7 steps to ensure restaurant food safety


From left to right: Peter Lipke and Greg Orman of Ecolab with Arturo Zarate of Guckenheimer

Collaboration – both within catering companies and with suppliers and industry peers – is crucial to ensuring a safe farm-to-fork food supply, agreed participants at the Eighth Annual Food Safety Symposium. food security event held in Denver this month.

During the two-day conference, sponsored by Ecolab and produced by Nation’s Restaurant News, nearly 40 food safety professionals discussed the many ways they build systems that encourage collaboration and vigilance, especially among employees. .

Food safety “should be a part of your core values,” William Moore, director of safety and security for Eat’n Park Hospitality Inc., the Homestead, Pa.-Based parent of the family-owned Eat’n Park restaurant in 75 units. chain, said during his opening speech. “If it’s not in your core values, your mission statement, then it’s not a priority.”

The symposium took place against the backdrop of a Cyclospora outbreak that had sickened 642 people in 25 states, resulting in 45 hospitalizations but no deaths, throughout the summer. The cause of the outbreak was still under investigation at the time of publication, although a salad mix from Taylor Farms of Mexico served at Darden Restaurants Inc. in two states has been implicated in around 240 of the illnesses. .

Discussing the outbreak at the symposium, William Marler, a Seattle-based food safety lawyer with MarlerClark, said he too was perplexed by the situation and had yet to file any complaints. The scale and complexity of the epidemic, however, underscored the responsibility of each actor in the chain from farm to fork.

Here are some other main takeaways from the symposium:

1. Make food safety training attractive. Hand washing and proper holding temperatures – the basics of food safety – haven’t changed in 30 years, said Moore of Eat’n Park. The key is to keep the message fresh so employees pay attention.

With a workforce largely under the age of 25, employers need to make sure their messages are quick and easy to understand. Moore said he relied on lots of colorful visuals and that custom posters, comics, video clips featuring celebrities, games like Pandemic 2, and stuffed animal germs and microbes were among the things. of his favorites.

Pulling on sensitive cords doesn’t hurt either, several participants said. Al Baroudi, Ph.D., vice president, quality assurance and food safety for The Cheesecake Factory Inc., the Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based operator of 175 upscale casual restaurants, shows his audience a picture of hundreds of children and adults who have died in foodborne illness outbreaks to bring the message that lives are on the line.

Communication and accountability

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Jack Quinn, vice president, industrial relations for Ecolab, warms up the kitchen in an interactive cooking workshop.

Food safety messages need to be worded differently for different constituents – especially to encourage collaboration, said Jorge Hernandez, senior vice president, food safety and quality assurance for US Foods, a Rosemont-based foodservice distributor, in Illinois. For example, employees at the unit level of Chick-fil-A receive a summary of inspections from his health department that eliminates agency talk and highlights the actions they need to take immediately, said Hal King. , Ph.D., food and product manager for the Atlanta-based 1,670-unit chain. security.

At US Foods, Hernandez hired a former regulator to effectively speak with inspectors. And senior executives need to hear the numbers – including risky sales in the event of a food safety event, as well as the costs associated with potential lawsuits – to capture their attention.

“We have to show a return on investment,” King said. “I can show how $ 10,000 invested will save $ 1 million.”

3. Emphasize that food safety is a shared responsibility. Quality assurance managers can be the face of a brand when it comes to food safety, but ensuring that food safety standards are met is a shared responsibility. Third-party reviews can be a powerful way to get this message across at home.

Chick-fil-A begins with daily self-assessments conducted in a downloadable self-assessment app. These results are reviewed instantly at the unit level and weekly at the enterprise level to identify potential issues. “We use smartphones to take advantage of employee behavior,” King said.

Likewise, third-party assessments are conducted one-on-one with real-time corrective actions. “We find a violation and we stay there and train them to the end,” King said.

Left to Right: Jeff Kenny, Quality Assurance Manager, Focus Brands; Rick Allen, Ecolab; Laura Fell, Ecolab; Arturo Zarate, National Executive Business Leader, Guckenheimer; Patrick Sterling, director of risk management, Texas Roadhouse; and Cindy Thompson, Ecolab

Family-owned restaurant chain Bob Evans Farms, which has 560 units, prepares its units for successful audits with an internal website that includes, among other information, sample audits so that unit-level employees have the tools necessary to pass real audits. Employees also have several references on food safety, sick workers and on-site cleaning.

Bob Evans publishes the audit results weekly and offers incentives, such as gifts, cash, and year-end bonuses, for outstanding performance. “The best part of my job is when I go out to see the managers and reward them,” said Richard McKinney, senior director of food safety and quality assurance for the Columbus-based chain, in the Ohio.

4. Pay attention to the maintenance temperatures of the product. Between 1998 and 2008, improperly holding food was the biggest risk factor for outbreaks of foodborne illness, Ecolab said, citing research results from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Meanwhile, the CDC has linked 504 restaurant outbreaks to poorly cooled food, she said.

Operators can help reduce food safety risks by ensuring that the preservation equipment they use is designed and maintained to keep food below 41 degrees Fahrenheit and above 135 degrees, and that employees regularly monitor foods in storage with calibrated thermometers, Petran said.

But while it may seem easy to achieve, Petran cited data collected from 420 restaurants, including chains and independent establishments, which showed that the ambient temperature in equipment containing cold food was above 41 degrees in 16 % of cases. In addition, related observations indicated that the cooling tanks were not shallow enough to ensure good contact between the food and the surfaces in direct contact with the cold baths; that there was limited ventilation in cold storage areas; that food was poorly stacked on top of each other in coolers; that there was an insufficient amount of ice in the cold baths; and that the managers who said they had been trained did not properly monitor the weather or temperatures 41% of the time and had problems calibrating thermometers 31% of the time.

Manage the crisis and do the right thing

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Emily Thompson, Senior Quality Assurance Manager for Red Robin, shares best practices during roundtable discussions.

At Texas Roadhouse, stress tests run with the help of a consultant give employees the ability to test procedures in real time and identify and correct deficiencies, said Patrick Sterling, director of risk management for Texas Roadhouse, based in Louisville, Kentucky. a casual dining chain of more than 400 units.

The simulations should incorporate all aspects of the tested management plan, Sterling said. For example, if the simulation is to test your company’s reaction to a major outbreak of foodborne illness, don’t start by understanding that an outbreak is happening and jump right into the reaction of company executives. , but instead start the exercise by faking calls from restaurants or health services to a company hotline, if that is the procedure.

“You can’t prepare for every crisis,” Sterling said. “So you have to have models of latent crisis and surprise crisis. Because each seizure is unique, tabletop exercises test the system. [Your plan] may look good on paper, but you need to test the system. “

6. Look for signs of potential problems and act on them. Keep a close eye on internal communications and public health developments for indications of possible food safety issues, counsel Marler advised.

Bill Marler of Marler Clark, the food safety law firm, provides legal information and advice to attendees during an interactive Q

“I can’t think of a foodborne illness outbreak that I’ve been involved in – and I always have the benefit of hindsight – that when you look at what happened before the outbreak, it wasn’t “There wasn’t always a sign or two that you could have done something to turn the bus around before it fell off the cliff,” noted the veteran litigator.

Marler has secured multi-million dollar compensation for victims of the deadly E. coli O157: H7 in several states in 1992-93 due to undercooked burgers sold by Jack in the Box. In this case, he cited an ignored pre-epidemic notification from the Washington State Department of Health regarding the need to cook burgers to an internal temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the standard of 140 degrees stated by the federal food code at the time. He also pointed to a suggestion faxed by a store employee with the idea of ​​grilling burgers longer because some were not fully cooked and customers were complaining.

Marler, who advocates a full range of disease testing and reporting by public health agencies, as well as additional manufacturing-level pathogen testing to prevent outbreaks, added that if California had been among the handful of states in 1992 that publicly reported O157: H7 diseases, the Jack in the Box outbreak could have been significantly mitigated because a smaller group of diseases preceded a much larger outbreak in Washington. Marler noted that social media makes this evidence even easier to secure these days.

7. Do whatever it takes. During a norovirus outbreak, Texas Roadhouse officials set up a hotline of nurses to answer calls from sick customers. They alerted the media that medical advice was available and were able to mitigate negative publicity and assure clients that their well-being was a priority.

“The key is to do the right thing,” Sterling said.

Contact Robin Lee Allen at [email protected].
Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].


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