Chipotle has faced E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus outbreaks over the past year and suffered a huge decline in sales, which contributed to the decline of its share price to $339 from a high of $757. Foodservice operations are responsible for seven out of 10 foodborne illnesses, according to the Journal of Food Protection. Incidents can have a massive effect on consumer trust and restaurants' valuations. Food safety should be at the front of every executive’s mind.
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 plummeted. Shares of Jack in the Box, then trading as parent company Foodmaker Inc., fell from highs around $14 before the outbreak to under $10.
It would seem like nothing has changed with food safety in our industry, but that’s not true. Today, there are innovative companies 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 four essential aspects of food safety programs:
1. Don't ignore fruits and vegetables when it comes to food prep
Despite the attention meat receives, half of the items on the top 10 list of U.S. Foodborne Illness Outbreaks are fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables need to be carefully handled, cleaned and stored, because they are grown in dirt and sometimes the harvesting conditions lack sanitary conditions. As consumers demand healthier menus, more restaurants are serving raw produce such as salads, juices, and salsas. All-natural fruit and vegetable washes can, if used correctly, kill 99.99% of salmonella, E. coli, listeria, and coliform bacteria within 15 seconds.
2. Manage hazards across your supply chain
The FDA is only able to physically examine 2.1% of imported food coming into the US. The agency would do more, but 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.
Monitoring all possible hazards across the supply chain is a necessity. First, clearly outline food safety requirements within purchasing agreements. Ensure a reporting system is in place for conducting and storing audits of high-risk products on a regular basis. Finally, use a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)-based approach to assess food safety procedures, and sample and test incoming products. Electronic HACCP systems allow easy implementation across a restaurant chain, and most are built into back-office and restaurant management software. Now, 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 these systems 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 that critical items are kept safe.
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.
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. 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 ensures processes are followed as employees are required to complete a digital checklist using a mobile app. Data is recorded in the cloud providing a digital trail. In the event of non-compliance an alert is sent to the 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. With the recent food safety issues Chipotle has experienced, it's vital to make food safety a top priority. Recently, Chipotle hired former FDA official David Acheson as a Food Safety advisor. 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. Restaurant owners must devote significant resources toward enhancing food safety and avoiding any future loss to brand value.
Niall Keane Niall Keane, CEO of SynergySuite Restaurant Management Software, has over 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry. His clients include top restaurant companies and many of the nation's fastest growing and well-respected brands. www