Foodborne illness leaves an estimated 48 million Americans sick and causes thousands of deaths every year.
The most common culprits include Norovirus, Salmonella, E. coli, and others, but these pathogens are only part of the problem. The key to eliminating the effects of these critical potential problems is a well thought out, implemented and monitored food safety management system. Without this structure in place, it puts organizations and their guests at risk.
Here are the top risks facing restaurants and other foodservice operators:
1: Practicing poor personal hygiene
Risk: The most common cause of foodborne illness is spreading pathogens via touch. When foodservice workers do not maintain adequate personal hygiene and/or do not use appropriate protective equipment (or do not use it correctly), they can quickly contaminate clean foods.
Solution: Hand-washing combined with correct use of protective gear like face masks and food-grade gloves are the best defenses against foodborne illness outbreaks.
2: Failing to cook food correctly
Risk: To kill pathogens and parasites, it's imperative to cook foods to a sufficient temperature, especially when reheating already cooked foods. The minimum safe internal temperature varies according to the food being prepared but generally ranges between 145°F and 165°F, per the FDA.
Solution: Operators need a system that can reliably monitor temperatures, combined with procedures that ensure staff do so consistently. If possible, use a thermometer that captures the temperature electronically.
3: Holding food at incorrect temperatures
Risk: Once cooked, food must be held at safe temperatures. If food is allowed to sit until its internal temperature reaches the “danger zone” of 40°F - 140°F, then pathogens can begin to proliferate again. Food either needs to be stored at temperatures below 40°F (e.g. refrigerated or frozen), or continuously heated to 140°F or higher.
Solution: Make sure your food safety processes account for regular temperature checks; even better, you can automate the process with digital solutions that can generate automatic alerts whenever temperatures go out of spec.
4: Purchasing food from unsafe sources
Risk: Foodstuffs should be sourced from trusted and reliable vendors. Counterfeit foods – a growing problem that costs the industry as much as $15 billion annually pose a potential safety hazard and food products purchased from unsafe sources increase the risk that the final product will be compromised as well.
Solution: Think of it as the “garbage in, garbage out” principle of foodservice. Use only credible, reputable vendors
5: Using contaminated equipment
Risk: Although the use of contaminated equipment is less likely to cause foodborne illness than the risks named above, it nevertheless presents a risk. For example, one of the production machines at Blue Bell Creameries’ Broken Arrow facility became contaminated with listeria in 2015, which contributed to an outbreak that resulted in three deaths. Equipment-related risks can be quite subtle - for example, if an operation uses plastic cutting boards, the knife scoring can create divots that, though tiny to the human eye, are the perfect environment for microorganisms to breed.
Solution: Equipment normally has manufacturers' guidelines on use and cleaning. Following these guidelines is critical to operating a safe foodservice establishment.
6: Failing to adequately protect against COVID-19
Risk: This year, 2020 has introduced its own brand-new risk to food service operations: a global pandemic. In June, banking giant J.P. Morgan charted the relationship between restaurant spending and the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in communities. This strongly suggests a relationship between restaurant dining and community transmission of the infection.
Solution: Restaurants must act more diligently than ever about practicing food safety and minimizing the risk of transmission, including implementing social distancing inside their stores and alternatively turning to delivery, takeout, drive-thru and outdoor dining.
7: Lack of visibility into the Back of House
Risk: In many ways, the lack of visibility may be the most serious one facing foodservice operations today. How do you know if your brand, individual stores, or individual employees are engaging in the risky behaviors described above? Most don’t know and without visibility into the actual behaviors every day, the biggest risk is assuming that everything is okay until a brand is blindsided by a food-related crisis it never knew had been brewing.
Solution: With enterprise visibility tools like those offered in ComplianceMate, it's easy to see the proverbial dark corners of your restaurant. The system should ensure that operating procedures are completed on a timely basis, that aberrations are reported and controlled and that ‘live’ as well as periodic information is available to appropriate levels of management.
8: Missing “last mile” monitoring
Risk: “Last mile” is a term used in supply chain management that refers to the last steps a product takes to reach its final destination. Unfortunately, the last mile is often a weak point in safety monitoring. For example, as a food product is delivered and unloaded, it can often end up sitting for longer than expected without temperature monitoring. This concept applies more broadly though. Consider how COVID-19 has shifted focus onto delivery and takeout formats which can leave food sitting on a shelf waiting to be picked up, also without adequate monitoring.
Solution: Using automated sensors and tablet-based log sheets help add monitoring to the last mile. They can point out problems as they occur and also document compliance with organization procedures.
9: Making business trade offs that sacrifice food safety in favor of other priorities
Risk: In an industry that’s been hit hard this year by the pandemic – over 26,000 restaurants have already closed, at least temporarily – many food service operations find themselves forced to make hard decisions that can have implications for food safety, choosing between efficiency, profitability, and safety. Ted Curry, Senior Transformation Consultant for Myrtle Consulting Group, tells Food Industry Executive that “the trade-off between food safety and production uptime is a false choice.”
Solution: He argues that reducing waste and becoming more efficient can happen naturally if operations prioritize doing things “the right way” from the start.
How can those risks be mitigated?
To develop a risk management and mitigation plan, operators must first recognize and understand the risks they face and often inadvertently create. That’s easier said than done. Beyond the usual suspects – like storing and preparing foods at inappropriate temperatures, many risks are easy to miss.
An IoT System Reduces Risk
Foodservice organizations need a risk management strategy that includes a robust and reliable enterprise wide system to capture and communicate real-time information. Without it, most brands are exposing themselves and their guests to unacceptable threats. In fact, the best means of ensuring food safety is having access to proactive data monitoring and alerting of potential threats the business faces on a daily basis. Automated and real time visibility to these risk factors is necessary to prevent food safety hazards. A system that leverages Internet of Things sensors, supports this objective.
ComplianceMate™ streamlines HACCP compliance checklist and cooler monitoring for thousands of restaurant locations across the US and globally. With award-winning wireless temperature sensors, mobile technologies, and easy-to-use tools, ComplianceMate™ gives users total control over food safety and compliance.