The focus on food safety throughout the nation's food supply chain is at all-time high. Between consumer health issues brought about by the ingestion of unsafe products, and the outbreak of diseases that impact the food supply, it's imperative that operators continue to focus on protecting the lives and health of their guests. In short, in today's operating environment, restaurant owners simply must use food products and supplies from credible sources.
According to a June 2016 article in Economy in Crisis, 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. food supply comes from overseas, including two-thirds of our fruits and vegetables. While the Food Safety Modernization Act — passed by Congress in January 2011 — included provisions to improve the quality and safety of imported and domestically supplied food products, recalls and food-borne illnesses are still occurring at an alarming rate today as the result of tainted foods purchased from both groceries and restaurants.
For example, General Mills recently recalled 45 million pounds of flour, while the USDA called back 8,000 pounds of beef from a New Hampshire farm. For proof of the prevalence of tainted and otherwise problematic foods in circulation today, you need look no further than the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has an ongoing list of recalls and status alerts related to the problem.
These outbreaks occur for numerous reasons, including everything from improper food handling temperatures and procedures, to the unknowingly introducing diseased animals products into the food chain. In most cases, the disease isn't uncovered until someone gets sick.
The last thing farmers, restaurateurs or suppliers want to do is become the headline of a story highlighting one of these outbreaks. Here's what restaurant operators can do to protect their brand even when an outbreak occurs:
Step 1. Have a food safety plan in place.
This plan should begin with the original producer of the product a restaurant uses and then filter into all areas of the operation, according Fresh Concepts CEO David Liesenfelt. His company procures produce for restaurants and he said restaurateurs must have a way to trace the path of their products as they wind their way from farm to table.
Traceability is key to protecting your brand because it allows restaurant operators to track the type of produce used in a product pulled out of the location's pantry, all the way back to the original cultivator. From there, the farmer or rancher can determine where specifically in his or her operation the product came from and when and by whom it was shipped.
Step 2. Use a trusted, credible supplier.
The best suppliers and manufacturers today use a third-party, and sometimes even a second-party, audit system to ensure food safety protocols are both in place and followed. These types of reliable, well-documented suppliers can make the difference between disaster and delight for a restaurant's reputation, since they assure the restaurant operator their products have come from safe, disease-free sources.
Step 3. Properly train employees:
A 2013 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection says that inadequate chicken preparation and cooking practices is commonly reported by managers at 448 restaurants studied. In fact, 40 percent of those restaurants' managers reported they do not always assign specific cutting boards for use with raw meat. In the same study, 43 percent of managers said they did not know the correct temperature for cooking raw chicken.
Though those harrowing findings are derived from a 3-year-old study, the information still highlights the huge opportunity food service has for greater and more detailed food safety education across the industry. In fact, ongoing education about proper handling of all raw food products, like eggs, fruits and vegetables, is a measure of insurance that savvy restaurant operators will likely put in place across their operations.