Though food safety may be a restaurant fundamental, it is nothing to take lightly. The Center for Disease Control reports that each year, an estimated 48 million people are made sick by food eaten in the U.S.—that’s 1 in 6 people. Of these illnesses, 9 million are caused by major known pathogens that can be avoided with proper food handling procedures, such as Norovirus, Salmonella, E. coli, and more.
For restaurants, meeting food safety standards is critical. Not only can failing to do so make guests sick, but it can also lead to costly litigation and lost revenue if a food safety breakout occurs. In a 2016 survey conducted by AlixPartners, a global business-advisory firm, 28 percent of consumers polled said they would never eat at a chain affected by a food-safety breakout. Another 62 percent said that while they would eat at a chain again, they would “wait until it was declared safe again before patronizing unaffected locations.”
These potential lost sales could make or break a restaurant’s budget and harm its reputation, even among previously loyal customers. In today’s connected world, even small food safety issues can have a large impact on consumer perception, says Nathan Pickerill, senior solutions architect at HotSchedules.
“Small violations and misconceptions can damage a restaurant’s reputation and reviews severely,” Pickerill says. “As the violations increase in severity, the long-term damage for business growth can destroy the long term viability of the business.”
The best way to reduce the risk of danger, reputational damage, and lost sales due to food safety issues is to prevent them before they occur, but doing so can be a challenge. It’s not enough to simply have food safety policies and procedures in place; brands must create an entire food safety culture. Though many health departments and restaurant brands require food safety exams to be passed by leaders and employees, this often isn’t enough to ensure that proper handling is a top-of-mind concern among staff.
“Most employees see these [certifications] as formalities and may not understand the practical application of the concepts in their day-to-day restaurant lives and the true consequences of their actions,” Pickerill says. “Creating a culture and continued educational plan around day-to-day work duties, as well as tracking performance and creating a system of praise for high performers, has created dramatic results for groups that I’ve worked with in the past.”
One way to ensure that food safety becomes an intrinsic part of restaurant culture is to boost training around food safety practices by integrating technology in the process. Using technology to promote better training, timely reminders, and follow up not only ensures that employees understand policies, but also helps leaders keep safety on the minds of employees.
“A respected leader providing regular communication to all employees in the organization via technology not only about the health of the organization, but also the topics that can have huge impact on the business, such as health compliance, can benefit not only the sense of importance around health code compliance, but also provide a sense of belonging and importance to the employees,” Pickerill says.
HotSchedules Train, for example, allows brands to push messages out to all levels of an organization to ensure that food safety practices and messages are reinforced. Follow up is also critical to building a culture that prioritizes food safety. Digital tools, such as HotSchedules Logbook, digitize these task lists to improve workflow and visibility.
Using digital tools also provides managers with valuable data, which can help them correct issues as they occur instead of waiting for a problem. Additionally, this helps new managers ensure they consistently lead the team according to company policies. Though paper task lists still play an important role in the restaurant space, digitizing these tools increases accountability and ensures tasks are performed at the right time.
“Moving paper task lists and temperature logs to digital platforms ensures not only that tasks are being completed, but they are being completed when they should and in a manner that meets compliance,” Pickerill says. “Technology provides a much more efficient vehicle for building that culture of education, performance tracking, and acknowledgement. Plus it helps to remove the temptation for managers to try to game the system by time stamping the completion of items.”
Even for brands that prefer paper task lists, digitizing these records via hybrid systems, such as HotSchedules’ Red Book Keep, an app that enhances the Manager’s Red Book, a paper-based best practices playbook, provides above-store leadership access to valuable archived records.
“The digitalization of systems around health code related items and tasks can improve accountability around health compliance,” Pickerill says. “Visibility into the store-side functions for the entire organization ensures that best practices are taking place on a daily basis, and if there is a systemic problem with a location, it can be visible and addressed before it impacts the health of a guest.”
By providing restaurant leadership with the right tools, brands can not only ensure that employees are trained on food safety, but that they also work within a system that values food safety on a daily basis.
“Having all employees trained and continually trained, as well as the managers talking about the importance, on a regular cadence will really impact the overall staff performance,” Pickerill says. “These practices not only breed self-compliance, but also make the other employees of the restaurant watch guards of the policies to help to reinforce the culture of the company.”