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Incriminating food safety data is the tool to protect your brand

Here’s a secret: sometimes it’s the bad news that truly empowers restaurants to prevent food safety (and potential coronavirus-related) crises.

Champion Email 2 May 2020 (1)But not all brands and restaurant operators see it that way. Certainly, all restaurants and foodservice operations recognize the importance of food safety, and they all fervently pursue good news when it comes to their food safety activities. However, many operations so thoroughly dread bad news related to food safety that they will actually neglect monitoring simply for fear of coming across data that could incriminate them – even if it would prevent greater problems and promote public health in the long run to do so.

And with COVID-19 rocking the restaurant world, more than ever, brands and operators are wary of bad news.

It’s understandable why.

Flagging a potential violation can set a host of consequences into motion that could, potentially, result in the operation being cited, fined, or worse. “If a company has got data that could incriminate them in an outbreak, they get reluctant to look for it,” says David Acheson, former associate commissioner for foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Even worse, loss of consumer confidence at a moment when the restaurant industry is facing an unprecedented collapse in demand would be disastrous.

But that kind of attitude – fear of even just seeing bad news – can be infectious, and frontline workers may learn to ignore or dismiss indicators of potential problems. If leaders, from store managers up to C-level executives, treat food safety catches as failures and bad news, they will disincentivize accurate and upfront reporting. That can both increase the likelihood of a future problem and worsen its scope. Avoiding food safety data for fear it will incriminate the organization just makes a bad situation worse.

Re-thinking “incriminating” data: seeing bad news as good data that can fuel excellent decisions.

Many operations need to re-think their relationship with the food safety data they collect and analyze.

It might be tempting to bury one’s head in the sand – if they don’t know it, they don’t have to report it, and they can’t be held responsible for it, right? (Not true). Instead, discovery of food safety problems – when detected early enough (in real-time) to do something about it – should be recognized as good.

This data, even if it seems incriminating, is the only thing that gives the organization the power to stop the incident in its tracks and prevent it from worsening. Even better, as long as the organization acts on it, they create a record of due diligence that shows the operation made a good faith effort to protect their customers and the public.

The flip is true too: a lack of data can lead to undesirable business outcomes.

So, restaurants that willfully neglect food safety monitoring and data collection deprive themselves of the power to fix problems before they turn into crises and blindside the organization. There’s another side to this equation, too: organizations that neglect food safety data gathering may lack the information they need to defend themselves against unfounded accusations.

To illustrate, a multi-store restaurant brand deployed ComplianceMate™ temperature sensors and digital checklists at all their locations. ComplianceMate™ sensors automatically monitor, record, and communicate the temperatures of cold-holding equipment in real-time. If temperatures exceed safe thresholds, the system generates an automated alert. Simultaneously, the system generates a consistent and reliable temperature log. Similarly, the digital checklist system incorporates corrective actions into line checks so that users can immediately resolve any potential problems.

One of this brand’s customers fell ill from a foodborne illness and identified the brand as a potential source. Health investigators contacted the brand for more information. By producing detailed logs that had been automatically generated, dating back to the specific day the customer visited, including any corrective actions that were taken, the logs validated that temperatures had been kept at continuously safe levels and that all safety checks had been completed on time.

In other words, they were able to use the food safety data they produced to validate their own food safety processes and demonstrate their innocence. (To read the full case study of this situation, click here).

In all cases: “good” data must be both real-time and actionable

Organizations can only use food safety data for good if they catch it in the first place. This requires a system and tools that can (1) generate and communicate accurate food safety information in real-time and (2)  get around people like skittish frontline workers who might try to obscure food safety failures. After all, how can organizational leaders make good decisions if even they don’t know what’s happening on the ground?

The right tools can create a direct pipeline of usable data from the frontlines to top-line decision-makers, while ensuring workers who might try to hide or fudge data can’t do so. With good data in hand, these foodservice operations have the power to be heroes and stop a crisis before it even begins.

The end result is a safer operation, fewer incidents, and robust documentation to shield the operation against accusations of health violations.

But that requires the restaurant to be willing to monitor and look squarely at good quality food safety data, even if it’s not what it should be. That, in turn, requires that the operation to implement technology that can capture and communicate that information – and get around the people who try to obscure food safety failures.

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.

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