if used correctly can kill 99.99% of salmonella, E. coli, listeria, and coliform bacteria within 15 seconds. Fruits and vegetables are, after all, grown in dirt and sometimes the harvesting conditions lack sanitary conditions.
2. Manage Hazards Across Your Supply Chain
The FDA is only able to physically examine 2.1% of imported food coming into the US. Why doesn’t the agency do more? Because about $2.1 trillion worth of products are imported each year. Locally sourced ingredients might not be any safer when you consider 59% of food manufacturing facilities investigated do not meet FDA requirements.
You have to take food safety matters into your own hands when it comes to monitoring all of the possible hazards across the supply chain. Firstly, make sure you have clearly outlined food safety requirements within your purchasing agreements. Ensure a reporting system is in place for conducting and storing audits of high-risk products on a regular basis. Lastly, use a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)-based approach to assess your food safety procedures, and sample and test incoming products. SynergySuite has an electronic HACCP system that allows you to easily implement these controls across a restaurant chain. You can record tests of products at each store location from loading dock to diner’s plate using a phone or tablet and these records are instantly shared with corporate via the cloud.
The intelligence of SynergySuite provides corrective action suggestions for any items that test out-of-compliance during all critical control points in the intake, storage, prep, chill, and reheat phases of food handling. Also, internal compliance teams or Food Safety Managers are automatically alerted to any issues during these analysis/control points to ensure you stay on top of critical items.
3. Implement Supply Chain Traceability
Foodservice companies are adopting a common global language when it comes to food safety — GS1 Standards — which serves as one source of the truth to share and understand information about food and drink inventory. These standards track individual items as they move throughout the supply chain and help identify supply chain event locations.
Many foodservice operators are now outlining expectations for trading partners around the use of GS1-128 barcode case labels in their purchasing agreements. The barcode carries dynamic data such as dates, batch or lot numbers, carton or pallet info, etc.
FoodLogIQ is a leading software service that provides end-to-end traceability across the supply chain using GS1 standards. It’s used by restaurant chains such as Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Subway, and Cava Grill.
4. Administer Strict Cleaning Practices
Every employee should know what tools and substances are to be used when cleaning food, food surfaces, equipment, and other areas of contact. You should have strict cleaning practices in place for the use of raw foods, such as meats, ready-to-eat foods such as lettuce, and allergenic products such as peanut butter. These processes should be clearly documented and communicated to all store level staff.
Lapses often occur with new employees who are not properly trained or when there is a change in company policy, which are typically hard to administer across a multi-unit restaurant. An electronic HACCP system like SynergySuite ensures processes are followed as employees are required to complete a digital checklist via SynergySuite’s HACCP mobile app. Data is recorded in the cloud providing a digital trail. In the event of non-compliance an alert is sent to your Compliance Team or Food Safety Manager, who can rectify it with additional training if needed.
The foodservice industry is changing fast, social media has empowered consumers with a platform to voice praise or to criticize restaurants - which can have significant impact on trust, brand value, and sales.
Over the past 6 months, Chipotle, to its credit, has made Food Safety a top priority. It’s devoting significant resources toward enhancing food safety and avoiding any future loss to brand value. Recently, Chipotle hired former FDA official David Acheson as a Food Safety advisor. Mr. Acheson formerly worked at Jack in the Box and is credited with fixing food safety at the fast-food chain following its deadly E. coli outbreak in the 1990s. I guess history repeats itself, but it doesn’t have to.
Let’s be careful out there.