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Stepping up the safety

Qdoba Mexican Grill’s New York prototype may mark a departure for the chain, but not when it comes to food safety.

Because the concept was built on fresh ingredients and in-store prep, critical controls are part of the DNA. Of particular importance, officials say, are temperature safeguards.

"There a lot of probe thermometers," says Ted Stoner, the chain’s director of strategic product development. Each product has its own thermometer. Every ingredient also has a check sheet and timer that reminds employees every 15 minutes that the temperature needs to be checked. Because the components are prepared ahead of time, each batch is labeled, dated and stored in separate containers in the refrigerator to be retrieved on an individual basis.

Lettuce and vegetables are cut in-house. But they are washed and trimmed by the growers so that no additional handling is required within the units. Employees conduct visual inspections of the incoming product before the cutting.

Chris Polito, manager of quality assurance, explains that Qdoba works with the farms to ensure food safety and quality are in place following practices and regulatory laws. “We go with the most conservative regulations in the country," he says. 

Because the new Manhattan store is busier and handling an exceptional volume, some of its food-prep procedures were modified to enhance food safety, according to chain executives.

For instance, because of stepped-up demand, cooked items are cooled differently. Instead of cooling a pot of beans with ice and cooling wands, the beans are put in a bag that is then placed in ice.

Qdoba is also looking into new technology for the new location that will collect safety-related information. Portable devices will be used to monitor temperatures and relay that to a central database, Stoner says.

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