How to protect your brand from food-safety issues

How to protect your brand from food-safety issues

By John Sammon III, general manager, Par Technology Corp

Nearly everyone can name the brand that suffered a catastrophic food-safety outbreak that caused multiple illnesses, shareholder and class action lawsuits and a voluntary shutdown of all stores for a day. 

But I'll bet you most people could not tell you the details of what went wrong, why and how it could have been prevented. The truth is more than 95 percent of foodborne illness cases in the fast casual category stem directly from employee behavior. Safety and quality are cultural elements of the business. 

The brand always takes the hit when things go wrong with food safety, and the notion that these issues were not the brand's fault, and instead the fault of their suppliers, is largely false. Proper employee supervision and management will mitigate nearly all outbreak cases of Norovirus, Listeria Salmonella, E-coli and so forth. Following well-established standards for cleaning, cooking, hygiene, food separation, and monitoring, are the basis for both food safety and quality. 

And here lies the real challenge. Namely, how can you be certain that all employees follow the established daily efforts to prevent against the denigration of food quality and the liability of food poisoning?  

Employee training and management is the bedrock of the business

Restaurant businesses yield inconsistent human nature, high employee turnover and outdated language. These factors coupled with disparate operations across multiple stores leads to the system breaking down. Employees predictably forget, disregard or slack off on performing best practices.

Brands should not expect consistency in quality and safety across multiple locations without investments in modern tools. Hand- washing posters, paper logs and thermometers are inadequate. 

Once a food-safety culture is defined, it needs to be enforced every day using better tools. Digital HACCP plans that route employees dynamically coupled with intelligent checklists and advanced sensor technologies are no longer science fiction but, instead, the mainstream. 

Going digital

Fast casual brands must consider the shift to the modern technology tools of cloud, mobility and IoT. Specifically, they should implement cloud-based task management solutions that drive behavior while also serving as the required system of record for food safety logs audit.  

Brands should be motivated by protectionary instincts against the negative perceptions associated with safety and quality and should pride themselves in providing the appropriate tools to their people to drive a culture of quality and safety. 

Store reporting

Undeniably 100 percent of a brand's identity is tied to the product and the experience. Investments that secure quality and safety while driving positive employee behavior are paramount. Providing a system of record is FDA required — the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA) requires brands to provide two years of HACCP records — but when performed at its lowest levels, it provides little protection from a brand's devaluation in the information age. 

Store reporting can be made available in real time alerting managers and other stakeholder's immediate training opportunities. These tools become the brand's system of driving great food culture by defining, monitoring and measuring employee behavior. 

Let's use temperature monitoring as an example. The use of mobile tablets, application software and a web based reporting enterprise can incorporate four different methods of temperature measurement — probe, infrared, RFID and IoT (static temperature monitoring sensor). These solutions drive accountability by assigning individual employees dynamic checklists that are time-bound and sequential in the workflow. Metrics are captured and training opportunities are created sooner rather than later. As the old adage goes,  "How can you improve if you are not measuring?"

The problem is not how to create great safety and quality culture in restaurants, it is the sustainability and ongoing improvement of your employee's behavior. Culture is every day — every shift. 

In the information age, technology is both the curse and the blessing. Negative Facebook posts or YELP reviews are not fun. Ironically, these are the same technologies that significantly improve the product and experience. Use cloud, mobility, and internet technologies to proactively protect your brand.   

Cover photo: iStock

Topics: Food Safety

Companies: PAR Technology Corporation

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