Smaller Portions, big safety steps

When Au Bon Pain introduced its Portions menu in March, it believed part of its popularity would center on the items’ portability. All 14 Portions choices are sold from self-serve refrigerated cases for immediate consumption or takeaway.

Portions creators also knew that off-premise consumption of any food, even when cooked, presents a risk that customers might not handle it safely, such as refrigerating leftovers. Knowing this, Joe Kubik, ABP’s Boston-based regional executive chef, says heightened care is taken to ensure the cards are stacked in guests’ favor, wherever they eat their food.

“We have set shelf lives for all items and detailed charts explaining them specifically,” Kubik begins. “There are differences, of course, for a cooked protein or vegetable or a cut cucumber. Some things are cooked one day and thrown out the next if they don’t sell. Everything gets a sticker on it showing the day it would expire.”

Anytime a new menu item is added, it’s placed into a production cycle governed by tight HACCP procedures. Food temps are taken when an item is delivered, and throughout the production and merchandising cycle.

Each Portions choice is produced in batches based on sales projections. All mis en place ingredients needed for a particular portion are removed from the walk-in only as needed, and when items are completed, they go straight to the display case.

The 226-store chain has its quality control experts on staff making random store visits to check food production and sanitation procedures are followed.

Kubik says managers ultimately are graded on how they follow sanitation procedures and, good or bad, they’re scored. “If there’s a problem we trouble shoot it. Food safety really is a front-burner issue for us,” he says.