Pitch food safety culture, ditch illness outbreaks

Pitch food safety culture, ditch illness outbreaks

Each year, one in six Americans falls victim to foodborne illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. But did you know 61 percent of them occur at restaurants?

According to the CDC, the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks is norovirus. Furthermore, 70 percent of outbreaks are linked to infected food workers. How do you stop the potential spread of an illness outbreak at your restaurant? The most effective method, says Ashley Miller, one of the National Restaurant Association’s food safety experts, is to build a culture of food safety and ensure the buy-in from everyone in the company.

What is a food safety culture? Miller defines it as the policies, practices and procedures that represent the way in which an organization recognizes and practices proper food safety. Before you create a food safety culture, it is important to know the Top 5 risk factors for a foodborne illness outbreak. They are:

  1. Purchasing food from unsafe sources
  2. Improper cooking temps of food
  3. Improper hot/cold holding temps
  4. Contaminated utensils and equipment
  5. Poor employee health and hygiene

To stay ahead of an outbreak, take a proactive approach to practicing food safety. That means moving beyond basic trainings and bare-minimum compliance. Embrace and commit yourself and your business to a culture of food safety. This is accomplished by following these three steps:

  1. Involve every individual. The importance of food safety needs to be driven upward and downward, from management making its commitment apparent in its decisions, behaviors and how it ignites and energizes its employees.
  2. Create the conditions to cultivate the culture. Insert food safety practices into everyday operations and allocate resources to enhance it. Most importantly, keep it simple to understand and implement.
  3. Follow up relentlessly. Failure needs to be sought out, not ignored, Miller says. Long-term effective solutions need to be developed and implemented by a cross-functional team, with each member working towards the desired outcome.

Miller adds that once you decide to bring a culture of food safety into your restaurant, use these tips to ensure success:

  • Incorporate Active Managerial Control – a HACCP-based approach to controlling the Top 5 risk factors.
  • Don’t stop at training. Go beyond it and operationalize food safety into your tasks
  • Use technology to measure outcomes
  • Seek out and achieve continued support from everyone in your supply chain

“When you’re thinking about creating a food safety culture at your company, remember to keep this mantra in your mind: every individual matters, every person has a role to play, everyone makes a difference,” Miller says. “The ability to see the issue and turn it into an opportunity will invite your leadership team and staff to get on board and support your ideas.”