The object of inquiry was salmon.
Specifically, my aunt and uncle were concerned that we were about to use as an ingredient in our appetizer some smoked salmon that four days earlier had been part of a recall.
The scenario was remarkable to me for several reasons. Most notably it underscored the growing public consciousness about food safety and the awareness of recalls. While restaurant operators and those of us covering the industry might have a heightened awareness of food-safety threats, don’t think for a second that your customers aren’t paying attention — or that they are not remembering the specific brands associated with such news.
Next, the salmon incident occurred shortly after the Nation’s Restaurant News team had finished compiling our coverage of the seventh annual Food Safety Symposium found in this issue’s Operations section. The three-day event, sponsored by Ecolab and produced by NRN, pulled together dozens of food-safety and quality-assurance professionals from restaurant chains nationwide for an open exchange about best practices regarding food safety.
While restaurateurs have always been relatively willing to share business practices, the discussions at the invitation-only symposium were exceptionally candid because no one in the restaurant industry wins when people are afraid dining out will make them sick. Or as attendee Cindy Jiang, senior director of worldwide food safety, quality and nutrition for McDonald’s Corp., put it, “Food safety is not a competitive advantage.”
That belief has no doubt crystallized in the nearly two decades since E. coli O157:H7 made headlines following the deadly outbreak associated with undercooked hamburgers at Jack in the Box. The willingness to share at the annual symposiums is a testament to this. Even attorney Bill Marler, a keynoter at the FSS for the past two years and someone who has won more than $600 million in damages for victims of foodborne outbreaks, has praised the restaurant industry for efforts that have paid off in fewer restaurant-related incidents.
Certainly, everyone who has improved their food-safety practices should feel proud. Smart operators know, however, that the food-safety battle never ends, and constant vigilance is non-negotiable.
Just as operators’ standards have risen, those of food-safety watchdogs have, too. During his speech at this year’s FSS, Marler noted that his views concerning liability have evolved. For instance, he recalled that following the 1996 E. coli outbreak linked to unpasteurized apple juice bottled by Odwalla and sold at Starbucks Coffee locations, he sued Odwalla alone. Today, however, he said he would sue Starbucks as well because in opening the bottle and pouring the juice into a cup, the Seattle-based company also had had a role in manufacturing — or remanufacturing — the drink.
Marler also noted that he has cast a wider net in a current lawsuit related to last year’s listeria outbreak associated with Rocky Ford cantaloupe. Not only is he suing the grower, but he also is suing the shipper, the auditor, the broker and the equipment manufacturer. He said he has been looking to include an auditor in a lawsuit to focus attention on the auditing process and point out that a third-party auditor paid by a company has a different motivation than one paid by the public.
I’ve deviated from my usual roundup of what lies ahead in an issue, but there are many other excellent stories to be read on the profusion of bowls now hitting menus across segments, the increasingly crowded fight for market share during the breakfast daypart and the universal love affair with coffee.
The thing is that all efforts to make money fall flat if the food is not safe — and more people are tuned in to that than ever before.
PREVIOUSLY: Coming full circle